Oakton 33, Westfield 0
Oakton turned in its finest defensive performance last night thanks in large part to its backfield -- its offensive backfield, that is.
Four players -- Keith Payne, Bobby Fitton, Taylor Naleppa and Kevin Houghton -- helped the Cougars gain 341 yards on the ground and rack up 21 first downs to Westfield's three on a damp night in Chantilly, where No. 8 Oakton ended the defending state champion's season with a resounding 33-0 victory in a Virginia AAA Northern Region Division 6 semifinal.
Oakton's ability to run the ball and sustain long drives kept Westfield running back Evan Royster and the 14th-ranked Bulldogs' potent offense off the field. And when Royster was on the field, the Cougars' defense stuffed him at the line of scrimmage. The junior tailback was held to a season-low 59 yards on 19 carries, with all but four of those yards coming in the first half. Westfield had only 22 rushes and seven failed pass attempts.
"We knew they had a powerful offense, so we wanted to keep them off the field by eating up the clock and making [up] ground four yards at a time," said Naleppa, a junior fullback who rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. "Westfield always takes us for granted for some reason, so we always have to show them who's boss. And we did that again tonight."
Westfield has lost only four of its last 37 games dating from the season finale in 2001, and Oakton is responsible for all of the defeats, including a 24-20 decision on Oct. 29. The Cougars are also the last team to shut out the Bulldogs, a 17-0 result in the region semifinals in 2002. Oakton went on to win the region that year.
Oakton (10-1) can claim its second region title in three years next Saturday, when it visits Robinson (11-0) in the championship game. Westfield's season ended at 9-2.
After the game as the Oakton players celebrated and parents and girlfriends ran onto the field, Cougars Coach Joe Thompson quickly gathered his troops, telling them to get down on a knee, be quiet and listen up.
"I love watching you all celebrate," he told his players. "But this tonight is just one step."
Said Payne, a junior tailback: "Every game, coach has been telling us we haven't won anything. We can't wait until he tells us we won something."
Payne rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Fitton had 44 yards and a score, and Houghton, in his second start at quarterback, rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown. Defensive back Pat Purcell had three interceptions.
Oakton led 6-0 at halftime and 12-0 after the third quarter. In the final period, Payne scored twice on short runs to put the Cougars ahead 26-0, and Oakton's defense produced three Westfield turnovers, including two Purcell picks. The Bulldogs ran only six offensive plays in the fourth quarter.
"We got beat up front on both sides of the ball tonight," Westfield Coach Tom Verbanic said. "They physically dominated us."