In the end, the Oakton High defense made the stops when it had to in the Cougars’ 49-43 scoring feast postseason football win over West Springfield last Friday night.
The Div. 6 Northern Region semifinals playoff contest took place in foggy, light drizzling conditions at Oakton High School.
Oakton (12-0) was on the verge of seeing a second half, 27-point lead evaporate. The Cougars’ perfect season was in danger of ending after the Spartans, behind sensational, UNC-bound quarterback Bryn Renner, closed to within 49-43 following a 47-yard scoring hook-up from Renner to Fabrice Kambinga with eight minutes, 30 seconds left in the final quarter.
But thereafter, the Oakton defense was up to the challenge the remainder of the game as it held the high-powered West Springfield offensive attack on its final two possessions after the Spartans had cut the deficit to six.
"West Springfield’s an unbelievable team," said Oakton senior running back and tri-captain Trey Watts, who caught two touchdown passes in his team’s win. "They showed a lot of heart near the end in making a comeback."
Next up for Oakton is the Div. 6 region title game this Saturday afternoon at 1 against Chantilly, which defeated Westfield in its semifinals game. Meanwhile, West Springfield, with the loss to Oakton, sees its season end at 8-4 overall.
<b>OAKTON’S DEFENSE</b> was certainly challenged down the stretch after a turnover gave West Springfield the ball at its own 20 with 6:33 remaining. The Spartans, trailing by the 49-43 score, moved the ball into Oakton territory on a Renner (25-of-48, 427 yards, 4 TDs) completion of 16 yards to the Oakton 49.
But Oakton junior lineman Daniel Aevermann came up with a huge sack, for a loss of eight yards, on the next play. Over the next few plays after that, West Springfield hurt itself with a penalty and two dropped passes, including an incompletion on a fourth down play that ended the drive.
Later, West Springfield began its final possession of the game from its own 30 with 1:21 left to play.
The Spartans, with Renner running the offense, still had a chance. But the Spartans could not get a single first down. On a fourth-and-six at the 34, Spartan running back Brandon Bailey picked up five yards. A measurement confirmed that the Spartans were a yard short of the first down. That set off a huge, victorious roar from the Oakton side of the stadium.
Oakton, with the ball back in its possession with just 54 seconds left, ran out the remainder of the clock to conclude the pressure-packed, high scoring affair.
Watts believed Oakton’s defense would step up over the Spartans’ final two possessions.
"We knew we could stop them at the end," he said. "It came down to who was more [mentally tough]. I think we were the tougher team."
Afterwards, Oakton coach Joe Thompson described the game as "emotionally draining."
"That’s the best way I would say it," he said. "[Against West Springfield] you have to completely forget what you know about conventional football. It’s more like [up and down the floor] basketball."
Thompson had seen his defense try to hold down the potent West Springfield attack throughout the game. But often, Renner’s offensive line gave him plenty of time to set up in the pocket and throw. And when he didn’t throw, the 6-goot-4 inch, 195-pound QB would often scramble out of trouble with large chunks of yardage. On 17 carries, Renner ran for 99 yards.
"I felt like we had the formula to stop them, we just had to get them out of their rhythm," said Thompson. "Their team scored 72 [in a playoff win over Woodson] last week, so holding them to 43 [was not embarrassing]."
Of Renner, Thompson said, "The kid’s amazing, a great warrior with great accuracy."
Renner’s touchdown passes on the night went to Andy Stallings (8 catches, 144 yards, 2 TDs), Kambinga (4 catches, 124 yards, 1 TD) and Dan Collins (4 catches, 56 yards, 1 TD), who also ran for 67 yards.
<b>WHILE RENNER</b> was sensational for West Springfield, Oakton quarterback Chris Coyer was equally as valuable to his team. The senior tri-captain ran for two long touchdowns runs (65 and 49 yards) in the first half. He also hurt the Spartans through the air, tossing four touchdown passes and passing for 214 yards. Watts caught two scoring passes, as did senior wide receiver Jay Young.
Oakton’s special team contributed a huge play in the win, accounting for the Cougars’ final touchdown and giving the home team what appeared to be an insurmountable 49-22 lead in the third quarter. The scoring play occurred on a West Springfield squib kickoff that backfired. Oakton senior Derek Gleich fielded the ball and bolted down the left sideline for the improbable score.
But it was a night where no lead for the Cougars was safe as the Spartans battled back to make a close game of it, scoring the game’s final 21 points.
"We just didn’t play well in the first half," said West Springfield coach Bill Renner, whose team trailed 28-10 at halftime. "But you saw the character of the kids we have [in the comeback]."
It was Renner’s final game coaching his son, quarterback Bryn. "He and all the kids refused to quit, they kept battling," said Renner, of the playoff loss. "Obviously, I’ll miss him. It’s been a pleasure."
Watts, Oakton’s terrific offensive playmaker, said Oakton’s 12-0 record hardly assures the Cougars of success in this Saturday’s region finals against a Chantilly team it defeated in the regular season.
"It just means we have to work even harder," said Watts.