Westover running back Shannon Saunders breaks off a big run during Friday night’s game at Hugh Mills against Region 1-AAAA rival Worth County. The Herald No. 3 Patriots held on for a close victory to clinch their first Region 1-AAAA victory in school history.
ALBANY -- The Westover Patriots narrowly avoided their first region loss, beating the Worth County Rams 24-17 to capture the first ever region championship in school history.
The Patriots, celebrating homecoming on a wet night at Hugh Mills stadium had to overcome four turnovers, including three in the first half, to escape with the win.
The victory improves Westover’s record to 7-2 overall and keeps them undefeated in Region 1-AAAA.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” said Westover head coach Octavia Jones. “We told them when they were freshmen that one day they’d be region champs. (Friday) that dream became a reality.”
Earning that title did not come easy, as the Patriots had to overcome four turnovers, including three in the first half before finally sealing the deal late in the game.
The Patriots committed their first turnover when senior quarterback Ta’Keevian Harris threw an ill-advised pass that was picked off by Ram sophomore Eric Burrows at the 1 yard line.
Starting the second quarter with score tied at zero, the Patriots committed their second turnover when senior Jaelon Benjamin fumbled a Rams punt just inside Patriot territory. Worth County quickly capitalized with a short touchdown run.
Looking to tie the game on their next possession, Westover suffered its third first half turnover when senior running back Shannon Saunders coughed up the ball at the Ram’s 9 yard line.
The Patriots were able to briefly grab the momentum back a few minutes later when Saunders redeemed himself with a hard 9 yard touchdown, that knotted the game at 7 all with 1:06 remaining in the half.
Just as it looked as though the Patriots would escape the half tied, Worth County was able to move quickly down the field, scoring on a pass to sophomore Dontavious Buford that put the Rams up 14-7.
Perhaps sensing the urgency of the night, the Patriots came out strong in the second half scoring early in the third quarter when Harris took it into the end zone on a quarterback keeper from the 1 to even the score at 14-14. The scoring drive was set up when Harris connected on a 20-yard pass to senior receiver Michael Green one play earlier.
The two teams began the fourth quarter still locked at 14 all before the Patriots pulled ahead 17-14 behind a 30 yard field goal from senior kicker Tanner Stumpe.
Worth County quickly punched back with a 21-yard field goal to again even the score.
Westover finally put the game away with just a few minutes left in the half when Harris scored his second rushing touchdown of the game.
“We played a really bad first half,” Jones said of the team’s early struggles. “I just told them to not hit the panic button, just settle down and play Westover football.”
With the region title in hand, the Patriots now look forward to closing out their season with a game against cross-town rivals the Albany High Indians.
“We’ve got the city championships on the line,” said Jones. “We want to win that and take that momentum into the playoffs.”