Westminster is growing into a dangerous football team.
The Owls — who started this fall with four consecutive losses — rallied for a second-straight game on Friday night, this time beating Francis Scott Key 28-27 in overtime to hand the Eagles their first loss of the season.
Junior running back Matthew Heath gave the Owls their first lead on a 1-yard touchdown run in overtime and senior linebacker Jack Sabo later helped stuff the Eagles’ 2-point try for the win.
“I am pretty proud, this was a tough game against a good team,” Westminster coach Chris Bassler said. “Really proud of how hard our guys have fought. We’ve played hard all year and we are starting to execute at a much higher rate. When you play hard and execute, good things happen.”
For Francis Scott Key, it was a bold move attempting to win the game with a 2-point conversion after scoring on Jarren Rutter’s keeper to draw within a point in the extra period. Coach Will Thompson saw that his team was gassed with a smaller squad than Westminster and his players having to log big minutes throughout the course of the game.
“I’ve got 25 guys and they can only go for so long,” he said. “I think that caught up with us a little at the end, which is why I decided to go for two.”
The game had a little bit of everything.
Westminster trailed at the half 14-7 but returner Kyrece Walker erased that deficit on the first play of the second half. The sophomore fielded the ball near the 30-yard line and avoided tacklers as he maneuvered toward the sideline. He found a seam and turned on the jets for a 70-yard touchdown return that tied the score.
Francis Scott Key refused to flinch though as senior quarterback Jarren Rutter and running back Ryan Rill methodically moved the ball down the field on their next drive. A 10-yard pass from Rutter to Rill set the Eagles up near the goal line and Rutter finished the drive with a 2-yard keeper for a 21-14 lead.
“We battled and battled,” Thompson said. “You’ve got to tip your hat to Westminster and Coach [Bassler]. They adjusted to some of the things we did.”
The Owls’ offense was unable to get much going on their next drive, but the Westminster defense came up big when the team needed it most. With the Eagles near midfield, Sabo stepped in front of a pass by Rutter and returned it to the FSK 1-yard line to set up a tying score.
“It was preparation, all preparation and I made the right read,” Sabo said of his interception.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Heath tied the score at 21 with the first of his two rushing touchdowns in the game. Following that score, each defense locked the other team down in the final frame to set up the exciting finish.
“We start out slow, but we fought back and never gave up,” Heath said. “Some of us were down but we picked each other up and we fought.”
The Eagles started the game off hot and looked like a team that may get its first win against Westminster since 2007. A big return on the opening kickoff set the Eagles up at the Westminster 35. On third down, Rutter found Rill in the back corner of the endzone for a 7-0 lead.
Westminster capitalized on a pair of costly penalties to tie the score early in the second period. A face mask penalty helped the Owls move the ball down near the Eagles’ 10. On fourth down, quarterback Jack Gruenzinger took matters into his own hands by plunging into the line and pushing the pile four yards for a score that knotted the game at 7.
“I think the biggest thing was just grit,” Sabo said of this team’s ability to rally. “We really stepped up. We were [helped] by a great week of practice.”
FSK responded with a time-consuming drive that ate a majority of the second-period clock. Rill and senior running back Nick Diehl each carried the load on the drive as the Eagles put together a 75-yard scoring march that ended with a 10-yard pass from Rutter to Rill in the end zone.
Despite the loss, the Eagles are not out of the county championship race. Thompson knows that a lot can happen over the final weeks of the season.
“It’s one loss. It’s not the end of the world,” he said. “Hit the reset button and move on to next week.”
Westminster 28, FSK 27 OT
FSK – Jarren Rutter 32-yard pass to Ryan Rill (Keith LaPierre kick good)
W – 4-yard run by Jack Gruenzinger (Owen Harris kick good)
FSK – Rutter 10-yard pass to Rill (LaPierre kick good)
W – Kyrece Walker 70-yard kick return
FSK – Rutter 2-yard run (LaPierre kick good)
W – Matthew Heath 1-yard run (Harris kick good)
W – Heath 1-yard TD run (kick good)
FSK – Rutter 13-yard run (Conversion no good)