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The Westfield High School football team lost 40 seniors to graduation after last season, but few expected a true down year out of the Bulldogs in 2012. After all, when it comes to strong football programs at large schools, reloading always seems a more likely prospect than rebuilding.

Yet even fewer onlookers could have anticipated the kind of dominance the boys in black and gold have displayed this season. A lineup dotted with several sophomores and first-time varsity players hasn’t stopped Westfield from posting a 9-0 record highlighted by a 22.7-point average margin of victory. Nor has it stopped the Bulldogs from maintaining their grasp on the Concorde District crown, which returns to Stonecroft Boulevard if Westfield beats Herndon (1-8) in its regular season finale tonight.

A win against the Hornets would give the Bulldogs the No. 1 seed in the AAA Division 6 Northern Region playoffs for the second year in a row and secure home field advantage throughout regionals.

“We should be very proud of being 9-0 and the position we put ourselves in,” second-year Westfield head coach Kyle Simmons said. “It really started in January talking about what we needed to do in terms of getting in the weight room, the camps, getting it done in the classroom, behaving ourselves. It takes a lot of hard work to get where we are.”

Westfield’s latest triumph came last week against backyard rival Centreville (6-3, 2-2), which entered Friday’s contest trailing the Bulldogs by one game in the Concorde District. With the bitter taste of last year’s 27-24 regional championship loss against the Wildcats still smoldering, Westfield went out and handed its visitors a convincing 40-21 defeat.

Though most current Westfield players didn’t see much action in last year’s regional final, they still were able to use the memory of what they witnessed that day to their advantage this time around.

“We were talking about it before the game, especially all the seniors this year,” senior running back Dalaun Richardson said. “We were reminding the seniors last year that we’ve got you. We’re going to get revenge and come out and play hard and play all four quarters, and we did that.”

No one shined more brightly in last week’s game than Richardson, who tallied a career high 274 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries against a Centreville defense that has fared well against the run for much of this season. His biggest run came just after halftime, when the Bulldogs were looking to reassert themselves after handing some momentum back to the Wildcats toward the end of the first half. Richardson took the handoff on his team’s first play of the second half and shook off a few arm tackles on his way to a 91-yard touchdown scamper that gave Westfield a decisive 27-7 lead.

The senior running back, who leads the team with 1,279 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns this season, headlines an offense that has proven to be the most dynamic in the region this year. If they’re not relying on Richardson or junior tailback Tyler Thrasher-Walker, the Bulldogs are turning to the arm of senior quarterback Chris Mullins. Though his 1,224 passing yards this season hardly are eye-popping, Mullins’ real value has come from his steady composure, something that has yielded 21 touchdowns (six rushing) compared to four interceptions in his first season as a starter.

The 39 points per game posted by the offense has taken pressure off a young Westfield defense that continues to improve as the season progresses. Though they are prone to surrendering the occasional big play, the Bulldogs’ defense has tightened up lately, as they’ve given up 80 points during the last six games compared to the 70 points they coughed up during the first three.

“With our defense, it’s often so painful, and I’m an ex-defensive coordinator,” Simmons said. “But they hang in there, and when it really, really meant something [against Centreville], they only gave up seven points... I think they play within themselves, and they understand that they have some limitations, and I’m very proud of them for that.”

Back-to-back undefeated regular seasons are within sight, but the Bulldogs are focusing on their current task rather than their potential prize. A loss tonight would mean a share of the district title if Robinson is able to push its district record to 4-1 with a win against Chantilly.

Even if they do beat Herndon tonight, Westfield players and coaches plan on avoiding the desire to look too far ahead once the playoffs arrive.

“We don’t want to take a step back; we want to make sure we’re continuing to move forward,” Simmons said. “Ten and 0 turns into 0-0 real quick. You can’t afford a let-down, or you’re done. I know these guys don’t want to go 10-1, so that’s going to be the motivating factor.”

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com