From an outsider’s perspective, what happened on Nov. 26, 2011, spelled doom for Westfield football’s foreseeable future. The Bulldogs’ undefeated season was vanquished that day by a 27-24 defeat against rival Centreville in the Division 6 Northern Region final. The loss appeared to put the kibosh on not one season but two, since the pending graduation of 40 seniors would lend the 2012 season plentyof growing pains.
Three weeks into the new season, however, it’s clear that what transpired last November signaled more rebirth than death. A dominant 3-0 start by a crew largely made up of first-time varsity players points to a future that could be even brighter than the program’s glorious past.
Last week’s convincing 49-29 road win against Lake Braddock marked the latest triumph of a team that has compiled an average margin of victory of 28 points through its first three games. That dominance has come from an Etch-A-Sketch roster that replaced all of last season’s crucial pieces with a new-look starting lineup that includes five sophomores.
“It’s exciting because [many] of those guys are going to be back next year,” Westfield coach Kyle Simmons said. “I think the future of Westfield football looks pretty strong.”
When you check out who’s suiting up for the Bulldogs this season, don’t go looking for familiar faces. The offense no longer runs on the production of running back Kendell Anderson, quarterback Matt Pisarcik, wide receiver Quentin Basil or offensive lineman Sean Douglass, just as the defense plays without the services of safety Bo Hartman, defensive lineman Erik Morales, and linebackers Mo Katz and Mark Gibson.
The graduation of those seniors has inspired a slew of fresh faces to carry on the tradition of one of the state’s proudest football programs. Simmons and his staff hammered home the identity of their team from the get-go last month when they printed T-shirts bearing the motto “Next man in.”
While the offense has had little problem bulldozing through everyone they’ve faced so far, the Westfield defense has emerged as more of a question mark. That unit has given up 57 points over the last two games, exceeding the amount the defense gave up through the first seven games combined last year.
Still, the Westfield coaching staff has been particularly impressed with the defense’s resiliency this season. For a unit starting four sophomores, they have mostly held their ground even as they surrender the occasional big play.
“We talk about doing it one inch at a time and just trying to keep moving forward,” Simmons said. “When you’re dealing with young kids that are inexperienced, sometimes you’ve got to pat them on the butt and tell them it’s going to be okay. Our defensive staff talks a lot about ‘flushing it.’ Things happen, and they’ve got to put it behind them and keep moving forward.”
The Bulldogs’ offense has hardly lost a step thanks to the emergence of a trio of seniors thriving at skill positions. Quarterback Chris Mullins, who accounted for four touchdowns and no turnovers last week against Lake Braddock, has demonstrated plenty of poise running a pro-style offense that has averaged 52 points per contest, while running back Dalaun Richardson has paired with junior Tyler Thrasher-Walker to command a powerful running game that can be consistently relied upon. Wide receiver Colby Eller has also been reliable, as he showed with five catches for 110 yards and a touchdown last week.
“All our kids this year are stepping up, but I think leadership-wise we need to pick it up a little bit more if we want to compare us to last year,” Mullins said. “Last year’s team was really good. We’re nowhere near them yet. We still have a lot of work to do.”
Going into last week’s game, no one from the Lake Braddock sideline would have guessed that Westfield was missing five starters due to injuries. The Bulldogs have a knack for stepping up no matter what challenges they confront, a sign that they have fully embraced the “Next man in” mentality. Wins aren’t coming quite as flawlessly as they did last season, but if they can sustain the type of resilience on display so far, the Northern Region could be theirs for the taking.
“It’s the same identity [as last year],” Richardson said. “We all have heart; we all want to go back to that regional final and prove to everybody what Westfield football is all about.”