When Jack Clancy went down with a season-ending knee injury during Westfield’s 38-7 romp over Oakton two weeks ago, the Bulldogs’ defense could have been headed for a decline. Instead, it’s thriving like never before.
Westfield pitched its second straight shutout in Clancy’s absence Friday night, this time sneaking past Conference 5 rival Robinson, 3-0, on the road in a stagnant slugfest that was as impressive on defense as it was ugly on offense.
The ground-and-pound Conference 5 battle — more reminiscent of your grandfather’s version of the sport than the newfangled pass-happy attacks so popular at the high school level these days — fittingly came down to a brave defensive stand at the goal line. On fourth and goal with eight minutes left in the game, senior defensive back Joe Caron made a shoestring tackle on Robinson tailback Dajon Lee a half-yard from the goal line to preserve the Bulldogs’ 3-0 lead and hand the ball back to Westfield.
Yet Caron wouldn’t even take credit for the tackle after the game. He insisted the whole team made the stop, a fitting take for a squad that linked arms after its senior linebacker, Clancy, implored his guys before the game to stick together as one wall.
“That play just kind of defines our defense,” Caron said. “It was a long drive and [Robinson] made a lot of big plays, but we just gritted it out and made the stop when it mattered. It’s a bend-but-don’t-break mentality.”
Westfield junior place kicker Brian Delaney was the Bulldogs’ hero on the scoreboard as his 42-yard boot sneaked inside the right upright to break the deadlock with 3 minutes 45 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Delaney also got off a critical 50-yard punt that was nearly blocked with 3:18 left in the fourth.
That kick still gave Robinson (4-3, 2-1 Conference 5) good field position at its own 49-yard line, but Westfield’s stingy defense held firm once again, this time sealing the deal with a sack from defensive end Zach Jewell with less than two minutes to play on fourth and nine.
“I was just like, ‘We have to get a stop,’ ” Jewell said. “This is our last play, and I knew our defense would do it. We have one of the best defenses in the state, if not the best. I knew just to stay home, and he came right at me, and I made the tackle.”
Westfield (6-1, 2-0) held Robinson without a first down in the opening quarter but surrendered a 17-play, 79-yard drive to close the first half. That sustained drive — Robinson’s only one of the game — ended in a missed 25-yard field goal attempt that send both teams into the halftime locker room with no points.
Needing only a field goal to tie or a touchdown to win, Robinson looked poised to send its home crowd off on a high note on the game’s final drive. But Jewell and company summoned the spirit of their absent leader to notch the school’s seventh consecutive win over the Rams and put themselves in good position to lock up first place in Conference 5 with only three games left on the regular season schedule.
Clancy “told us before the game, ‘I know I’m not out there, so someone has to be the voice,’ ” Jewell said. “So we all chipped in, and we all were the voice.”