At Westminster, pass-happy football team creates an air of excitement

On High Schools

November 18, 2005|By MILTON KENT

A cold-water dousing from a football team may be more refreshing in the heat of August, when practice starts, but it's much more meaningful in the chill of November and December, when championships are decided.

That's why Westminster coach Brad Wilson was quite willing to get drenched in sub-40-degree temperatures last Friday by his team and would take another one in about a month when the state's Class 3A champion is crowned.

"I'll take it," Wilson said, alternating between chuckles and shivers. "I'll take it anytime. They're a great group of kids. It's a great community with great support and great coaches. When you have all that, it's easy."

A 9-1 season has the Westminster area stoked for the possibilities arising from the school's first berth in the state playoffs in 24 years. Today, the No. 2 Owls will host Linganore, which gave them their only loss last month, in the 3A West semifinals.

The Westminster fans huddled together in the cold at North Carroll on Friday to root on the Owls, who pounded the Panthers, 56-7.

With the game pretty much decided after the first two Westminster possessions, each of which produced touchdowns, there was really little point for the fans to stay outdoors on an evening when two-fisted drinking meant a cup of hot chocolate in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

Yet they remained because with the pass-happy Westminster offense, you never know what you might miss if you blink.

"It's a lot of fun," said quarterback Kevin Clancy. "It's four wides and throwing the ball and getting the receivers the ball and letting them do their thing with it."

Technically, there's a bit more to what Westminster does than that, but Clancy's assessment, for all its simplicity, isn't all that far off.

"It's fun," said Wilson, in his second season at Westminster after six years at Glen Burnie. "It's exciting for the kids. They like going to practice. ... It's exciting football. And when you've got kids who can throw it and catch it, it makes it that much easier."

Wilson installed an offense that will remind many of the run-and-shoot that was all the rage in the NFL in the 1990s, and while the Owls have run for a combined 1,399 yards this season, they don't hide the fact that they want to keep on throwing.

Three Westminster players - Ryan Payne, Ryan Finch and Chris Maienshein - have each caught at least 30 passes and accumulated at least 550 receiving yards this year with a combined 23 touchdowns.

The offense, which relies on timing and reads and cuts, is admittedly ambitious, and particularly so for high schoolers. But it works for Westminster, which has scored at least 34 points in seven of its 10 games this season.

"We practice hard at it," Wilson said. "We get after it. If you knew what these kids ran during just a single practice. Even our offensive line runs. They have to get up and down the field. We don't huddle up and take blows."

Wilson said he installed this offense because, with it, Westminster is never theoretically out of a game. To the contrary, it's the opposition that is in danger right from the start, as the Owls are outscoring their opponents 275-43 in the first half this year.

Engineering the attack is Clancy, who is having a Peyton Manning-like season. The 6-foot senior was 11-for-18 last Friday for 286 yards and three touchdown passes, while running for two other scores, in about a half's worth of work.

For the season, Clancy has completed 57 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,685 yards - the first Carroll County quarterback to throw for more than 2,000 regular-season yards - and a whopping 30 touchdowns.

He has only seven interceptions, compared with 18 last year, a manifestation of his improved outlook. He spent the summer in the weight room, not only to bulk up, but also to add arm strength so as to better deliver the deep ball.

"My main thing was to limit the picks and I did that," Clancy said. "I wanted to be bigger and get stronger, so I could move around the pocket and not go down as easily as I did last year."

Whether all that weightlifting and throwing yields Westminster's first state football title remains to be seen, but if that is where it leads, hopefully someone will spring for dry clothes and a blanket for Wilson.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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