Westminster football team is taking aim at lofty goal

Once pushovers, 4-1 Owls now eyeing state playoffs

October 07, 1999|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Scott Carnegie was not satisfied that the Westminster football team finished 6-4 last year -- the school's first winning season since 1990.

And he's not content with the squad's current 4-1 record and the probable prospect of gaining its first playoff berth since 1981.

No, Carnegie has bigger goals in mind.

"I'm talking states. I'm talking Byrd Stadium [the site of the state football playoffs]," the senior quarterback said. "I know we can do it."

And who can blame Carnegie for his youthful optimism? The Owls are enjoying their best season in 10 years and are no longer pushovers for opponents.

Westminster beat then-No. 10 Loyola on Sept. 10 and slipped past Central Maryland Conference-rival Thomas Johnson, 10-3, in four overtimes last week. Tomorrow, the Owls face a Frederick team that hasn't won a game against Westminster in four years.

"A lot of people ask me if they're for real," said Liberty coach Ken Johnson, whose Lions lost to the Owls, 21-15, on Sept. 24. "Yes, they are."

Much of the credit goes to Westminster coach Scott Tobias, who had been an assistant coach until he was promoted to the head position after the 1997 season.

Tobias, a Spring Mills, Pa., native who was an offensive guard at Millersville University near Lancaster, has implemented a swarming defense that boasts a plus-11 takeaway-giveaway ratio (18-7).

Senior linebacker Allen Cook leads the team with 70 tackles, senior defensive back Jason Jarrett has snatched four interceptions, and nine of the unit's 11 starters run the 40 in 5.0 seconds or better.

In the 14-7 win over Loyola, the Owls' defense forced the Dons into four interceptions and two fumbles, and sealed the win with an interception in the red zone on the last play of the game.

"It reminds me a lot of Pennsylvania football," said Tobias, who teaches technology education at Westminster. "Their success is being able to play defense, and the way this defense has played, they have kept us in some ballgames."

Tobias readily admits the offense is struggling. Although junior running back Brad Durden has rushed for 369 yards and eight touchdowns, Carnegie has completed only 33 percent of his passes and has thrown five interceptions compared to just one touchdown.

But Tobias is quick to point out that some of the wide receivers have dropped key passes that would have been touchdowns.

Tobias has also injected the team with an attitude of consistent encouragement and openness. The coach requires his staff and players on the sidelines to hand out "Atta'boys" to every player who makes a diving catch or an open-field tackle.

Senior offensive tackle Kevin Riley says Tobias has also tried to narrow the traditional gap between the head coach and his players.

"He's more personable with us than others have been," Riley said. "If we have a question, we don't hesitate to ask, if it's football or something else."

Success has not spoiled the Owls. Players who fumble in practice can expect to give Tobias 100 push-ups at the end of the day.

After last year's 6-4 record, the players spent their summer attending daily weightlifting and conditioning sessions.

When asked why he labored during his summer vacation instead of relaxing, senior linebacker Matt Farver turned to look at the stadium.

"Friday nights under the lights," he said. "That's what it's all for."

Tobias said just three years ago, he recalls walking to the stadium and spotting empty stands. Now the Owls play to a crowded house at every home game.

"It's a lot more fun than being at the bottom," Tobias said. "I tell the guys that winning makes the girls look prettier, the soda tastes sweeter, and the kisses from the dog aren't as bad."

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