By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent
The only thing on the line going into the last Class 2A, Region 7 game for North Sand Mountain and Westbrook was who would finish in second place in the region and get to host a first-round playoff game.
Both teams had already wrapped up a playoff berth. The winner would finish as region runner-up, while the loser would be the third-place squad and have to travel in the postseason’s opening round.
Maybe that had a little to do with the way both teams played, as North Sand Mountain raced out of the gate to a big halftime lead en route to a 27-14 victory in high school football action last Friday (Oct. 26) in Rainbow City.
Both teams had lost to region champion Fyffe, earlier this season – the Warriors in Week 2 and NSM in Week 7.
It only took two quarters for the Bison to put that loss behind them.
North Sand Mountain (7-2, 6-1) scored touchdowns on four of its six first-half drives and held on as Westbrook came to life in the third and fourth quarters.
“We just got too far behind and we didn’t have enough time to come back,” said Westbrook head coach Tony Osborne. “We played much harder in the second half, and I am proud of them for that.”
It was evident from the first play of the game that North Sand Mountain had gotten over last week’s loss to the second-ranked Red Devils when Brenden Walsh took a handoff and raced 40 yards around right end.
Six plays later, quarterback Tyler Vann scored on a keeper from a yard out. Joseph Alonzo’s PAT made it 7-0 just a little more than two minutes into the game.
The Bison surprised Westbrook (6-3, 5-3) on the ensuing kickoff in recovering an onside kick. Although NSM did not score on that drive, the tone had been set.
Following a long but scoreless Westbrook drive, the Bison went right back to work. The six-play possession culminated on Vann’s 30-yard keeper. Alonzo’s kick increased the lead to 14-0 with just less than one minute remaining in the first quarter.
North Sand Mountain continued its onslaught on its next possession, this time with a five-play drive. The Bison reached pay dirt through the air this time, with Vann finding Walsh on a 14-yard touchdown strike. The PAT made it 21-0 with 9:51 left in the first half.
Neither team did anything with its next drives, although Westbrook did pick up a couple of first downs before punting to the Bison with a little less than five minutes left in the half.
North Sand Mountain proceeded to drive 85 yards in 17 plays. Walsh scored the final Bison touchdown on an option play on third-and-goal from the Warrior 5 with 11 seconds remaining in the first half.
Westbrook blocked Alonzo’s PAT attempt to leave the score 27-0 at the half, but the damage was done.
In the first half – and continuing for most of the second half – the North Sand Mountain offensive and defensive lines controlled the game.
Although it was too little, too late, Westbrook finally made a game of it in the third quarter.
The Warriors went on a five-play, 67-yard drive on the quarter’s opening possession and found the end zone when Jonathan Ford hit Darrell Whatley on a 45-yard strike. Chris Underwood’s PAT cut the deficit to 27-7 with 9:46 left in the quarter.
Westbrook then scored with 8:55 left in the game, this time on a 15-yard pass from Ford to Brien Welch. Underwood’s PAT was added for the 27-14 final with 8:55 left in the game.
Ford went 16-for-26 in passing for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 37 rushing yards on eight carries.
Westbrook closes the regular season at Hokes Bluff this Friday, and then the playoffs begin. Warrior head coach Tony Osborne said the team’s schedule has prepared them for that moment.
“When you are playing the games, you wish they were not so tough. But yes, this is a really good region – one of the best in the state.”