By Chris McCarthy
West End saw its postseason hopes disappear in the dense fog on Friday (Nov. 3) in Walnut Grove.
With the Patriots facing a win-and-you’re-in scenario for the fourth and final playoff seed in Class 2A, Region 7, West End came up short against Class 4A Ashville by a score of 40-28.
The Patriots (3-7, 2-4) saw their 21-14 halftime lead vanish by the end of the third quarter, as the Bulldogs outscored West End 36 to 7 in the second half.
On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Ashville quarterback Landon Cornutt scored from 75 yards out to tie the game at 21-21.
With West End backed up deep in its own territory later in the period, Ashville’s Derrick Walker blocked a punt and teammate Elijah Beatty scooped up the loose ball and scored to give the visitors a 28-21 lead at 1:18.
Following a Patriot three-and-out, D’Angelo Williams scored on a 1-yard run to put the hosts in a 34-21 hole at the 7:15 mark of the fourth quarter.
West End kept within striking distance on Levi Armstrong’s 5-yard TD run with 3:47 remaining, but the Bulldogs (4-5. 2-5) put the game out of reach when Cornutt and Walker connected on a 65-yard touchdown pass with 1:25 left in the game.
“Twenty-eight points ought to have been enough for us to win the game,” said West End head coach Kyle Davis. “We got behind the eight ball when they scored on the first play in the second half and blocked that punt for a touchdown. We moved the ball at times but couldn’t convert when we needed to and we dropped some balls and missed some blocks and missed some tackles. But give Ashville credit; they made the right adjustments at halftime and made plays when they needed to.”
Payne Stancil paced West End both in the air and on the ground. He completed 15 of 33 passes for 175 yards and rushed 18 times for 67 yards. Armstrong gained 51 yards on 12 carries.
Cornutt was a thorn in the Patriots’ side all night, finishing with 354 total yards and three touchdowns. He rushed for 218 yards and two scores on 17 carries and was 8 for13 in passing for 136 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots started off the game with a bang when on the third play from scrimmage Stancil threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Armstrong at 10:32 of the first quarter.
Ashville responded on its first series, as Walker scored on a jet sweep from 32 yards out. The PAT failed and West End led 7-6 at 7:55.
A 20-yard pass from Stancil to Matthew Hood on the next Patriot drive set up Armstrong’s 3-yard TD run. Stancil passed to Jacob Chamblee for the two-point conversion to make to 15-6 in favor of the hosts with 4:40 left in the initial quarter.
But just two plays later, Cornutt found the end zone from 67 yards away on a delayed run up the middle, narrowing the gap to 15-14 after Cornutt ran in the two-point conversion.
West End regained the advantage midway through the second quarter when Stancil and Kaleb Arledge hooked up for a 21-yard touchdown pass. The ensuing two-point conversion attempt failed, however, leaving the Patriots ahead 21-14.
West End had an opportunity to cushion its lead in the final seconds of the first half, but the Patriots could not convert on a first and goal from the Bulldog 3-yard line.
“We played hard and we battled, but we didn’t make enough big plays to win, and that‘s kind of the way it’s been all year for us,” said Davis. “Depth hurt us in that we could play only a certain number of guys, and they got tired toward the end of a game. But there wasn’t a game that we didn’t compete in, and I’m proud of our kids for that. I love this group of seniors, because they were the group of kids I started with four years ago. But we’ve got some good kids coming back, and I’m real excited about that.”