When Westlake senior linebacker Johnathan Barnes ran back a 55-yard fumble return to put the Wolverines up 21-6 over Thomas Stone early in the third quarter on Friday night, the Cougars’ collective back appeared on the verge of breaking.
But rather than panic, the visiting Cougars scored on a pair of touchdowns from senior Hopeton Mair to tie the game in the fourth and force overtime.
With the game deadlocked at 21, junior Nicco Vargas nailed a 22-yard field goal attempt through the uprights to lift the third-seeded Cougars to the 24-21 comeback victory at second-seeded Westlake in the Class 2A South Region semifinals.
“This was a big win for our team and they had confidence in me that I could make the field goal and it happened in overtime,” Vargas said.
Stone (8-3 overall) advances to Friday’s region final where they will host fourth-seeded Glenelg of Howard County at 7 p.m. Glenelg defeated top-seeded River Hill, also of Howard County, 14-6 in the other 2A South semifinal matchup on Friday.
Vargas had two field goals blocked in the game, the second with less than two minutes remaining in regulation that would have given the Cougars the three-point lead at the time.
Westlake had the chance to break the tie in the fourth, but Ryan Lloyd missed a 26-yard field goal attempt with 3 1/2 minutes left.
The Wolverines took possession first in overtime, but the Stone secondary was able to break up four straight passing attempts to force a turnover on downs.
Stone avenged a 19-15 regular season setback to the Wolverines on Sept. 28 in the 301 Classic. In that contest, Cougars took a 15-0 halftime lead only to see Westlake score 19 unanswered points en route to the comeback win.
“We came in here on the road and beat a very good football team,” Stone head coach Danny Ripple said. “We didn’t give up when we were down and I’m proud of our guys for fighting back. We are excited to host the regional final and prepare for Glenelg.”
A little over three minutes following Barnes’ big fumble return, Mair scooped up a fumble and returned it 53 yards for the score to bring Stone to within 21-14 after the two-point conversion.
With less than 10 minutes left in regulation, Stone tied the game at 21 as Mair rumbled for a 16-yard touchdown run on fourth down to cap an 8-play, 44-yard drive.
“When we got down we didn’t hang our heads,” Mair said. “Next week is going to be two underdogs going at it. It feels good to be playing on our home field.”
Mair and senior quarterback Delonta Nunnally combined for 172 yards of Stone’s 226 total rushing yards in the game.
Westlake (8-3) took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 40-yard touchdown run by senior running back Jordan Brumfield.
Early in the second period, junior quarterback Jalon Spencer found junior wide receiver Kevin Hughley for a 25-yard touchdown pass to push the Wolverines’ lead to 14-0.
The difference in the game was Stone capitalizing on mistakes by us,” Westlake head coach Tony Zaccarelli said. “[Stone] was able to take several turnovers and turn them into points in the second half. This was a great season for our program. It has been a long time since we have had a record better than 7-3 and making the playoffs.”
With less than two minutes left in the first half, Nunnally (23 carries, 92 yards) scored on a 7-yard touchdown run on fourth down to cut the lead to 14-6 at halftime.
It was a game of turnovers as Westlake committed six in the game with Stone recovering five fumbles and had an interception. The Westlake defense delivered with three interceptions and had two fumble recoveries.