Hayfield Coach Eric Henderson presents a game ball to a member of the coaching staff after the Hawks pulled out a nail-biter against Patriot on Friday night in Alexandria. (Nick Eilerson/The Washington Post)

One nightmarish performance threatened to vanquish Jacob Keeney’s sparkling season. Hayfield’s prolific gunslinger couldn’t do anything right, his playoff debut marred by missed dump-off passes and uncharacteristic interceptions.

But with the fourth quarter winding down and his team trailing Patriot by two points, Keeney delivered. The senior quarterback scrambled left on fourth and 10 and saw his targets blanketed in man coverage. A hole opened in the middle, though, so he ran for his life and picked up 12 yards with just under two minutes left on the clock.

“It was just baller mentality,” Keeney said. “Just go make a play and continue the drive.”

A few plays later, Keeney took a three-yard keeper into the end zone to lift eighth-seeded Hayfield to a 30-26 victory in the opening round of the Virginia 6A North region tournament in Alexandria. The Hawks advance to face top-seeded Lake Braddock in next week’s quarterfinals.

Patriot (7-4), the No. 9 seed in the 16-team field, nearly completed an even more impressive comeback drive after Keeney’s go-ahead score. Senior quarterback Patrick Bentley was having his own struggles through the air, completing just two passes leading into that final drive as wind gusts swirled throughout the evening.

But Bentley’s arm came alive when it mattered most, as he completed back-to-back passes of 28 and 36 yards to help push the visiting Pioneers 71 yards in just under a minute. He then completed a nine-yard out route to running back J.B. Thompson, and suddenly Patriot was knocking on the doorstep, positioned at Hayfield’s 5-yard line with the game clock stopped at six seconds.

Following a false-start penalty on fourth and one, Bentley rolled right and aimed to plow his towering frame to a first down, but he lost control of the football and Hayfield recovered to end the game.

The result handed a huge confidence boost to a Hayfield squad eight points away from being undefeated this season. The Hawks (9-2) lost a tight shootout to South County in September and fell to Madison in similar fashion last week.

“Since those two games we’ve been talking about, ‘Just finish,’ ” Hayfield Coach Eric Henderson said. “Don’t try not to lose the game; try to win it.”

Keeney seemed to be at a loss until the game’s final minutes. Coming off four consecutive 300-plus-yard performances, Keeney completed just 10 of 20 pass attempts for 125 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown Friday.

But his composure drove the Hawks 82 yards in 2:33 on their final drive of the night. The first-year starter was rewarded with his first playoff victory.

“His ability to make plays is the most important part,” Henderson said. “He made plays when he had to.”

After the game, Keeney hoisted a jug of Hawaiian Punch over his head as his teammates clamored to pass it around. Earlier this season, Keeney had heard Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer exhort his team to “bring the juice” every day, so Keeney turned it into a ritual in Alexandria this fall.

“We got the juice!” he shouted.