Westover receiver Michael Green tries to break free from a pair of Cairo defenders during the first half of Friday night’s Region 1-AAAA showdown at Hugh Mills Stadium. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Time after time, they were asked for just one more stand.
And Westover’s defense delivered, making an early touchdown stand Friday night at Hugh Mills Stadium.
Behind a relentless defensive effort, Herald No. 3 Westover scored a 14-9 victory over Cairo.
And with the defeat, a giant tumbled.
The Syrupmakers, who carried a 24-game region winning streak into the game, had dominated Region 1-AAAA like no other. The streak dated back to October 9, 2009.
“This is big for us,” Westover coach Octavia Jones. “It’s been 20 years since Westover last beat Cairo. We talked this week about our seniors last year leaving a legacy … making the playoffs and hosting a first-round playoff game as the (region’s) No. 2 seed. There is only one way to better that and that was to win tonight and hopefully win the region.
“We’ve still got a lot of games left and hopefully, the region title will be there when we finish. Our goal is trying to win the region, which would be the first time in the history of our football program.”
The Patriots (3-2, 2-0 Region 1-AAAA) intercepted two passes, one setting up an early score, while its front line harrassed Cairo the entire game.
About the only mistake the Patriots made was mishandling a dribbling punt that rolled into the endzone. Cairo (2-3, 1-1) stuffed Westover, scoring a safety with 11:01 left. But the Patriots forced a three-and-out on Cairo’s ensueing possession, then drove 52 yards for a clinching score when Shannon Saunders burst up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown run on a gutsy fourth-and-goal call with less than five minutes left.
“I called a timeout and was getting ready to send the field goal unit out there,” Jones said. ‘But then I looked up at the scoreboard and all I could think about was that we have struggled offensively this year. What better way was there for me to show my confidence in them than by going for it on fourth-and-goal? I thought if we couldn’t get two yards, then we didn’t need to be out there on the field.”
Cairo mounted a furious comeback. Trailing 14-2, the Syrupmakers marched 80 yards on six plays when Masten connected with Justin Hill on a 10-yard touchdown pass with 58 seconds left. However, Westover’s Michael Green recovered the onside-kick attempt to preserve the win.
The Patriots got 113 rushing yards from Saunders, who helped Westover amass 201 yards of total offense. However, it was the defense that stole the show.
“Our defense has played like champions all year,” Jones said. “They’ve been able to stop folks from moving the ball.”
Cairo managed just 176 yards of total offense in which 80 came on its final drive. The Syrupmakers had just 70 yards rushing. Westover’s Trenton Thompson, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection, notched four and a half tackles for loss.
The Patriots never trailed, using the first of Jysanti Richardson’s two interceptions to set up its early touchdown. Richardson picked off Masten’s pass on the first play of the game, returning it 36 yards to set Westover up at the Syrupmaker 17. Three plays later, Ta’Keevian Harris scored on a 2-yard quarterback keeper. After Tanner Stumpe’s extra point, the Patriots led 7-0 before fans barely had time to sit down.