With Westfield's football team trailing by four points just 18 seconds before halftime to visiting Annandale last night, a subdued crowd and perhaps the Annandale sideline assumed the defending state champion Bulldogs might sit on the ball at their own 44-yard-line.
But instead, Westfield junior running back Evan Royster reminded all present that he was part of the team's explosive offensive trio from last year's AAA Division 6 champion, breaking free for a 56-yard touchdown run to give his team a three-point lead.
No. 7 Westfield, behind the first start at quarterback for junior Val Arduini, went on to win at home, 26-24.
A year ago, Royster ran for nearly 1,700 yards to help the Bulldogs to a 37.4 points-per-game average, sharing the spotlight with since graduated All-Met quarterback Sean Glennon and All-Met Player of the Year Eddie Royal.
"We might have sat on it, but we got good field position on that kickoff, so we decided to give it to Evan and see if he could make a play," said Westfield Coach Tom Verbanic, whose team has won 15 consecutive games. "He was slowed tonight by the flu, but he's a heck of a running back."
Royster finished with 235 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Last year, he had two long runs in a 24-11 win at Annandale, the Bulldogs' closest regular season game of the year.
"We worked hard in practice the past couple of weeks getting ready for" Westfield, Atoms senior wide receiver Corey Quigley said. "It was just a miscue on that play."
Arduini played mistake-free, said Verbanic, completing two of his first three passes for touchdowns. His 23-yard strike to David Ashton with 4 minutes 22 seconds left in the third quarter made it 26-17. Glennon, a three-year starter, graduated last year with 67 career touchdown passes.
Annandale also had a first-time starter at quarterback in sophomore Nathan Cartegena, who filled in for expected starter Davis Murillo (knee ligament injury). Cartegena (18 carries, team-high 83 yards, 128 yards passing) rallied Annandale in the fourth quarter, driving the Atoms 75 yards, ending with a 29-yard lob touchdown pass to Quigley. The extra point brought Annandale to within 26-24. The Atoms got the ball back with 2:11 left in the game, but had to start at their own 6 after a punt by Westfield's Brent Bowden. Annandale failed to move the ball on four downs and the Bulldogs then ran out the clock.
Annandale wasted a 53-yard return on the opening kickoff by Mike Torbert when it fumbled the first exchange from scrimmage at the Westfield 43. But after stopping a fourth and five by the Bulldogs at their own 28 on the ensuing drive, the Atoms marched 72 yards on 14 plays to take a 6-0 lead with 1:25 left in the first quarter.
The teams then traded scores the rest of the half, with Annandale taking 17-13 lead when Torbert intercepted a deep pass and returned it to the Bulldogs 45. Three plays, Torbert kicked a 42-yard field goal to make it 17-13 with 18 seconds left in the half.