By Phil Albert
Special to the Daily
Poor weather conditions aside, Friday night's key Region 4-AAAAA football clash between Westlake and host Lovejoy should have come with a refund policy for the fans.
Westlake (6-2, 6-1 region) came away with a 29-21victory at Twelve Oaks Stadium with Lovejoy running out the clock in a desperate attempt to tie the game. It never should have been that close.
The visiting Lions breezed to a 22-0 halftime lead, but offensive and defensive blunders gave new life to the host Wildcats (3-4, 3-5) in the second half.
In the first half alone, Westlake's talented sophomore running back Charles Purnell breezed to 96 yards rushing on eight carries, including touchdown runs of 20 and 52 yards. The Lions had 196 total yards in the first half.
Meanwhile, Lovejoy only had 13 total yards in the first half, as the Lion defense swarmed all over quarterback Vic Hardison, who was 0-for-12 passing in the half. Most of the passes were uncatchable due to missed routes or overthrows and underthrows.
Both teams combined for only 60 yards of total offense in the second half, but again, Westlake errors produced scoring chances for Lovejoy.
Hardison finally completed his first pass with 6:33 remaining in the game after a cumulative 0-for-15 start. He finished 7-of-15 with one interception and 55 yards passing in the second half. Lovejoy's running game produced minus-21 yards in the second half with Hardison being sacked five times.
Westlake didn't take long before scoring in the first quarter with Purnell breaking through with his 20-yard run.
Early in the second quarter, a Lovejoy punt was partially blocked and Westlake gained possession at its 43. Seven plays later, Akil Dozier scored on a two-yard run with 8:40 remaining and the extra point upped the margin to 15-0. Dozier's 31-yard run to the 2 set up the score.
A six-yard punt by Lovejoy gave Westlake possession at the Lovejoy 16, but on the first play from scrimmage, Westlake quarterback Milton Artis was intercepted by Jermaine Hough, stopping the Lion scoring threat.
With 2:20 remaining, Purnell put the Lions on the scoreboard again with his 52-yard run on the second play from scrimmage and the extra point by Victor Okafor upped the lead to 22-0 at halftime.
Westlake took the second-half kickoff and moved downfield into field goal range, but the Lions missed on a 33-yard attempt.
Lovejoy finally got on the scoreboard late in the quarter.
The Wildcats pinned Westlake after a punt at the Lion 2-yard line. A bad snap on a fourth-down punt attempt was bobbled and fumbled, with Sabien Alvarez recovering the loose ball for the Wildcats for a touchdown. Tyler Hunt's extra point decreased Westlake's lead to 22-7 with 1:36 remaining in the third quarter.
The score created momentum for the host Wildcats. Defensively, Nic Smith and Alex Thomas made sacks on Westlake's next possession, forcing another Lion punt deep in Westlake territory.
Another poor snap and miscommunication gave Lovejoy possession at the Lion 15-yard line. Two plays later, Travis Custis broke free on a 14-yard run down the middle and Hunt's extra point cut the deficit to 22-14 with 11:05 remaining in the game.
But Westlake came back with a key defensive touchdown of its own. Hardison was sacked in the end zone and fumbled, with the Lions recovering for a touchdown with 6:48 remaining, regaining a 15-point lead.
Lovejoy's Deante Ridgeway recovered a Westlake fumble at midfield with about five minutes remaining, and the Lions seemed to hold Lovejoy on downs. A third-down pass play fell incomplete, but the Westlake defender was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after the play, giving Lovejoy a first down and new life at the Lion 30-yard line. Hardison then passed 20 yards to Sebastian Alvarez before scrambling into the end zone on a 10-yard keeper with 2:44 remaining in the game.
After holding Westlake on downs, Lovejoy had one more chance with 1:27 remaining at its own 24, but five plays later, Hardison was sacked as time expired.
Lovejoy coach Al Hughes was positive despite the outcome, which was key to a post-season playoff berth.
"It was one of those nights," he said. "We battled and had a good game plan. We executed in the rain. We were intimidated early, but the guys made adjustments."
Lovejoy entered the night tied with Chapel Hill and Creekside for the fourth and final playoff spot but holds the tiebreaker over Creekside. The Wildcats host Chapel Hill next Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Twelve Oaks.