Perhaps the toughest task for Evan Gray and his Westfield teammates Saturday afternoon was describing what had just transpired in their Virginia 6A North region semifinal against No. 3 Lake Braddock. The game’s aftermath looked quite similar to the Bulldogs’ two previous Thanksgiving weekend playoff contests, with tears trickling down the chilled cheeks of Westfield’s players and coaches shaking their heads in disbelief following season-ending upset defeats.
But somehow — with their best player sidelined for most of the game — and some way — after trailing by 13 points with five minutes to play — the No. 7 Bulldogs found themselves celebrating a 19-16 upset victory against the Bruins in Burke. Westfield advanced to face No. 2 Centreville, which beat Stonewall Jackson, 52-27, in Saturday’s other semifinal.
“This all is just so breathtaking,” said Gray, who rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown. “We’ve been to this round so many times and fallen short. And to be up against what we were today and still come out on top is amazing.”
As the underdog based on seeding and after losing their Sept. 20 regular season matchup against the Bruins, Westfield (11-2) saw its chances at victory plummet as standout rusher Tyler Thrasher-Walker crumpled to the ground and grabbed his left knee following a second-quarter run. Up to that point, Thrasher-Walker had gained 98 yards and nearly scored in the first period before slipping just short of the goal line on fourth down. He did not return.
The Bulldogs threw an interception three plays later that led to a Caleb Henderson touchdown run for Lake Braddock (12-1). But Westfield blocked the extra point to leave the score 13-0 at halftime.
As Thrasher-Walker limped back to the sideline on crutches at the start of the second half, he sought out Gray and told the junior running back “it’s on you now.”
Gray took the challenge to heart and racked up 151 of his yards in the second half. But his efforts initially yielded only a field goal and a fumble, allowing Lake Braddock to maintain control and a 16-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
“I made a mistake a few plays earlier on that long pass they had, so I told myself I had to make up for it,” Gibson said. “I told the line if they block it, I’m going to get it.”
The Bulldogs forced a Lake Braddock punt on the ensuing possession and placed the ball in the hands of Gray, who capped a 78-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run. The drama continued on the extra point as Westfield missed its first attempt wide left. But a Lake Braddock personal foul gave Conor Bouveron another try, and he nailed the decisive point with 15 seconds remaining.
The Bulldogs forced a safety on the Bruins’ last play of the game for the final margin.
“I’m so proud of them to be in the position they were, to have one of our main horses go down and still keep fighting until the end,” Bulldogs Coach Kyle Simmons said. “This was an incredible effort and win.”