KENNEBUNK — It was 31/2 minutes of emotional whiplash.
Top-seeded Kennebunk was a play away from wrapping up a Western Class B semifinal win Friday night against Westbrook. Then the Rams fumbled, Westbrook turned the mistake into a go-ahead touchdown, and suddenly Kennebunk was on the verge of elimination.
Finally, facing fourth-and-10 at its own 23 with no timeouts and less than a minute remaining, Kennebunk kept its unbeaten season alive with a furious comeback. Jake Lary’s 18-yard field goal snaked inside the right upright with 5.7 seconds left to give the Rams a 17-15 win.
No. 5 Westbrook (6-4) was all but beaten, trailing 14-7, with Kennebunk churning out its second long drive of the second half and facing fourth-and-1 at the Blue Blazes’ 20.
But Nicco DeLorenzo could not control a direct snap, and Westbrook’s Kyle Heath picked up the bouncing ball and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown with 3:18 to play.
The 2-point conversion rush by Collin Joyce put Westbrook ahead 15-14.
Kennebunk’s next possession ended with Nick Emmons being intercepted by Heath.
“Kyle’s a warrior. I think he’s the toughest football player I’ve ever coached,” Westbrook Coach Jeff Guerette said. “We were hoping to pull it out for kids like him.”
But with Westbrook on the cusp of securing the win, the Kennebunk defense rose up to stuff Joyce for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Rams’ 23.
“It was pretty close to Mudville there for awhile. Then our defense came up huge. The spirit of those guys. I called a timeout and looked in their eyes and they said, ‘we can do this Coach,’ ” Kennebunk Coach Joe Rafferty said.
On fourth-and-10, Emmons completed his first pass of the second half, a 52-yard bomb down the right sideline to Larson Coppinger, who beat single coverage.
“Just go deep and catch the ball,” Coppinger said. “We’ve been doing that and we’ll continue to do it, so we got the win today.”
Three running plays and two Emmons spikes to stop the clock brought one more fourth down, this time at the Westbrook 1. The Rams opted for a field-goal attempt and Lary came through.
“We knew we didn’t want it to end here. We didn’t want it to draw short,” an emotional Emmons said. “I’m looking forward to next week.”
Kennebunk (10-0) will host the regional final against Marshwood or York.
“For a couple plays there I thought we were done, but we just kept fighting and brought it down to the line and made the play,” Coppinger said.
Until DeLorenzo’s fumble, Kennebunk had played a strong, physical second half after a sloppy first half, when it was penalized eight times for 87 yards. The Rams finished with 12 penalties for 114 yards.
Once they stopped hurting themselves, the Rams went on a grueling 14-play, 72-yard drive. Emmons carried it the final seven plays, including a 5-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 lead with 10:44 remaining.
Kennebunk’s defense then stopped Westbrook, with Ben Bath sacking freshman quarterback Bailey Sawyer to force a punt.
Westbrook had 32 yards of offense in the second half.
The Rams went right back to the run with Emmons (25 carries, 108 yards) and DeLorenzo (27-130) to bring the clock under four minutes before Heath’s game-shifting fumble return.
Westbrook’s Joyce had runs of 45 and 47 yards to account for all but 20 yards of the Blue Blazes’ offense. The latter set up Joyce’s 1-yard TD run in the first half.
Kennebunk tied it on an 8-yard run by DeLorenzo late in the second quarter.
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at: [email protected]