Walkersville at Tuscarora: This game is an early test for two teams that hope to do more than just qualify for the expanded playoffs. After stumbling to a 4-6 record last season, largely due to inexperience, Walkersville returns 13 starters, including junior Josiah Jones, who should be one of the preeminent running backs in the county. Tuscarora, meanwhile, returns its top playmaker in senior Jordan Addison. Last season, Addison played receiver, quarterback and cornerback as the Titans went 6-4 and missed the playoffs by one victory. He could reprise all three roles this season. These teams have split their meetings over the last two seasons with Walkersville winning 27-20 on the road in 2017 and Tuscarora prevailing 49-29 on the road last season.
Urbana at Clarksburg: With 33 returning players, including 24 seniors, the Hawks believe they have the talent to compete with any team on their schedule. They have a three-year starter at quarterback in junior Kyle Howse, a fast running back in Eric Kolar and a tall and athletic receiving corps. A couple of noticeable changes: Urbana is switching to a 3-4 alignment on defense to better suit the strengths of its players, and the team will wear navy blue helmets instead of their traditional white ones. The Hawks have split their last four meetings with Clarksburg.
Thomas Johnson at Middletown: In each of the last two seasons, Middletown has finished with a winning record and yet failed to qualify for the playoffs in the highly competitive Class 2A West region. With 15 returning starters, including a highly regarded quarterback prospect in Reese Poffenbarger, the Knights expect that to change this season. They need to get off to a good start because the early part of their schedule is challenging with games against Urbana, Linganore and Boonsboro in the first month of the season. Thomas Johnson, on the other hand, will be looking to make steady improvements over the course of the season.
Linganore at Liberty: This game figures to be a contrast in styles. Linganore will look to crank up its running game, while trying to contain the passing and running of Liberty quarterback Nathan Kent, the Player of the Year in Carroll County last season after throwing for 1,511 yards and 22 touchdowns, in addition to rushing for 646 yards and 10 scores. This will be the first meeting between these teams since 2004 when Linganore prevailed 45-8 at home. The Lancers will begin the process of moving past their final-second loss to Franklin in last season’s Class 3A championship game.
Oakdale at Wilde Lake: The Bears open defense of their Class 2A championship with new faces across most of the starting lineup. One of their returning starters, Ethan Reifer, is playing quarterback instead of receiver on offense and safety instead of linebacker on defense this season. Last season, Oakdale won by an average of 34 points. No one got within 17 points of the Bears last season. They might not have as much margin for error this season, but they still expect to contend for a state title. Wilde Lake, meanwhile, lost its final two games last season to finish 6-4.
Catoctin at Boonsboro: The Cougars’ 26-14 victory over Boonsboro last season set the tone for a 10-2 season and their first trip to the playoffs since 2013. Then, in the first round of the Class 1A West playoffs, they pulled out a 34-28 home win over the Warriors to advance to the regional final against eventual state champion Fort Hill. Although it will have a new starting quarterback, expectations are high for Catoctin to make another deep playoff run. There are returning starters all over the field, including receivers Travis Fields and running backs Jacob Baker and Carson Sickeri.
Northern Garrett at Brunswick: The Railroaders hope to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Last season, they carried playoff hopes into the final week of the regular season before falling to Catoctin 48-32. Still, having something to play for so late in the season was a huge step in the right direction for Brunswick. The Railroaders return 11 starters, including three-year starter Ben Nedrow along the offensive and defensive lines. They added running back Josh Pratt, who transferred from Good Counsel. They will take on a Northern Garrett team that finished 3-6 last season.
Frederick at Silver Oak Academy: The Cadets won four games last season, their highest-win total since 2012 when they won seven games. They have 12 starters back, including a three-year starter at quarterback in senior Kisaye Barnes, who will run their no-huddle, spread-zone offense. Even though the schedule is tougher, Frederick is hopeful it will continue to improve. They will open the season against a Silver Oak team that won one game last season.
Paul Public Charter School at SJCP (0-1): The young Vikings are hoping to bounce back from a 46-8 loss at MSD last week. They generated a little momentum by scoring on the game’s final play and are hoping to build upon that.
7 p.m. Saturday
Hampton Roads (Va.) at MSD (1-0): The Orioles were not challenged last week in a season-opening 46-8 victory over St. John’s Catholic Prep. Senior Truth Dorsette scored four touchdowns as part of a 30-point first quarter for MSD. The Orioles hope to keep things rolling against Hampton Roads, which will be playing its first game of the season.
— Greg Swatek
Follow Greg Swatek on Twitter: @greg_swatek