In the moments that James Gibson first scooped up a first-quarter fumble during Friday’s game against No. 5 Stone Bridge, the Westfield defensive back found fuel from the home crowd’s roar and the end zone stretched before him. But by the time Gibson hit midfield, his lungs began to burn.
“Oh man, I was so tired,” Gibson said. “I could feel guys trying to hit my legs, so I just started kicking and picking my knees up to try to make it to the end.”
The determination of Gibson, who would later collapse in the end zone, and his fellow Westfield defenders to turn Stone Bridge’s errors into points proved the difference in the ninth-ranked Bulldogs’ 30-6 win in Chantilly.
Two Stone Bridge fumbles and an interception resulted in 17 critical points for Westfield, which also twice stopped Stone Bridge on fourth down. The defeat marks the first time Stone Bridge has lost two regular season games in a single season since 2002.
“The depth of our defensive line helped, and we’re athletic behind them,” Westfield Coach Kyle Simmons said. “We were really well-prepared for this game, and defensively, the players have really shown faith in what we’re trying to do.”
On Westfield’s first drive, Simmons showed a bit of that faith by going for it on fourth down deep in Stone Bridge territory. The risk paid off as William Pickett, who started for the injured Mason Scoville (concussion), found Evan Gray for a 29-yard touchdown.
Westfield’s defense carried the team for the rest of the half. After a Stone Bridge fumbled handoff, Gibson scooped up the ball and ran it back 93 yards. On the ensuing kickoff, Stone Bridge fumbled again, leading to a 38-yard Westfield field goal.
Westfield would extinguish Stone Bridge’s next three drives with a sack on third down and two fourth-down stops. The defensive effort and turnovers helped Westfield take a 23-0 lead into halftime despite being outgained 152-132 on offense up to that point.
“We sacrificed for each other on defense, picking up assignments and going all out to make plays all over the field,” Gibson said. “We each have our responsibilities out there, but we sacrifice for each other as a unit.”
Gibson would later do just that, sacrificing his body in the fourth quarter by absorbing a big hit so teammate Rashaune Rice could finish taking his interception 64 yards for the game-sealing touchdown.