Nov. 17—FROSTBURG — Before Mountain Ridge can think about another crack at Fort Hill and a state championship, it first has to get past a scrappy upset-minded Catoctin team.
The second-seeded Miners (9-1), the two-time defending Class 1A runner-ups, welcome the seventh-seeded Cougars (5-6) to Miners Stadium tonight at 7 p.m. in a rematch of a Week 2 game.
Mountain Ridge won't see a similar squad, as Catoctin starting quarterback Haydn Mathews is expected to miss the game. Still, the Cougars have proven to be a dangerous team, upsetting the No. 3 seed in the state Patterson Mill during regional play.
"They have completely changed their offensive strategy," Mountain Ridge head coach Ryan Patterson said. "We're going to see downhill running. Their running back (Jacob Bell) is solid. He comes downhill at you."
The first time the two squads linked up, Miners quarterback Will Patterson rushed for six touchdowns to power Mountain Ridge to a 43-12 rout.
The teams diverged from that point, as Mountain Ridge's lone defeat is a 37-14 loss to unbeaten and top-seeded Fort Hill. The Miners have won four straight, the most recent a decisive 35-14 romp of Allegany in the region finals.
Catoctin, meanwhile, limped to a 3-6 finish in the regular season playing one of the toughest schedules in Class 1A. All six of their losses are to winning football teams: Mountain Ridge (9-1), Clarke County, Va. (9-2), Boonsboro (8-3), Brunswick (8-3), Walkersville (7-5) and Middletown (6-5).
The Cougars upset Loch Raven (6-4), 33-12, in their playoff opener, and they pulled off a stunning 20-19 comeback victory over a 9-1 Patterson Mill team to earn a date with Mountain Ridge.
Both playoff wins came with 5-foot-7 quarterback Shaymus Stull under center. Catoctin has turned to a run-heavy, ball control I-Formation offense — a far cry from the spread offense the Miners saw in Week 2.
Mountain Ridge, which has won 23 straight at home, is coming off one of its best defensive performances of the season, holding a high-powered Allegany offense to five first downs and forcing five turnovers.
Patterson highlighted Catoctin's play action game — particularly with big-play threats Vince Reaver (402 yards, four TDs), the second-leading receiver in Frederick County, and Logan Malachowski (330 yards, three TDs) out wide — as an area of concern.
Malachowski had a 65-yard touchdown reception from Mathews in Week 2.
"We expect to see 12 to 15 play action passes," he said. "The quarterback is able to hide behind his line.
"They have maybe the best receiver we've seen all year too (Malachowski). He's quite the athlete, big bodied. We were in position at one point and he bodied us up, beat us, and he has pretty good speed to get behind you."
Mathews was the fourth-leading passer in Frederick County despite his injury woes, passing for 1,123 yards and 11 scores.
The weather forecast, which is calling for a steady rain at kick off, could also favor Catoctin, which isn't expected to put the ball in the air as much as Mountain Ridge.
Defensively, Catoctin lines up in a 5-2. The Cougars have been susceptible on that end allowing 27 points a night, which could be a recipe for disaster against a Mountain Ridge squad that puts up 33.7 points per game.
Will Patterson leads the area completing 116 of 183 passes for 1,282 yards, 18 touchdowns and four interceptions, and he'll likely become a 1,000-yard rusher tonight too. He enters with 962 yards and 17 scores on 139 carries.
The Miners' receiving corps is paced by Andrew Ketterman (395 yards, six TDs) and David Miller (363 yards, six TDs). Ketterman has a team-high 18 tackles for loss, and Will Bannon leads the area with 12.5 sacks.
Mountain Ridge is a heavy favorite, and kids can be susceptible to hearing that. The Miners' coaching staff has stressed the importance of not looking ahead, something they've done to perfection the last three seasons.
"Good coaches can plan a practice and crank up the intensity," Patterson said. "We mentioned the word complacency over and over again this week. We've tried to coach against what they might be thinking, but that threat is there. ... We've got to be taking care of their business."
The manner in which Mountain Ridge defeated Catoctin — converting fourth downs on three consecutive series — could also be a source of confidence for the Cougars, Patterson said.
"If we don't hit those, it could've been a different ball game," he said. "I'm sure they're telling their kids that. Gives them an angle to think they have a chance."
If Mountain Ridge does take care of business, it'll host the winner of No. 3 Perryville (8-2) and No. 6 Lake Clifton (7-4) in the state semifinals.
Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.