Westover's Dalviness Greene is corraled by the Cairo defense during Friday night's heartbreaking 28-20 loss by the Patriots.
ALBANY --Words were as tough to find as the end zone.
This wasn't just painful.
It was numbing -- down deep numbing.
Kids were silent, staring at the ground, looking for an answer. It wasn't there.
Some were just sitting there after the game, staring into the night.
The answer wasn't there, either.
The second half, the game and the chance to win the first region title in Westover history all slipped away Friday night at Hugh Mills Stadium, and there was no way to explain it.
How do you explain letting a 20-0 halftime lead turn into a 28-20 loss to Cairo in what might not just have been the biggest game of the season, but potentially the biggest in Westover's program history?
"It hurts,'' said Westover coach Octavia Jones, who had preached to his kids that they were good enough to win the first region title in Westover's 43-year-old program. And he was blunt at the pulpit, telling them over and over that the region title runs through Cairo.
And it still does.
Cairo, meanwhile, is still running over people.
The Syrupmakers did just that, scoring four times in the second half, on TD runs by Terrell Cason, including three in the fourth quarter, to stay perfect in the Region 1-AAA race and keep Westover's dreams of winning that title just out of the Patriots' reach.
"We were right there,'' Jones said of the big halftime lead. "We had the opportunity to do what we wanted to do, win the region title.''
Instead, Westover will have to win its last two games of the year against Americus-Sumter and Monroe to guarantee a berth in the playoffs. The Patriots are 2-2 in the region, but they were a half away from going to 3-1 and tying Cairo at the top of the race with the first tiebreaker in hand.
Then it all fell apart.
This wasn't the wheels coming off. This was the car rolling off a cliff.
"We came out in the second half and we didn't have any fight,'' Jones said. "I told them at halftime that we better play like we're down, and we didn't do it.''
Meanwhile Cairo coach Tom Fallaw was telling his kids not to worry about winning the game.
"At halftime we didn't even talk about winning the game,'' said Fallaw, whose team is 28-1 in Region 1-AAA games since 2007. "We told them that we were at the crossroads, and we were going to come out fighting or not.''
The Syrupmakers are 4-0 in the region and 6-2 overall right now because they hit the crossroads running in the second half, and once they snatched the momentum, Westover just couldn't get it back.
Cairo, which went to halftime with negative yardage, thanks to two quarterback sacks and a high snap on a punt that resulted in a 26-yard loss, just kept rolling in the second half. Cason scored the first of his four TD runs with 5:10 left in the third, and then Cairo drove the ball to the shadow of the goal line to end the quarter. Cason then scored on a 1-yard run on the first play of the fourth, and Westover's offense just couldn't answer.
The Patriots, who were hit with more than 100 yards in penalties in the game, including 70 in the second half, seemed to go one step forward and two steps back the entire second half. And after Casson scored to make it 20-14, the Patriots fumbled the ball back to Cairo at the Patriots 31. Six plays later, Cason scored on a 1-yard run, and when Taylor Donaldson kicked his third PAT of the night with 3:24 left in the game, Cairo took its first lead of the night, 21-20.
Westover turned the ball over on downs with 1:33 left, and Cason scored two plays later, dashing 28-yards with 1:26 left to make it a 28-20 final. He finished the night with 45 yards on 10 carries, and four TDs.
"We just never got the ball in the second half,'' said Westover quarterback T.J. Cromer, who took snaps at the end of the game
Added 'Westover receiver Jackie Childs: "We just got complacent. We've got to play four quarters.''
That was the feeling all over Westover.
"We just got too relaxed. We got the lead and we settled down,'' said quarterback T.J. Wester, who threw a 13-yard TD pass to Herald Dynamite Dozen selection Kenneth Towns and ran for a 1-yard TD run in the first half.
It was all Westover early. Cairo, the dynasty, looked like anything but one early. The Syrupmakers, who had been ranked in the state's Top 10 all year until this week, fumbled the opening kickoff, and Westover took that momentum and sailed with it.
A high snap on a punt set up Westover's first TD as the Patriots took over at the Cairo 5-yard line, and Shannon Saunders scored on a 4-yard run. Westover recovered a fumble on Cairo's next series, and drove 49 yards in five plays with the help of a 32-yard run fro McKenny Martin. Wester hit Towns for the 13-yard TD in the left corner of the end zone and then Cromer connected with Childs for a two-point conversion pass to make it 14-0 with 5:09 left in the first.
Westover's Kel Miller blocked a punt in the final minutes of the half, and Wester scored on a 1-yard run with 9.7 seconds left. But Terry Wiley's PAT sailed wide left.
Still it was 20-0, all Westover.
"The first half we made uncharacteristic mistakes that we usually don't make,'' Fallaw said. "It was a story of two halves. Everything went wrong for us in the first half, and everything went wrong for them in the second half. They are a good football team. I didn't hide my feelings about that before the game. I think coach Jones does a great job.''
Still, this one got away.
Westover fumbled the second-half kickoff, and even though the Patriots recovered the ball, they started the third quarter at their 15. Cairo smelled blood, and just kept coming, holding Westover to three first downs in the second half.
"I thought the momentum shifted when we fumbled the kickoff to start the second half, and they pinned us back there,'' Jones said. "I felt it shifting. When they scored, I told our guys that we're still OK, but we just didn't have any fight. Their offense took it to our defense, and their defense took it to our offense..''
"Coach Jones told us before the season that we are a great team and that we could win the region title,'' Towns said. "But coach Jones told us we have to finish to win the region. We didn't finish.''
Now the Patriots (4-4 overall) have to finish strong or sit out the postseason.
"There's no question if we want to get into the playoffs we've got to win,'' Towns said. "I think this was an eye-opener.''
Defensive end Derrick Akins, one of Westover's leaders on defense, said the Patriots would bounce back.
"Yeah, it hurts,'' Akins said. "But we just have to keep our heads up, and go out and fight even more now. This is going to make us even more hungry to win.''