Westfield’s defense sets the tone, and the offense follows in a Virginia 6A North semifinal win over Madison

Westfield’s Nolan Cockrill (97), forces one of three Madison turnovers, by sacking Madison quarterback Jacob Choutka to fumble as the Bulldogs topped the Warhawks in a Virginia 6A North region semifinal in Vienna. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Every game, it seems, Westfield’s offense must answer to its defense. The Bulldogs’ linebackers come off the field whooping and hollering after a stop or turnover.

“Your turn, O!” they yell as the offense takes the field.

And every game, somehow, the offense finds a way to respond.

“You just have to hang in there on offense,” Coach Kyle Simmons said.

Saturday, it was an 80-yard touchdown strike from Rehman Johnson toSean Eckert that broke open No. 15 Westfield’s 31-13 win against No. 11 Madison in a Virginia 6A North region semifinal in Vienna.

“We had to do our part to win this game,” Eckert said. He also returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown.

The Bulldogs, reigning state champions, will host South Lakes, which upset top-seeded Lake Braddock, 40-22, next week for a spot in the state title game.

“There’s a tradition here at Westfield,” Eckert said.

That tradition is largely thanks to the Bulldogs’ defense, which, after an 83-yard run by Landan Thomas to start the game, didn’t allow a gain of more than 18 yards the rest of the game.

Led by Thomas (21 carries, 126 yards), the Warhawks doubled Westfield’s rushing production, but the Bulldogs’ defense got big stops when necessary.

The unit also forced three turnovers. The first two turned into 10 points. The final one, an interception in the end zone by safety Joey Free, iced the game.

On the year, Westfield is plus-19 in takeaways.

“As much as we can to help out our offense,” senior linebacker Kevin Petrillo said, “we do.”

Out of halftime, the defense even put points on the board. Madison quarterback Jacob Choutka had caused trouble for the Bulldogs (11-2) early on with quick, short-range throws.

In the second half, defensive coordinator Mike Giancola bumped his defensive backs up to take them away.

On the second drive of the half for the Warhawks (11-2), sophomore cornerback Saadiq Hinton stepped in front of his man on a slant route and took an interception back 50 yards for a score. Petrillo led a convoy of blockers to the end zone, where Saadiq dove for the pylon.

“I fell in the end zone and turned over and saw the ref with his hands up,” Hinton said. It was his first varsity touchdown. “I was speechless.”

The score gave Westfield a 21-13 lead, more than enough for the Bulldogs’ defense to protect.

Two stops later, Johnson (10 of 18, 151 yards, two touchdowns) found Eckert for the 80-yard bomb. Then defensive end Nolan Cockrill sacked Choutka, forced a fumble and recovered it to boot, to end the Warhawks’ next drive.

Brian Delaney hit a 27-yard field goal to extend Westfield’s lead to 18 for the final margin.

“The offense and defense both feed off each others’ momentum,” Eckert said.

Sometimes it takes the defense to get things going first.



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