THURMONT — Catoctin football players had dispersed from their postgame huddle Friday, and Cougars running back Carson Sickeri fittingly emerged carrying a brown plaque in his right hand.
Catoctin’s team received the plaque for reaching the Class 1A state semifinals, having just earned that berth by defeating Fairmont Heights 41-21 in the state quarterfinals.
The plaque eventually made its way to Cougars senior defensive back Eli Frei, who promptly handed it to Sickeri.
“He just said, ‘Have it, and enjoy the day,’” Sickeri said.
Catoctin (11-1) will host defending state champion Fort Hill (11-1) in the state semifinals next Friday.
Sickeri was allowed to keep the plaque for the night — and deservedly so considering he had just rushed for 281 yards and all six of his team’s touchdowns. But after he revealed how he received the opportunity to walk off the field with the plaque, the junior quickly deflected the attention placed on him to his teammates.
“The line helped me with it big time,” Sickeri said. “They had huge holes for me. They did their part, and I did my part of doing the cuts and getting to the edge.”
Offensive linemen Jacob McIlvaine, Derek Zepp, Isaac Dotson, Tyler Hauk and Michael Dougherty, along with tight end Mason Shank, created those holes, and they were indeed huge, particularly the ones Sickeri bursted through on his first and fourth touchdowns.
On the former, he ripped through an opening on the left side before cutting back to his right and sprinting down the right sideline for a 28-yard score. On the latter, he sped through another large hole on the right side before racing down the sideline for a 49-yarder that gave the Cougars an emotional lift they sorely needed.
Two plays earlier, the Hornets’ Jamal Lone barreled through a gaping hole on the right side of the line for a 58-yard touchdown that pulled Fairmont Heights (8-4) within 20-13. So the Cougars’ ability to deliver a blow immediately after absorbing one brought out some emotion from the normally reserved Sickeri, who sprinted to the sideline in elation.
“I was filled with excitement because I knew we needed a big play right there, and I knew if we make a big play ... we could pull away,” Sickeri said.
Catoctin did distance itself from Fairmont Heights thanks to a defense that in the second half clamped down on what had been a potent rushing attack and continued to create turnovers.
In the first half, the Hornets gashed the Cougars’ defense by running misdirection plays with Lone and jet sweeps with Victor Paz, who ran for 131 and 111 yards, respectively.
Paz, who had gains of 35 and 49 yards on jet sweeps in the first half, mustered just 11 of his yards in the second half. Outside of Lone’s long touchdown run, the Cougars held the dynamic senior back to 73 yards on 22 carries.
“They smoked us in the first half on the jet sweep, and then my defensive coaches at halftime made some adjustments,” Catoctin coach Doug Williams said. “They the kids listened to them, and we slowed them down in the second half.”
Meanwhile, Bronson Snurr intercepted two passes by Fairmont Heights quarterback Wayne Simpson, and Travis Fields also picked off a pass. Jacob Baker and Conner Kock recovered fumbles, with Baker’s coming at a crucial juncture in the first half.
After tying the game at 7, the Hornets’ George Adjei pounced on a kickoff that took an uncharacteristically long bounce backward. Two plays later, Baker recovered a fumble at Catoctin’s 20-yard line.
Such plays by the defense, Sickeri said, energizes an offense champing at the bit to cash in on golden scoring chances. The Cougars’ offense started four of its drives inside Fairmont Heights’ 40-yard line.
“It gives us adrenaline,” Sickeri said. “When you see big plays like that, it just give you opportunities, and this team takes [advantage] of our opportunities.”