Photo: Gaston High’s Chase Thrasher (13) tackles Westbrook Christian’s John Ross Morgan during the Warriors’ 31-0 Class 2A, Region 6 win on Oct. 20. (Photo by Gary Wells)
By Chris McCarthy
Westbrook Christian earned a spot the state playoffs with a 31-0 victory over Class 2A, Region 6 rival and Etowah County neighbor Gaston last Friday (Oct. 20) at GHS.
The Warriors, who have not been to the postseason since the 2012 season, extended their winning streak to five games
Westbrook head coach Brian Mintz, who took over the program following Week 2 of last season, pointed to the resiliency of his team following an 0-3 start this year.
“Our kids knew from the get-go that it was going to be tough,” he said. “We set realistic goals and one of those goals was to win five [games], and another was to make the playoffs. So we accomplished both of those goals tonight. It’s just nice to know that we’re going to have that 11th game at this point.”
Senior halfback Addison Ponder suffered a torn ACL in the first game of the season but returned to start a few games in the middle of the year to help the Warriors maintain their winning streak. Mintz said that although Ponder is through for the remainder of the year, Westbrook would not be in its current position without Ponder’s contributions.
“Now we’ve gotten Hunter (Grimes) back at running back, and he’s returning to form,” said Mintz. “Plus, (quarterback) Jackson (Cox) has come a million miles over the course of the season, and he played really well tonight. It’s made our running game better and given us the opportunity to get the ball in the back end of the defenses.”
Westbrook (5-3, 4-2) outgained the Bulldogs by a 404 to 202 margin, including a 223 to 90 advantage on the ground. The Warriors scored on their first three possessions on the way to 17-0 halftime lead.
“We were able to control the clock tonight for the most part, and that was a key for us,” said Mintz. “Our defense had played very well over the last five ballgames, so it was nice that [the defense] got the shutout. “But give credit to Gaston. They’ve had a rough season with injuries and what-not, but I thought that their kids really played hard.”
Grimes finished with 112 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Court Coley added 44 yards five attempts, while John Ross Morgan ran eight times for 42 yards.
Cox completed 13 of 16 passes for 181 yards. P.J. Wells caught five passes for 91 yards, while Alex Burnett had three receptions for 48 yards.
Jai’Shawn Cattling led Westbrook in tackles with eight, followed by Jackson Lutrell with six and Coley with 5.5. Coley and Josh Batson each had an interception, while Lutrell had a sack.
Gaston head coach Swane Morris was realistic about the fact that the Bulldogs (1-8, 1-5) will miss the state playoffs for the first time in five years. Out of the 14 years that Morris has been Gaston head coach, his teams made the postseason 12 times.
“Westbrook did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage, and that was the difference in the game,” he said. “We just have trouble finishing drives because we’re so banged up in places where we need people offensively,” he said. “. But I’m proud of our kids because they’re still competing out there and trying to get better.”
The Warriors wasted little time in putting points on the scoreboard. On the game’s opening drive, Grimes rushed four times for 42 yards, the last run being a seven-yard touchdown at 10:04 of the first quarter. Will Dixon banged through the first of his four extra points on the night.
The Bulldogs’ initial series ended on an interception by Coley deep inside Westbrook territory. The visitors then put together a 12-play, 92-yard drive that was capped by Dixon’s 22-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in the opening period.
On the ensuing Warrior possession, Cox and Wells teamed up for completions of 25 and 18 yards, setting up Grimes’ 2-yard touchdown run at 11:20 of the second quarter. Gaston’s Matthew Rich intercepted a pass in the final minute of the first half but the Bulldogs’ could not convert the turnover in to points before intermission.
Immediately following a high snap on a Gaston punt that gave the Warriors the ball at the Bulldog 15, Cox threw a touchdown pass to Burnett that increased the Westbrook lead to 24-0 at the 2:28 mark of the third period.
The Warriors capped the scoring on a 2-yard touchdown by Morgan at (;46 of the fourth quarter.
For Gaston, Dakota Wright rushed 10 times for 52 yards. Joshua Campbell was 7 for-16 in passing for 112 yards. D.J. Easley had two catches for 73 yards.
Westbrook visits Ider this week to determine the third and fourth playoff seeds in the region.
“[Ider] is usually very physical and play to their strengths,” said Mintz. “They run a Wing T, so it’s probably going to be tight in the box.”
Gaston closes out region play this week with a visit to No. 1 Fyffe.