The 2011 football season has been a holiday for Williamsport and Clear Spring.
At times, the holiday has been Halloween, but it hasn’t been all tricks with no treats for the Wildcats and the Blazers.
Two teams that had seasons filled with high hopes, could-have-beens and missed opportunities collide on Friday at 7 p.m. when Williamsport travels to Clear Spring for their annual rivalry matchup to close the regular season.
The scary part is the game could well be decided by the team with the lesser of all evils that got them to this point in the first place.
“Every time we got rid of one of (our evils), another one would pop up,” said Williamsport coach Randy Longnecker.
“We have both had our share of misery,” said Clear Spring coach Craig Bathgate. “In this game, the team that shows up will win the game.”
The Wildcats and Blazers have had their successes. Williamsport hangs its hat on a comeback victory over North Hagerstown, but has let a couple of games it could have won get away. Injuries — specifically at quarterback — and some ill-timed events have limited the Wildcats’ continuity.
“We have had a hard time with continuity,” Longnecker said. “We aren’t very deep either and have a lot of guys going both ways. Alex Fridley, for example, plays in two very physical positions. (Quarterback T.J. Boyer) has been managing the game really well for us, but our passing game has been struggling. We’d like it about 50 percent but we are down to 32-33 percent. With a couple of exceptions, our defense has kept us in games.”
For Clear Spring, it has been much of the same, except injuries have taken a larger toll. The small-school Blazers are thin in numbers and on experience, which doesn’t allow for much flexibility to compensate for sidelined players.
“We have definitely suffered through the injury bug,” Bathgate said. “We have had three newer guys move into the offensive line. We have been piecing things together.”
Both teams looked for big things in the 2011 season but are both sitting in a rut with 4-5 records. There are some unfulfilled goals, but there are milestones and goals still out there to make Friday’s game compelling.
For Clear Spring, much revolves around quarterback Adam Mellott. The senior has been the catalyst of most of the Blazers’ success with his passing game and savvy. He enters Friday’s game 129 short of 2,000 passing yards for the season.
“He’s had to do a lot of running,” Bathgate said. “Adam has been very Roethlisberger-esque because he stands in there until the very last minute and moves around to make things happen. We need to help him. We have to do some quick things, but we need to play our game and slow down (Williamsport’s) big defensive line to give him time.”
Mellott presents problems for Williamsport.
(Adam) Mellott is probably the second-best quarterback we’ll have faced this year,” Longnecker said. “He is right there with (Brandon) Hess from South Hagerstown and right behind (Ian) Fisher from Brunswick. He can throw the ball and he is mobile. We have to keep him in front of us in the pocket.”
Williamsport, on the other hand, is likely to qualify for the Maryland Class 2A West playoffs if it wins.
That would mean the Wildcats will have to play a game similar to the one they won last week at Smithsburg. The main ingredient was the ability of protecting the football.
“This game will come down to turnovers. It will be who can control the ball and turnovers,” Longnecker said. “We have to play with consistency and we can’t turnover the ball.
“We want to keep their offense on the sideline and control the ball. We want take it to them physically so we can wear them down at the end of the game. We want to play the percentages.”
Clear Spring plans to use percentages against Williamsport.
“We hope to be able to get pressure up front on the line and get in to hit them in the backfield,” Bathgate said. “If we can wrap and tackle, we will try to force them into their passing game.”
But despite it all, the biggest thing in this matchup is that one team will finish 5-5 and the other will be 4-6. That seems to be enough motivation.
“We have left games on the table,” Longnecker said. We could easily be 7-2 or 6-3 and looking at a playoff spot. But now we are working to get to 5-5. That would end the season on a two-game winning streak which is a good thing for the young kids to build on and a good way for the seniors to go out.
“The playoffs are still out there, but right now, we are focused on playing Clear Spring. We want to treat it like a playoff game like you always do with this one because it is a rivalry.”
The rivalry makes everything seem more personal.
“We are not where we wanted to be, but being .500 is a whole lot better than being 4-6,” Bathgate said. “There is a lot of pride on the line. It’s Clear Spring vs. Williamsport. We are both shooting for .500 and we don’t get along that well.”