Photograph: WCA defensive back Kyle Horde attempts to stop a ball carrier. (Photograph by Bobby Ardoin.)
That strong late-game performance Westminster Christian was seeking appeared during the fourth quarter Friday night.
The Crusaders eventually achieved dominance during the final four minutes by scoring 20 unchallenged points as WCA defeated Grand Lake 23-12.
Inclement weather delayed the original starting time by an hour and 15 minutes, while storm clouds lingered overhead throughout the entire three-hour contest.
During the belated scoring binge, WCA used a touchdown throw and a scoring run by sophomore quarterback Stephen George, while Michael Cunningham broke loose on a 70-yard run with a minute and seven seconds remaining to help the Crusaders to their first win of 2023.
It was also the first victory for new WCA head coach Byron Porter, who took over the program in June.
Porter said his players responded to his admonition of providing a strong finish.
“We felt like we didn’t do that last week (against Jeanerette), so we told our players we wanted to play hard at the end and this time we needed to finish,” Porter said.
The Crusaders also followed a defensive scheme designed to stop the Grand Lake running game, said Porter
Grand Lake had 174 rushing yards, but Porter said the Crusaders focused on avoiding long gains.
“We knew coming in that they liked to run. I thought we were able to stop that. Overall the big thing that happened for us I think, is a lot of our players really grew up tonight,” Porter said.
George seemed to improve his throwing accuracy as the game moved into the late moments..
During the first three quarters George completed 6-of-16 throws for 38 yards.
George however ended the game with 121 yards and 15 completions on 29 attempts.
A 13-yard touchdown pass from George to wide receiver Damon Thomas cut the Hornets’ lead to 12-9.
Thomas said he was able to maneuver in front of the Hornets’ secondary.
“I was the middle receiver in our trips formation and I just waited and then cut in front of the defensive back. The ball was right there,” said Thomas.
After Thomas’ scoring reception, WCA took possession at the 15 following an Evan Lemon fumble recovery, George ran in 16 yards for another TD with 1:53 left.
Grand Lake turned the ball over again one possession later.
Bryce Guillory provided another key defensive play when he set up the final Westminster scoring drive with 1:22 remaining, Guillory intercepted a Kaden Taylor pass and returned the ball to the WCA 30-yard line.
On the first snap after that, Cunningham followed a block from his tight end, cut back upfield and outraced the Grand Lake secondary into the end zone with 1:07 remaining.
“The guard and tackle went one way with their blocks and then I saw the tight end block down on the outside linebacker. I just followed that block and saw green the rest of the way,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham ended the game with 99 yards on 13 carries.
WCA gained an early 3-0 lead on a 23-yard Mac Proffitt field goal, but the Hornets responded in the second quarter with a 12-play drive that ended with a 3-yard Ian Vigo run
Grand Lake took a 12-3 lead after Brent Hardesty intercepted George and returned the ball to the WCA 21 during the third period.
Taylor completed a 19-yard pass to Hardesty for the final Grand Lake score with 1:19 left in the third.
The teams combined for 28 accepted penalties for a cumulative 235 yards.