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Clear Spring-Williamsport: Surprise seasons give rivalry a spark

November 05, 2009|By BOB PARASILITI

Rivalry and playoffs.

Those are two words that have rarely -- if ever -- been mentioned in the same breath as Williamsport and Clear Spring football.

In fact, the terms ".500" and "winning record," could be easily added to the list.

Yet, all those notions will come into play on Friday when the Wildcats travel to meet the Blazers in what could be considered the biggest game for two star-crossed programs.

For both teams, a win could mean a fourth seed in the Maryland Class 1A West playoffs if all the circumstances align.

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For Williamsport (4-5), it is a chance to finish with a .500 record for the first time in 10 years. For Clear Spring, no matter what happens, 6-4 or 5-5 will be the best record ever in the program's short history.

And, oh yeah, the two schools are in a fledgling rivalry, which is trying to get the same feel of the ones that North and South Hagerstown or Boonsboro and Smithsburg enjoy.

"I'm excited to be here," said Williamsport senior lineman Seth Boggs. "People are paying more attention to us. The fan base is keeping up with us and we have been hearing from some of the graduates who have been following us. We are in a little bit of the spotlight.

"We definitely have to go out and play our best. Clear Spring is a rival and they will come out and be ready to play because they have the playoffs on the line. We have to play 48 minutes of football."

That is a complete change in attitude than Williamsport and Clear Spring have had for the 10th game of the season. In the past, it was the last stop before handing in the uniforms.

But something transformed. For Williamsport, it started with the hiring of coach Randy Longnecker. For Clear Spring, it was the chance to step away from the MVAL Antietam schedule to play as an independent and build the program.

Still, the only ones who believed that the Wildcats and the Blazers would be in this situation were Longnecker and Clear Spring coach Craig Bathgate. And both coaches saw the possibilities early.

"I always said our goal was to go 5-5 back in March," Longnecker said. "Then, we had our Blue-White scrimmage, I saw how far behind we were and thought we might only win three games. But we were persistent."

It translated to a surprising 4-1 start for the Wildcats, who lost 26-20 to North Carroll in the season opener.

"Take away a punt return, a kick return and a blown fourth-down coverage, and we beat a 2A team," Boggs said. "We have had some close games. That's when the guys really started to rely on each other."

Clear Spring found itself in a similar position.

"Honestly, I was shooting for .500 this season," said Bathgate. "We figured that would be a successful season. But when I saw what we had on the offensive line and the athletes we had in the backfield and then we started well. And with all the parity, it gave us a chance to reach the playoffs."

Clear Spring won its opener with Manchester Valley before losing the next three games. The Blazers turned the corner against Colonel Richardson and went on to win three straight and change perceptions.

"We accomplished a lot in one year," said senior running back Jon Connors. "Moving out of the league is probably where we should have been at the start. A lot of us were happy when we changed. We had a chance to play schools our own size instead of getting beat on by schools twice our size."

Both teams overcame voids caused by key injuries.

Williamsport lost quarterback Blake Bandeff before the season, which opened the door for Casey McKenrick to start. Clear Spring lost running back Wes Jackson in the third week, but it opened the door for Mike Etzel to excel.

To get to this point, Williamsport and Clear Spring have had to rely on three factors for success -- newly acquired confidence, efficient play and a lack of mistakes. On Friday, it could mean the difference between a possible playoff berth and a season-ending loss.

"Football comes down to discipline and how you conduct yourselves," said Longnecker. "It will be a matter of carrying out your assignments to the end."

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