PORTLAND – Going into halftime down 22-8 to York Friday night due to a pair of turnovers and a score of penalties, Westbrook knew if it was going to get back into the game against the Wildcats, they’d first have to stop beating themselves.

“The halftime talk was more, “Stop beating yourselves, play the game and stop talking,’” Blue Blazes running back Ben Grant said. “That was the mentality.”

Whatever was said, it worked. The Blue Blazes (5-1) rolled off 28 unanswered points and compiled 308 yards of total offense in the second half as they came back to beat the Wildcats (4-1) in a 48-34 shootout, taking over the top spot in the Crabtree rankings in Western Class B as a result.

The game was played at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland due to problems with the lights at Olmsted Field in Westbrook. In the unfamiliar setting, bouncing back from a tough first half in which little went their way all came down limiting errors, Westbrook coach Jeff Guerette said.

“We just focused on eliminating mistakes and the kids listened and responded,” he said. “We’re still learning how to play with adversity, deal with adversity, and we responded well in the second half, so I was very happy for the kids.”

Grant led the way with 195 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, while Cale Bollig added 142 yards and four scores of his own. Collin Joyce chipped in 81 yards and a score, and also caught four passes for 46 yards.

The three-headed rushing attack, which made up 418 of the Blazes’ 503 total yards, visibly wore down the York defensive front as the second half wore on.

“In the fourth quarter they were getting quite lame on our blocks and letting us go quite easily,” Grant said. “It shows the importance of playing our game more than anything.”

Westbrook looked to have established its game on the opening drive of the game, which it took 68 yards on 11 plays in 4:16, with Bollig scoring from five yards out and rushing in the two-point conversion.

But the Wildcats retaliated immediately, embarking on a 68-yard drive of their own in 13 plays, capped by quarterback Ross Hogan’s 4-yard sneak to tie it at 8-8.

The teams then traded punts, with Westbrook getting field position at the York 40 thanks to a 10-yard punt. Westbrook quarterback Kyle Heath gained 17 on the first play of the drive, but a personal foul moved the ball back, and on the next play Heath was intercepted, with the ball returned to the Westbrook 13. Four plays later, Hogan again sneaked in from two out and it was 15-7.

Undeterred, Joyce returned the kickoff to the York 33, and the Westbrook looked ready to even things up with first and goal at the 3 four plays later. But Bollig was stuffed, and the Wildcats recovered a Joyce fumbled at the 1 on the next to play to again stymie the Blazes.

To make things worse, the Wildcats then drove the ball the length of the field, helped by Westbrook unsportsmanlike and personal foul penalties. Thomas Kinton finished it with a 20-yard touchdown catch from Hogan to go up 22-8 with 42 seconds left in the half.

Westbrook was able to quickly drive down to the York six, but a Heath pass was too long for David Breunig as the clock hit zeros.

Starting with the ball in the second half, York had a chance to deal a hammer blow, but Sean Kelly fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, with Blazes linebacker Kyle Schumacher there to take advantage. Grant then ripped off a 30-yard run, and Bollig followed with a 14-yard scamper to make it 22-14 with just 40 clicks gone.

The turnover bug that had been Westbrook’s again hit the Wildcats on their next drive, with Westbrook’s Noah Collins picking off Hogan to set the Blazes up at the York 38 (Correction: an earlier version incorrectly credited Trey Arsenault with the interception). This time, it was Bollig who set up Grant for the TD, with the fullback powering for 21 down to the 9 before Grant scored on a counter. Bollig added the two-point conversion, and it was all square.

“I thought we executed in the first half, too,” Guerette said. “We just stopped making mistakes and that was big.”

York again tried to respond and moved the ball inside the Westbrook red zone, but a holding penalty stalled the drive and Ben Lawlor pulled his 33-yard field goal attempt wide right.

By this time the Blazes offense was itching to get back on the field, and for good reason. Joyce carried the ball for 20 to start the drive, and two plays later Grant broke free on another counter to go 63 yards to pay dirt to give the Blazes the lead with 49 seconds left in the third.

“That wasn’t (part of the game plan), we were aiming for outside runs,” Grant said of the counter play, which has gained Westbrook big yards in multiple games this season.

“We’ve scouted them, and it just worked out and it was great.”

York could get nothing and had to punt on its next possession, and this time it was Joyce’s turn to take over. The junior back caught a 14-yard pass on third and 11, and then made a winding run on the next play (on you guessed it, a counter) to go 46 for the score. Schumacher pushed across the two-point conversion, and it was 36-22 with 9:21 to play.

Joyce’s specialty is usually the sweep around the outside, as well as the second handoff man on the counter. But with York crashing hard on the outside, Guerette gave him a rare inside carry, and it paid off.

“We knew sweep would be a big play and then when they started overplaying sweep I think we had some answers, so that was big,” the coach said.

York opened up the offense on the next possession and was at last able to stem the tide, with Hogan completing four passes for 66 yards to get the ball down to the Westbrook 2, where he again snuck it over. Lawlor’s kick was blocked to keep it at 36-28.

The Wildcats also finally stiffened on defense, forcing a three-and-out and getting the ball at their own 12 with 5:50 to play. But Westbrook linebacker Trey Arsenault came up with a big defensive play, intercepting a pass to set the Blue Blazes up at the York 17. Bollig did the rest, rushing in his third from 5 out to make it 42-28.

York wouldn’t quit though, and passes of 17 and 25 yards moved the ball into the Westbrook red zone, where Hogan found Wes Warner in the end zone for 15 yards. The Blazes blocked the kick again to keep it an eight-point game with 1:35 remaining.

York then tried an onside kick, but Westbrook’s Derek Breunig pounced on it. Just trying to run out the clock, Bollig busted through the middle for 45 yards for his fourth touchdown and the comeback victory was secure.

The two teams combine for 557 yards of offense in the 52-point second half, with the Blazes getting the better of the track meet as the York defense collapsed.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Guerette said. “We work hard conditioning wise during the week and I think those efforts showed tonight.”

Westbrook will face 1-5 Falmouth next week before another showdown with 5-1 Marshwood in South Berwick in the regular-season finale. Sitting at 5-1 and at the top of the conference isn’t a familiar position for the Blue Blazes, as Grant well knows.

“It’s amazing to make history,” he said of the record. “It really is.”

Junior halfback Collin Joyce bangs his way down the sideline for a 46-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter that gave Westbrook some breathing room with 36-22 lead.
Senior fullback Cale Bollig breaks free for a 14-yard pick up in the final minute of the first half. (Photos by Rich Obrey
Senior halfback Ben Grant (1) had great success against York running to the left side through holes opened by freshman lineman Noah Featherston (53) and senior O-lineman David Ryan (not pictured).
Joyce again near mid-field, eluding a couple of York defenders for a three-yard pick up.

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