WESTMORELAND Sandy Creek handled the physical part OK. It was the Comets mental psyche that took a beating Saturday as they saw their unbeaten streak come to a screeching end.
Westmoreland took advantage of some uncharacteristic mental lapses by the Sandy Creek defense to score on its first five possessions to put Sandy Creek in a hole from which it could never fully recover during a 30-20 Section 3 Class D Central loss.
The loss drops Sandy Creek (5-1 overall, 4-1 conference), ranked third in the state this week, into second place and now puts a premium on the Comets beating Pulaski (5-1, 4-1) next Friday night in their regular-season finale to stay alive for a top four sectional seed and a coveted quarterfinal home game.
Westmoreland (5-1, 6-0) clinched at least a share of the Central crown and must only beat winless Oriskany next week to secure the title outright and earn one of the top three sectional seeds.
Sandy Creek coach Mike Stevens put it bluntly afterward. We completely broke down mentally. Thats it. Its not like we didnt know what they were going to do. We just missed so many assignments on key plays.
Senior tailback Tim Harrison ran for 123 yards on 20 carries and scored a touchdown for Westmoreland, which avenged two defeats against Sandy Creek last year, including a loss in the sectional title game.
Harrison also intercepted two passes, including a big one near the Westmoreland goal line with just over a minute left in the game with the Comets driving for a score.
It really gave us a lift to jump on them early, Harrison said. Those first few drives we just executed almost perfectly.
And while Sandy Creeks defense was shaky, especially the first half, the Comets potent offense generated only 229 yards and could not match the Bulldogs consistency.
I just think they wanted it more, Sandy Creek senior co-captain John Shirley said. Whatever we needed to do today, we didnt. And they did. They kind of punched us in the mouth and we didnt punch back until it was too late.
Westmoreland set the tone on its first possession as sophomore quarterback Tyler Deveans raced 54 yards untouched for the opening score just 1 minutes, 38 seconds into the game. Joe LaLondes successful PAT put Sandy Creek in a 7-0 hole.
After a Sandy Creek punt, Harrison ripped off 71 yards on three straight sweeps, then capped off the 81-yard drive with a 1-yard TD plunge. It was 14-0 after LaLondes PAT with 5:51 left in the opening quarter.
We knew their backs were quick, but we were ready for that, Stevens said. Our kids just didnt do what they were taught to do.
Sandy Creek made it 14-7 on a Cameron Hall (19 carries, 94 yards) 2-yard TD run and a Tyler Swarthout PAT on the first play of the second quarter.
But the Bulldogs answered back as fullback Rob Heitzmann scored from a yard out. LaLonde kicked a 25-yard field goal the next time Westmoreland had the ball to stretch the lead to 24-7.
Westmoreland coach Tim Gates said the reason for his clubs running success is simple. The kids understand the option completely, and our backs are all tough and pretty quick. I thought Tyler (Deveans) really played well in his first big game.
Kyle Fayette hit Zach Brown on a 3-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left before halftime to trim the hole to 24-14.
But the Comets wasted that momentum by going nowhere with the second-half kickoff. Westmoreland drove 75 yards as Heitzmann scored on a 20-yard run.
A Fayette 40-yard punt return for a score cut the Sandy Creek deficit to 10 late in the third quarter. But two fourth-quarter drives went for naught.
Now we need a great week of practice and have to go to Pulaski and take care of business, Shirley said. Its not like our season is over or anything. Weve still got a lot to play for.