No. 12 South Carroll outlasts Harford Tech for 2A/1A state football championship berth; Barnard’s arm, leg is difference
by James Peters
Special to VSN
As birthdays go, South Carroll football coach Mike Kraus had to admit that Friday’s celebration of his life was a little more special than most.
After all, how many times does one end their special day with a stamped ticket to next weekend’s state final at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis. That was the No. 12 Cavaliers did with a 14-13 over 19th-ranked Harford Tech in a Class 2A/1A state semifinal contest in Carroll County.
Thanks to a late comeback, complimenting a defense-laden efffort, South Carroll (12-0 overall) is headed to the final weekend of the public school season for the first time since 2005. The Sykescville school will play the winner of Saturday’s other state semifinal between Southern Maryland’s Lackey and No. 8 Dunbar, for the state title, next Saturday at noon in the state capital.
“I’ve got to say, it’s a great birthday gift,” said Kraus, whose squad last played in a state semifinal in 2007. “The kids were working hard for me. I appreciate it.
The Cobras (9-2) looked to spoil Kraus’s birthday when Kevin Mendez capped a 15-play, 60-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run on fourth down and three yards to go with roughly 5 ½ minutes left in the contest that was largely dominated by solid ground games and dominant defensive play from both teams.
Kelvin Mendez set up that go-ahead touchdown by supplying all but the final five yards on the drive on 14 carries. He finished with 159 yards on 30 carries and a touchdown against a South Carroll defense that had surrendered a total of seven points in its first two playoff games.
“That’s a good team,” said Harford Tech coach Tim Palmer. “All of your pistons have to be rolling when you play a team like that and I feel the same way about us, but we came up short.”
One of those misfirings came right after Kevin Mendez’s fourth quarter score as an illegal substitiution and then a poor snap on the extra point attempt left Harford Tech with a six-point lead instead of seven.
That miscue would come back to haunt the Cobras as the Cavaliers took the ensuing kickoff 59 yards in eight plays for the game-winning touchdown: a 27-yard strike over the middle from quarterback Ryan Barnard to Carter Mazalewski with 2:07 remaining in the fourth quarter.
On the play, a Harford Tech defensive back tried to step in front of the pass for a potenially crucial interception, but the pass sailed over his head and into the arms of the open Mazalewski, who went untouched the rest of the way for the score. Barnard (7 of 13 for 86 yards) then converted what would prove to be the decisive extra point.
“He tried to jump it; I had faith in my guy to make a play and that’s what happened,” Barnard said. “He made a play and scored.”
Mazalewski and Barnard essentially sealed the win the rest of the way but on two totally different plays. Mazalewski stepped in front of a third down heave from Harford Tech quarterback Parker Milton with 1:41 left in the game.
“It was crazy,” said Mazalewski, whose squad was almost burned for a long reception two plays earlier on the same side of the field, but the Harford Tech wideout was unable to secure the Milton pass. “I read the quarterback’s eyes. I went for the ball, got the interception. It was great.”
Then on third down and 10 on South Carroll’s ensuing possession, Barnard turned a quarterback sweep into a first down, allowing the Cavaliers to run out the rest of the clock.
“It was a stretch lead, so I pretty much find a hole, hit it, try to stay in bounds and get a first down, and that’s pretty much what happened,” Barnard said. “We sealed the game right there. We’ve been working hard since the summer to get to this point. It’s a great feeling to achieve that goal. We’re not done; we’re going to try strive for more. “
The Cobras, largely behind the running of Kelvin Mendez, struck first, taking the opening kickoff 67 yards in eight plays for a 7-0 lead with 6:46 left in the first quarter as the Harford Tech offensive line of Zachary Rives, Jacob Walker, John Mbuthia, AJ Baldwin, and William Friend dominated the line of scrimmage.
Both defenses dictated the flow of the play for much of the rest of the half until Barnard was able to find Logan Miller from 15 yards out to knot the score at 7-7 with 3:55 left in the second quarter. Miller went horizontal to pull in Barnard’s toss in the left side of the end zone.
Following a 17-yard run by Kelvin Mendez and a 36-yard jaunt from Kevin Mendez, Harford Tech quickly moved the ball down to the South Carroll 2-yard line in the final stages of the half, but a pivotal goalline stand by the Cavaliers with 20 seconds left kept the score at 7-7 at the half.
“That was our game plan: to ride him (Kelvin Mendez), and we were pretty successful with it; we just couldn’t finish at times,” said Palmer, who has guided the Bel Air school to its first four postseasons, including a state 2A semifinal in 2017.
“Our defense is phenomonal,” Kraus said. “We went up against a really, really good running back and to do what we did, to hold that team to 13 points, I was very proud of our defense, definitely.”
AJ Rodriques rushed for 97 yards on 20 carries for the Cavaliers, who lost to Prince George’s County’s Potomac in the 2005 2A state championship match at M&T Bank Stadium.
No Carroll County team has won a state football title.
South Carroll is a win away from changing that.
“This team’s got grit. They’ve got heart and they’ve got character. I’ve seen it for three years now, since they were freshmen, and I knew that if we had the opportunity at the end of the football game, they’d come through, and they did,” said Kraus. “It’s just a great effort.”
CLASS 2A/1A STATE SEMIFINAL
No. 12 South Carroll 14, No. 19 Harford Tech 13
Harford Tech 7 0 0 6 – 13
South Carroll 0 7 0 7 – 14
HT – Kelvin Mendez 5 run (Milton kick)
SC – Logan Miller 15 pass from Ryan Barnard (Barnard kick)
HT – Kevin Mendez 5 run (kick failed)
SC – Carter Mazalewski 27 pass from Barnard (Barnard kick)