The Westwood Panthers, 2-8 last year, hosted the Carlisle Indians, a perenniel playoff team, in an exciting season opener Friday night. In a hard-fought contest, with the lead changing hands throughout the game, this Westwood team proved to be up to the challenge.
The Panther offense moved the ball well both on the ground and through the air.
The defense came up with some big plays and consistent stops. Senior QB Coy Elton commanded respect on both sides of the ball, and mistakes were kept to a minimum.
When the clock ran out, Westwood had a solid 40-27 victory, and Head Coach Richard Bishop led his team in chanting "1 and 0 ... 1 and 0" .
COVID masks in place, the crowd of Westwood fans that filled the stadium to the allowed 50 percent capacity was rewarded with fireworks from the opening play. After Carlisle’s talented kicker booted the opening kick through the end zone, the Panthers' junior running back Tremelle Rhodes took Elton's first handoff at the 25 and raced untouched for a 75-yard score.
When Carlisle was held to a punt in their first possession, Westwood got the ball at their own 47 and Rhodes quickly broke loose for another long run before going down at the 12-yard line. He left the game favoring his left leg, and would not return. Elton’s next pass was deflected and intercepted by Carlisle tackle Angel Garza, and you could feel the game's momentum shift to CHS. Westwood's Kylance Parish would later admit, "We thought it was gonna be downhill for a minute... then we picked it up."
Indeed, Westwood’s defense quickly turned things back around. Senior Devonte Downie employed an impressive vertical leap to intercept a Carlisle pass. It was his first pick of the season and it won't be his last.
The Panthers were forced to punt and Carlisle's Jamion Turner tied things up with a 50-yard touchdown run, and a successful PAT gave the Indians the lead, 7-6, early in the second quarter.
Westwood answered with an 84-yard drive that spotlighted Parish breaking tackles and Elton finding the holes for ground gains. The Panthers strung together six first downs and the O-line pushed De'Anthony Thomas in for the score from the 1-yard-line. This time the PAT by Travis Jones was good.
The Indians recaptured the lead just two minutes later on a drive anchored by Carlos DeLeon and a 5-yard touchdown carry by Matthew Rigdon.
Not intimidated, the Panthers roared right back. Elton went to the air, hitting Downie for 28 yards and connecting with senior Tyler Johnson on a 12-yard scoring pass in the final minute of the half.
Carlisle was threatening again as the half ended, but a 46-yard field goal attempt missed, wide, and the Panthers carried a 19-14 lead to the locker room.
Carlisle recaptured the year early in the third on a 74-yard pass play to DeLeon.
Penalties and a bad snap snuffed the next Panther drive, but the Westwood defense, led by senior John Marks, stopped Carlisle and put the Panther "O" back on the field at the Westwood 25-yard-line.
Elton and Downie connected on 3rd and long for a 40-yard gain. The QB hit Thomas to keep the drive alive and set up a six-yard gallop by Parish to regain the lead.
The defense again forced a punt, with James Meadows, Mathew Gomez, and Jacory Furr factoring in with big plays.
Westwood penalties nullified some big gains on their next drive, but the Panthers would not be denied. Parish broke loose for a 35-yard-gain, caught a pass for another 14 yards, and scored on a 7-yard gallop up the middle. 33-21, Westwood.
Westwood defenders held the Indians without a first down on their next three possessions, with Furr collecting an interception.
The Panthers offense was able to add a final touchdown on a keeper by Elton, and Jones added his third PAT.
Asked if he was surprised by his team's win, Head Coach Richard Bishop shook his head.
"No. These kids have been getting after it since Day One. We knew what was coming. We were just gonna be quiet -- just keep getting picked at the bottom and keep moving forward. It's been a process. I've been here two years. It takes two off seasons to build your brand, to grow your culture." Bishop concluded, "We've got great senior leadership. Senior quarterback Coy Elton -- tough as nails. Sophomore, Mathew Gomez, O lineman, just tough, gritty kids."
The gritty Westwood Panthers are 1-0 and looking to build on that foundation.