By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent
Going into the last week of region play on Friday (Oct. 25), Gaston and West End still had a lot to play for this season.
The Bulldogs were fighting for a playoff spot and the Patriots were scratching for their first win on the year.
Gaston defeated West End, 40-24, in Class 2A, Region 7 high school football in Walnut Grove, and then had to watch the scoreboard to see if it was enough to eek into the postseason.
When North Sand Mountain picked up a 15-14, come-from-behind win against Westbrook, Gaston earned the state playoff berth thanks to tiebreakers.
For Gaston (6-3, 4-3), the game was not as close as the score indicates. But Bulldog coach Swane Morris said that both teams played hard and with pride.
“They (West End) came back and played hard, like they should,” Morris said. “It’s like we told our team – when you build a big lead, you play hard and respect the game, and that’s what I think both teams did throughout the game.”
Gaston was able to get three scoring plays of more than 50 yards, and the big-play ability was the difference in the game.
The Bulldogs opened the scoring in the first quarter when quarterback Jordan Douglas threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Jailyn Britton for a 6-0 lead.
After a quick West End possession, Gaston scored again on the first big play – a 78-yard punt return touchdown from Shai Ogles. Kyler Ballenger’s PAT increased the lead to 13-6.
Following a turnover on Gaston’s next punt return, West End (0-9, 0-7) scored its lone first-half touchdown on a 23-yard run by Chase Blanton.
Gaston, however, scored three second-quarter touchdowns to put the game away.
Britton had a 13-yard touchdown run, Ogles had a 25-yard touchdown run and Douglas threw a 62-yard touchdown pass right before halftime to Albert Douglas as the Bulldogs built a 33-6 halftime lead.
Gaston scored only one second-half touchdown, but it was a big one as Britton scored for the third time on an 81-yard kickoff return.
“Our special teams have been playing really well the last few weeks,” Morris said. “I’ve been real proud of them to keep playing hard.”
West End got a 14-yard touchdown run from Caegan Epperson, a two-point conversion and a defensive safety to cut the lead to 40-16.
With 36 seconds left in the game, Hunter Grant threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Evans for the game’s final points.
Both teams were able to empty the bench in the second half, as everyone got a chance to play.
“Everybody got to play tonight, so that’s a good thing,” Morris said. “Because everybody practices, so tonight was a good time for everybody to get their reps in.”
Both teams close the regular season on Friday. Gaston hosts Pleasant Valley, while West End travels to Good Hope.