As Westminster lineman Cole Birdow raved about his defense, a smiling Christian Etchison kept nodding his head.
Owls coach Matt Study, meanwhile, clasped the key-shaped trophy tightly, a representation of the key to the city in the Westminster-Winters Mill football series as he stood next to his two junior playmakers.
The three had every reason to celebrate.
On Friday night at Ruby Field, seemingly everything went right for Westminster, which routed rival Winters Mill 51-7 and secured its first county title since 2013.
“Anytime we can put it back here in Westminster, it’s always a pride thing, being the oldest program in the county,” Study said. “That’s something we’re always gunning for. I think [this win] is a carryover from last week. We were clicking on all cylinders against Liberty. The boys had another great week of practice.”
Birdow’s defense allowed two first downs the entire game, forced three turnovers and capped Winters Mill to 134 total yards of offense, with 83 coming on one play — a long touchdown run by Troy Blessing late in the contest.
“We all stepped up to play,” said Birdow, who registered a key sack that set the tone early. “We all came prepared. We all watched film on them. We put in work all season for this.”
The indomitable effort cut the field in half for Etchison and the high-octane Owls offense, as the quarterback started all seven of his offensive possessions in enemy territory (the 48-, 38-, 49-, 28-, 42-, 48- and 36-yard lines). Winters Mill’s best field position, meanwhile, started at its own 31.
Westminster (7-1, 5-0 county) got going early by stripping WM quarterback Alex Barnes, who tried to make something with his legs toward midfield on the game’s opening drive. A 21-yard strike from Etchison to Roman Hawkins and two gritty runs by Jaden Louis set up a 16-yard Etchison-to-Hawkins score in the middle of the field.
After forcing a three-and-out on the next Winters Mill drive, Etchison hit Hawkins in the slot for a 19-yard pick-up to plate a 17-yard catch-and-run off a shuffle pass from Etchison to Logan Nave, which made it 14-0 halfway through the first quarter.
From there, things continued to snowball for Winters Mill (5-3, 2-2), which stumbled into three-and-outs on the next three possessions and watched Westminster tack on three more touchdowns in the process to make it 34-0 with four minutes until halftime.
“We had a nice stretch there for a couple weeks where we won some games, and [tonight], we ran into a good team and, you know, we needed to do certain things for us to have a chance and it didn’t happen,” Falcons coach Matt Miller said.
Etchison only needed two plays for the Owls’ third score, when he hit Cole Prodoehl on a 42-yard heave down the right sideline. On the fourth, Etchison rolled out to his right at the goal line and found Hunter Myers in the flat. Louis (64 yards, nine carries) cleaned things up on the fifth Westminster touchdown, punching in a 3-yard score.
“You just have to thank the [defense]. It really does make it a heck of a lot easier,” said Etchison, who finished 8-for-14 with 171 yards and five passing touchdowns.
Westminster led 44-0 at halftime after Evan Warren’s 31-yard field goal and a 36-yard Etchison-to-Hawkins (89 yards on four receptions) touchdown as time expired in the first half.
It’s the Owls’ most points since they put up 53 in a win against Century in 2014. The win also puts them in a comfortable position in the Class 3A West playoff race with two weeks to play.
“It’s just the beginning of what we’re trying to do here,” Ethchison said. “Our goal all along is a state championship. This is one step closer to it. It’s a milestone win along the way. … It was a great night.”
Westminster 21 23 0 7 — 51
Winters Mill 0 0 0 7 — 7
W-Roman Hawkins 16 pass from Christian Etchison (Evan Warren kick)
W-Logan Nave 17 pass from Etchison (Warren kick)
W-Cole Prodoehl 42 pass from Etchison (Warren kick)
W-Hunter Myers 1 pass from Etchison (pass failed)
W-Jaden Louis 3 run (Warren kick)
W-Warren 31 field goal
W-Hawkins 36 pass from Etchison (Warren kick)
W-Erik Stranko 22 pass from Nathan Kent (Warren kick)
WM-Troy Blessing 83 run (Alex Carr kick)