Westlake football fans attending Saturday night’s annual Homecoming Game and halftime fireworks extravaganza had to wait a little bit longer than they probably anticipated for the Wildcats to get the entertainment started.
But a Rob DiNota-to-Tyler Eglauf 70-yard pass completion on the first play of the second quarter set up the Wildcats’ first touchdown of the evening and finally gave the huge crowd something to cheer about. By the end of the night, the fans had been treated to a dazzling display in the sky and five touchdowns from the home team.
Fullback Andrew DeBiase ran for three touchdowns and DiNota scored the other two as Westlake, after a slow start under the portable lights, rolled to a 32-7 victory over visiting Edgemont and improved to 5-1 with one week left in the regular season.
“This Homecoming thing is the best I’ve ever seen and I think the kids get wrapped up in it a little bit and we were a little flat when we started,” said Wildcats coach John Castellano afterwards. “But, hey, sometimes you’ve got to win games like this when you’re not playing your best football, and we did.”
The game was still scoreless as the teams changed ends after the first quarter and Castellano, reluctant to throw the ball up until then, decided it was time to take advantage of the stiff breeze now at the Wildcats’ backs. From his own 28-yard line, DiNota dropped back to pass to start the second period and found Eglauf, a senior tight end, wide open down the middle of the field.
The Panthers managed to trip him up just before the goal line, but two plays later DeBiase blasted into the end zone for a two-yard touchdown. The point-after kick by DiNota gave the Wildcats a 7-0 advantage.
“You know what happened, we didn’t have the wind in the first quarter,” said Castellano. “We were a little worried about throwing it. But on the first play of the second quarter, I told ‘em, ‘Hey, they’ve got about 11 guys four yards from the line of scrimmage. We’ve got to throw the ball.’ We had the wind and Rob made a great throw, he (Eglauf) made a great catch and that kind of got us started.”
But Edgemont answered right back, marching down the field over the next two and a half minutes to tie the game when quarterback Frank Sayegh, who wound up completing 20 of 33 passes for 224 yards, tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Gehrig Chao and kicker Will Funk added the extra point.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, they never scored again after that and Westlake soon reclaimed the lead for good. On their next possession, the Wildcats drove 60 yards in seven plays, all on the ground, and scored the go-ahead touchdown when DiNota crossed the goal line from a yard out.
Daniel Grossman provided runs of 13 yards and then 14 on the drive, and Westlake maintained its 14-7 lead at intermission as Dylan Ahern picked off a Sayegh pass to end a Panther drive and then DiNota intercepted another one in the end zone on the final play of the half.
Castellano conceded that he and his players didn’t get the chance to see any of the fast-paced, 10-minute fireworks show at halftime, but with the Wildcats clinging to just a small lead he made sure to provide them with a worthy alternative.
“14-7 at the half, there were enough fireworks in that locker room,” he joked. “They (the Panthers) had a great scheme, caught us off guard a little bit. Brian (Connolly) is a great coach, he’s been around a long time. He knows what to do. I guess their idea was the short, quick passes, run the ball with the quarterback and keep us off the field offensively. Our assistant coaches made some great adjustments at halftime, they really did. I thought we did a great job at halftime of adjusting to some of the things they were doing and it showed in the second half.”
The third quarter began with Edgemont using up over six minutes of the clock, but the drive that began at the Panthers’ 12-yard line stalled at the Westlake 15 when Sayegh’s fourth-and-five pass fell incomplete. Just five plays later, though, the Panthers recovered a Wildcat fumble near midfield.
But Edgemont then proceeded to go three and out, and the punt rolled to a stop at the Wildcats’ 24. On first down, DiNota, who finished with 115 yards on the ground and 75 in the air, ran for a 16-yard gain. Two plays later, DiNota burst past the line of scrimmage and raced 45 yards up the middle of the field for a touchdown. He missed the PAT, but Westlake had a 20-7 cushion with 2:31 left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats’ Nicholas Colabatistto soon recovered a Sayegh fumble and, six plays later, a half minute into the final period, DeBiase rumbled right for the first of his two 11-yard touchdowns that ended the game’s scoring. The second one came less than two minutes after the first following a botched Panther punt attempt that gave Westlake the ball at the Edgemont 30.
“He’s a great runner and he’s tough to bring down,” said Castellano about DeBiase, who on a couple of occasions carried four or five Panthers with him. “I thought he really took control at the end of the third, and in the fourth quarter it became his show.”
DiNota’s final PAT try caromed off the goal post for his third consecutive miss and Castellano is well aware the kicking game, and a few other things, need to improve before this coming Saturday’s big clash at Ardsley.
“You’re not kidding, man, you can’t leave points off the board like that,” he said. “And you know what’s funny? Early in the year, we had no problem. We were making ‘em.”
The Wildcats figure to need every single point they can score when they face Ardsley, another Class B contender with just one loss this season.
“Yeah, it’s gonna be tough,” predicted Castellano. “We can’t play like we did tonight and win that game. I know that and I think the kids know that too. So we’ve got to regroup and we have to have a better sense of purpose next week.”