Looking at a stat sheet after the game, you might have thought the Westfield defense was totally outplayed by Chantilly’s dynamic run-option offense in Friday night’s Division 6 Northern Region semifinal. The Chargers had racked up 462 total yards compared to Westfield’s 355, and they had outscored the home team 20-0 in the fourth quarter.
But stat sheets never tell the whole truth. A combination of critical fourth-down stops in the first half and interceptions in the second half allowed Westfield to enter the fourth quarter with a commanding 34-7 lead that would have been nearly impossible to squander. The Bulldogs surrendered plenty of yards and points during that final frame, but their sturdy play up until that point awarded them a hefty margin for error.
“We came out electric in the beginning, but in the fourth quarter we kind of started easing and swaying,” senior cornerback Lamar Hardy said. “We kind of took our focus off a little bit. But I’m glad to have coaches like coach [Jon] Shields and coach [Kyle] Simmons, who preach focus nonstop. That’s what got us through the rest of the game.”
In spite of those nervous moments in the fourth quarter, Westfield (12-0, 5-0 Concorde) came away from Friday’s contest with a 34-27 win that vaulted them to a second-straight regional championship appearance. Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff will pit them against Oakton (8-4, 1-4 Concorde), which narrowly beat Centreville, 14-13, to prevent a repeat matchup of last year’s region championship.
Though they won’t get a shot at revenge against the defending state finalist, Westfield players are motivated to go after their school’s first region crown since 2007, a year that also reaped a state championship trophy.
The undefeated Bulldogs have reached this point largely thanks to an efficient offense that has thrived on its versatility. Six players from the Westfield offense made the All-Concorde First Team this season, pointing to a unit whose powerful offensive line has anchored a strong rushing attack led by senior tailback Dalaun Richardson and a dangerous passing attack at the hands of senior quarterback Chris Mullins.
The Westfield defense, meanwhile, has overcome injuries and inexperience to display steady improvement with each passing week. Despite season-ending injuries to defensive lineman Sam Clark and linebacker Vince Song, the Bulldogs have managed to come together as one of the best defenses in the area this season.
Their biggest turning point came in the wake of a hard-fought 24-21 road win against Chantilly on Oct. 5. After that game, Westfield coach Kyle Simmons challenged his team — which gave up an average of nearly 23 points per game through the first four weeks — to lower its points-allowed average to 13 points per game for the rest of the season. Simmons’ defense responded in kind, giving up an average of 13.8 points per game during the remaining stretch leading up to last week’s contest.
Senior defensive lineman Brian Deeley joined Hardy as the only two returning starters from a 2011 defense that showed plenty of dominance en route to a 12-1 season. Deeley and Hardy have worked to carry last year’s defensive prowess to this year’s squad, but they also preach to teammates about avoiding a fate similar to the one that befell the 2011 team.
“I keep it pretty general: I tell them I’m not turning my pads in tonight,” said Deeley, who was named to the district’s First Team defense along with Hardy and linebacker Beau Donahue. “Last year when we had to turn our pads in after the Centreville game, it was pretty emotional. I saw some of my really good friends down to tears. They didn’t want this thing to end. We’ve got something special here.”
The Westfield defense put its desire to avoid elimination on full display for much of the game, holding Chantilly’s explosive offense to a mere seven points through the first three quarters. It was an impressive feat against a team that hadn’t scored less than 30 points since its last meeting against Westfield six weeks ago.
That type of tone-setting performance was nothing new for the Bulldogs, who have adhered to a winning formula of shutting down opponents early while the offense builds an insurmountable lead. Since the Oct. 5 Chantilly game, Westfield has led opponents by an average of 29 points through the first three quarters, including a 49-0 advantage in its first round playoff game against West Springfield and a 41-13 lead against Herndon the previous week.
Now the Bulldogs must gear up for an Oakton team thriving off the sizzling play of Kyle Downer, the burly 6-foot-4 senior who has tortured defenses in the both the running and passing game this season. Downer rushed for 164 yards in addition to his 98 yards passing in Oakton’s 28-14 loss against Westfield on Oct. 19.
If a resilient Westfield defense can find a way to thwart the surging Cougars again, they will have reached a stage that even last year’s heralded team failed to sniff.
“We’re just overall proud of our squad,” Hardy said. “We did lose a lot of seniors, but to be as good and have the resilience that we did and fight back against the odds of people saying we weren’t going to be as good as were last year, it’s a great feeling.”