Westwood and Eustace (3A-D1 District 8) squared off with matching 1-1 records before the Panthers' Homecoming crowd on Friday night. WHS battled through their own mistakes to rack up some impressive numbers, coming out on top 50-28.
Westwood had looked good in their season opener win over Carlisle (40-27), though they lost starter Tremelle Rhodes to injury early in the contest. Last week they met a tough Buffalo team and came up just short, 29-22. Eager to get back in the WIN column, Coach Richard Bishop and company were not taking Eustace lightly, despite having dominated the Bulldogs 34-6 last year.
The Panthers started strong, capitalizing on good field position from a short kick. Junior running back Kylance Parish led off with first down yardage. Then quarterback Coy Elton found good blocking and converted on 3rd-and-9 at the 11, and would put his team on the scoreboard on a 1-yard keeper.
Eustace was stopped cold on their first possession but caught a break on the punt, which grazed a Westwood player and Eustace recovered. Two plays and two passes later, the Bulldogs were in the end zone to tie the game, 7-all.
Westwood's woes continued. A 41-yard touchdown run by Parish was nullified by a penalty. More yellow laundry factored in as WHS managed four first downs but were still held to a field goal attempt, which failed.
Then momentum turned. Eustace drove the length of the field before attempting a 40-yard field goal. Westwood managed to block the attempt and Steven Diaz ran it back into Eustace territory, setting up the next Panther score. Elton hit Parish for a 29-yard touchdown pass. The PAT snap was low but Elton managed to pick it up and ran it in for a 2-pt conversion..
On the Panthers' next possession, Elton targeted Owens on a stop-and-go route. The crowd held their breath as Owens juggled the ball forever, but he finally got it tucked away and raced for a 78-yard touchdown.
Eustace answered that one with an aerial attack of their own, with QB Paxton Schwartz connecting with Christian Case for two big gains, then scoring on a 12-yard keeper.
Westwood had one minute left in the first-half. Just inside Bulldog Territory, Elton aired one out to Devonte Downie, who broke one tackle and scored. The Panthers took a 29-14 lead into the locker room.
Halftime festivities saw the crowning of the 2020 Homecoming Queen and King, Jaci Weston and Tyler Johnson.
In the third quarter, a Westwood fumble gave EHS the ball at midfield and Jake Haney slipped through Panther defenders for a 52-yard scoring run, cutting Westwood's lead to 8 points.
Westwood answered immediately. Eric Pursley got a good return giving the Panthers the ball at their own 41. Owens found a hole for a 20-yard gain, then Parish powered through defenders on the sweep to score on a 41-yard run. The PAT was good.
The Panther defense came through with another quick stop. Holding Eustace to a 3-and-out, the new Homecoming King, Tyler Johnson, managed to block the punt, scoop up and advance the loose ball. That set up Westwood’s offense at the Eustace 21-yard-line. A quick pass to Owens went 31 yards to pay dirt.
Eustace went to the air and got that one back just moments later, closing to 43-28.
The teams traded punts, but Johnson came through with another blocked punt, giving Westwood an big opportunity at the Bulldogs’ 14-yard-line. Elton targeted Downie in the back of the end zone for the score. Travis Jones' sixth PAT made it 50-28 with 7 minutes left in the game.
Panther defenders again denied the Bulldogs a first down, and the "O" took the field to grind out the clock, with Diaz the workhorse for the final drive.
Coach Bishop was grinning as he assessed the outcome of this one. “We played well -- in spurts. We’ve got to clean up the mistakes, eliminate the penalties... You can’t shoot yourself in the foot against a good football team, or they’ll make you pay for it. But I’m proud of our kids’ effort, proud of our coaching staff, proud of our seniors. Next week we should have #4 and be back at full strength, and we've just gotta trust the process."
Bishop referenced Rhodes, who remained sidelined for this game but is hopeful to be back in action as the Panthers take their 2-1 record to Centerville for next Friday's game. That is the last outing before District play begins at Elkhart on September 25.