As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Saturday’s Virginia AAA Northern Region Division 6 championship between Oakton and Westfield, Cougars quarterback Kyle Downer joined a bouncing circle of teammates at midfield for an impromptu chant.
“I believe that we just won! I believe that we just won!”
But while Downer’s mouth screamed those words, the incredulous look on his face afterward said something else. Part of him still couldn’t believe that visiting Oakton had just upset top-seeded Westfield, 23-16, in Chantilly, or that the Cougars were now region champs despite finishing the regular season with four straight losses.
Oakton (9-4) will host a Division 6 semifinal next Saturday against Central region champion L.C. Bird (13-0), which beat Varina, 36-27.
“It’s still pretty surreal to me,” said Downer, who totaled 172 yards and three touchdowns. “Every week, we’ve gained momentum while kind of just accepting the role of underdog and taking it upon ourselves to respond against the odds.”
Saturday’s odds included a fourth-ranked Westfield squad that had already beaten the Cougars once this season and a slow first quarter that saw Oakton produce zero first downs and three total yards.
Downer went to work in the second quarter, diving for a first down on a fake punt and rushing for 54 yards on three plays before finding Andy Boone for a 21-yard touchdown pass that put Oakton up 7-0. But the Bulldogs (12-1) took just 15 seconds to respond, turning a big kickoff return into a 30-yard touchdown run by Dalaun Richardson.
On the ensuing possession, Downer again took charge, driving the No. 15 Cougars downfield on an array of option runs and a 24-yard strike to Boone. The drive would eventually end with Downer rushing into the end zone for a three-yard score and a 13-7 lead following a missed extra point.
After a scoreless third quarter, Brian Burns capped a 14-play Oakton drive with a 31-yard field goal. Two plays later, the Cougars stole the ball — and the momentum — when Daniel Mansfield recovered a Westfield fumble and returned it to the Bulldogs 10-yard line.
Facing a fourth down at the 3, Oakton called the play it normally uses for two-point conversions, with Downer rolling left before finding Boone in the end zone for what would be the decisive score.
“I knew the ball was coming to me and when I got it, I just held on for dear life because we needed that score and we could sense the win in our hands,” said Boone, who had three catches for 48 yards and two touchdowns.
Westfield furiously rallied in the final minutes, with Chris Mullins rushing for a touchdown and a recovered onside kick leading to a 21-yard field goal. But it was not enough to avoid a second straight region final loss.