Though he’s more prone to lead by example, Westfield running back Tyler Thrasher-Walker knew that when Coach Kyle Simmons opened the floor for players to talk prior to their Nov. 8 senior night contest against Chantilly, it was time for him to speak up.
“I told them this isn’t time to have any regrets,” the soft-spoken senior rusher recalled. “Like any senior, we know the cost if we lose in the playoffs. There’s no Monday practice or coming back next week. The clock can run out in the fourth quarter, so this is it and we all need to stand up and step up.”
Those words resonated, as the Bulldogs have demonstrated an uncanny resolve in pulling out a close win against Chantilly that night before shaking off a slow start to defeat Hayfield in last week’s 6A North region playoff opener.
Now, with Concorde District rival Robinson seeking revenge following a one-point loss five weeks ago, the Bulldogs will again look to rise to the challenge and return to the postseason’s third round for a third straight year.
Though a missed extra point was all that separated the two teams on Oct. 18, Robinson’s bid to upset the Bulldogs could be a bit more challenging with Westfield’s improved bill of health. Defensive lineman Tyler Sevener is back after missing most of the first contest with an injury and linebacker Connor McNulty is expected to make his first start since injuring his leg in an Oct. 11 loss to Centreville.
Their presence will be vital in slowing a Robinson rushing attack that racked up 268 yards in last week’s win against Patriot.
Thrasher-Walker hopes to counter Robinson’s ground-and-pound offense with his own play, using his aggressive running style to turn yards into points as the Bulldogs look to notch their fifth straight win against the Rams.
“What we took from the first game is we need to execute better,” said Thrasher-Walker, who has rushed for 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns. “We were able to move the ball but we weren’t really putting up points. This time we need to do both to put ourselves in a position to win again.”
Chad Wiggins knows it sounds cliché but after a week of practice, the Centreville linebacker realizes there’s only one way to combat South County’s triple-option offense when the teams face off in Friday’s 6A North region quarterfinals.
“The main thing is everyone has to do their job,” Wiggins said. “If your job is to hit the fullback, hit him. If your job is to tackle the quarterback, tackle him. If your job is to get the pitch guy, get him. With the triple option, you can’t try to be the hero and try to do someone else’s job when your job is what’s needed to be done. And that’s the best thing about our defense; we’re out to win games and not be selfish.”
That said, Wiggins also knows the Stallions will present one of the toughest challenges for the second-ranked Wildcats this season. Behind its unique offense, South County is averaging nearly 47 points and 358 rushing yards per game, and will look to test a Centreville unit that is still without starting linebacker Tyler Love (shoulder).
Along with film study, Centreville will draw upon a defensive prowess that’s yielded four shutouts, one of which came against a Chantilly team that, at times, ran the triple option. The speed of linebackers like Wiggins and Xavier Nickens-Yzer and defensive backs A.J. Turner and Charles Tutt will be critical in closing off the edges that LeVaughn Davis and his fellow South County rushers have effectively attacked this season.
‘We’re happy about what we’ve done so far but it’s not over yet,” Wiggins said. “On defense, we look to shut out every team we play and we believe we’re capable of it, but come playoff time, the biggest thing is moving on to the next round.”