By Jimmy Thomas
The state’s top two teams squared off Saturday in a Virginia AAA Division 6 state semifinal in what many are already calling the game of the year.
But the truth is that the back-and-forth battle between these two powerhouses might also go down as one for the ages.
Westfield senior quarterback Mike Glennon led the Bulldogs on a dramatic, fourth-quarter drive for the go-ahead touchdown with 2 minutes, 30 seconds remaining and then recovered the ensuing kickoff to seal its 24-21 win at Oscar Smith. The moment Oscar Smith fumbled — and lost — the kickoff the Tigers’ fans started filing out of the stadium while Bulldog crowd, some of whom arrived in an elaborate Winnabego that read “Go Bulldogs!” on its side, breathed an almost audible sigh of relief.
And then the celebration started.
“Words can’t even describe it,” Westfield senior wide receiver Johnny Pickett said. “That was the greatest game I’ve ever played in. It was incredible. Oscar Smith was awesome.”
But Westfield was even better. The Bulldogs’ offense converted the one first down it needed to be able to run out the clock following the fumbled kickoff, denying the Tigers’ potent offense a final shot at the ball.
“It was pretty emotional,” Westfield senior Tucker Karl said of his team recovering the kickoff. “But we had to keep our cool because we didn’t know if we were going to be going back on the field, as a defense, or not. But as soon as [senior running back Steven] Tabot got that first down … it was ‘Hello Charlottesville.’ “
That’s where Westfield (14-0) will face Woodbridge (9-4) in the state championship
game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the University of Virginia’s Scott Stadium.
But earning the berth into that title game was grueling. The Bulldogs trailed the Tigers, 7-3, at half time despite the fact that both teams had been moving the ball well. It was getting into the end zone that proved difficult for both squads. Westfield had key sacks by senior linebackers Kyle Gofredo and Mike King and senior defensive linemen Lamar Owusu that stalled Oscar Smith drives, and the Tigers slowed the Bulldogs with an interception in the end zone.
Needing a second-half spark, Westfield came out of the locker room went straight to the Concorde District Player of the Year — senior playmaker Brian Kennedy. Kennedy took the hand off on the third play of the half and scampered 49-yards right up the middle for the score and a three point lead.
But he wasn’t done yet. On the ensuing Oscar Smith drive Kennedy stepped in front of North Carolina-bound senior standout wide receiver Todd Harrelson (15 catches, 354-yards) and returned the interception 90-yards for an apparent touchdown. The play was brought back to the 50 yard-line because of a holding penalty, but momentum had swung Westfield’s way.
“He is 100 percent heart,” Bulldogs’ Coach Tom Verbanic said of Kennedy. “He is the player of the year on defense in our district and you can see why tonight. He makes plays everywhere on defense. We try not to use him too much at tailback but he is something special when he gets the ball. He hit a big one tonight that was huge for us to start the second half.”
Westfield did finally find the end zone again late in the third quarter to go ahead 17-7 on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Glennon, who finished 18-of-34 passing for 270-yards and one touchdown. That three play drive was fueled by an 83-yard connection from Glennon to Pickett (9 catches, 180 yards) that put the Bulldogs inside the Tigers’ five yard line.
With the start of the fourth quarter and a 10-point lead, the Bulldogs seemed poised to advance to their second state final in four years.
But that’s when things got interesting. Oscar Smith sophomore quarterback Philip Sims (26-of-43 passing for 480 yards and three touchdowns) got hot, and hit Harrelson for touchdown passes of 44 and and 68 yards on consecutive plays to give Oscar Smith a 21-17 lead with 7:19 to play. The Tigers’ defense forced the Bulldogs to a three-and-out in between the two touchdown tosses.
Harrelson’s 350 receiving yards are a state tournament record and the second most all-time in Virginia High School League history; Sims’ 480 yards passing are another state playoff record and fifth most in state history.
But that’s when Glennon took over and did his best John Elway impression. Glennon led Westfield on a 12-play drive, converting 8-of-10 passes and a critical fourth down pass to senior wide receiver David Kruchko on 4th-and-6 along the way. He capped the impressive drive with a 5-yard strike to senior wide receiver Randy Johns for the 24-21 lead with 2:30 showing on the clock.
Then the Oscar Smith fumble. The Westfield recovery. A first down. And a victory that is sure to be legendary in the halls of Westfield High.
“I just just thought it was a great high school football game with kids making great plays on both sides,” Verbanic said.
It was that, and much more.