Against a team called the Lightning, it was Westminster’s defense and running attack that seemed electric Friday night at Ruby Field.
The Owls scored off a pair of early interceptions and rolled to a 47-28 victory against Long Reach in the opening round of the Class 3A East playoffs.
On the third pass of the game by Long Reach quarterback Jose Ribalta, Westminster senior defensive back Corey Birdow stepped in front of a sideline route and had only green grass in front of him. Birdow angled to the front corner of the end zone and dove inside the pylon for a 14-0 lead in the first five minutes.
On the first play from scrimmage, Ribalta was picked off by Westminster senior Nate Mattingly. Mattingly followed his interception on defense with four straight runs on offense. The fourth and final run went for 34 yards and a score as the Westminster offensive line opened a huge hole in the Long Reach defense.
After forcing a three-and-out, Westminster (8-2) started its next possession on the plus side of the 50-yard line. Junior running back Erick Stranko got the Owls in scoring position with a couple of first down runs. Quarterback Luke Jorgensen capped the drive by lofting a pass to junior wideout Austin Bainbridge in the corner of the end zone for a 21-0 lead.
Early in the second quarter, Westminster forced another three-and-out and a punt by the Lightning (3-7) deep in its own territory. The punt only traveled to the Long Reach 26-yard line where Westminster took over. The Owls took advantage of the great field position as Mattingly plowed in from 5 yards out for his second TD and a 28-0 lead.
The Lightning got on the board late in the first half with a long pass. A pair of Westminster defenders went up for a 50-50 ball with Long Reach wideout Kimball Tyler. The Owls defensive backs fell to the turf, and Tyler pulled in juggling catch to rumble for a 65-yard score that cut the Westminster lead to 28-7 at the half.
The Owls took back control of the game with a methodical drive to open the second half. Stranko had a pair of third down runs to pick up first downs, including a 20-yarder. Mattingly capped the drive with a 5-yard run, his third touchdown of the game. Mattingly stiff-armed a defender in the backfield, spun out of another tackle and stretched the ball over the goal line to make it 34-7.
Stranko added to his total with a 64-yard touchdown run to end the third quarter, putting Westminster ahead 44-7. Long Reach added three late touchdowns late and a 2-point conversion to bring the score closer at 47-28.
The win was the eighth straight for Westminster and gave the Owls another home playoff games next Friday against the winner of Marriotts Ridge and Atholton. The victory put the Owls over .500 all-time in the playoffs with a record of 10-9.