“I was crying for a minute,” senior wide receiver DJ Baker said, “because that was amazing.”
The celebration fit the moment and the season for the Bulldogs. After Westfield entered the year as one of the youngest teams Coach Kyle Simmons has led, many on the staff anticipated a relatively steep learning curve for the roster. A six-game winning streak from September into October squashed some of the doubts, but a three-game tailspin at the end of the regular season seemed to confirm their worst fears.
And so Westfield entered the playoffs hampered, both by Jenks’s ankle and an outbreak of flu that spread around the school.
For Herndon, adversity was a familiar tale. The Hornets (6-5) hadn’t advanced to the playoffs since 2008 or won a playoff game since 1985 and carried a 28-game losing streak into September.
For Westfield, adversity was an anomaly. The Bulldogs won three state championships in the 2010s and hadn’t dropped three consecutive games since 2009.
The Bulldogs would have to lean on their grit and their quarterback.
Neither defense could find answers early.
“It’s becoming hard to find tough kids who are willing to work through injuries and illnesses,” Simmons said of Jenks. “You can tell he has some discomfort. But he’ll look you right in the eye and say, ‘I’m playing.’ ”
Baker and fellow Westfield receiver Connor Morin received a heavy dose of the team’s early offensive yardage while Herndon, favoring the triple-option and leaning on the exceptional play of senior running back Liam Wilson, finished its first three drives with a touchdown before Westfield defensive back Jay Rennyson’s interception with under a minute left and Baker’s acrobatic 20-yard touchdown with 20 seconds remaining knotted the score at 21 before halftime.
Quickly, the impetus fell to the defenses, which stiffened as the next two quarters came and went without a score. The teams traded rushing touchdowns in the first overtime before Kennedy’s block and Mattfeld’s kick sealed it.
“We had a lot of injuries, a lot of sickness; this just proves that we’re dedicated to do anything to come out on top,” Jenks said. “We’ve got to go back to work on Monday.”