Revisiting Westminster's dramatic win

Credit: Stan Awtrey

Credit: Stan Awtrey

Gerry Romberg has been the head football coach at Westminster for 24 years. That’s like a four-term senator. And every day when he walks to the office, he has to pass two banners hanging in the rafters. They’re up to there to commemorate the school’s two state championships, from 1971 and 1979, but sometimes it seemed like they were up there to taunt him.

Romberg admitted that occasionally he’d glance at them and long for the day when one of his teams could add a third.

Guess what? Now he’ll get his chance.

“I walk by them every day and think, someday, I’m going to get another one up there,” Romberg said. “The school deserves it, the kids deserve it, the coaching staff … We’re going to get one now.”

It all became possible after the Wildcats defeated Blessed Trinity 38-31 in overtime for the Class AAA championship in one of the most entertaining football games you can imagine. Westminster overcame a pair of 14-point deficits in the second half, tied the game in the most improbable manner and won the game in a most dramatic way.

If anyone deserves a banner, it’s Romberg’s Wildcats.

Here are some takeaways from the game:

The senior is an outstanding high school quarterback and an equally good defensive back. He made play after play, with his feet (15 rushes for 79 yards, one TD), his arm (10-for-18 for 121 yards, one TD) and his hands (knocking away a would-be touchdown in the endzone, for example).

“He’s the most amazing player I’ve ever coached,” Romberg said. “I coached (current Atlanta Brave) Gordon Beckham and he was the most amazing player I’ve coached until I got Rankin Woley. He doesn’t quit and he’s constantly making plays and finding ways, whether it’s throwing it, running it, playing defense … he’s an amazing player. We don’t want to play him on both sides but he’s too good not to.”

Overlooked was Woley’s two-point conversion pass. Romberg said. “If we don’t get that two-point conversion ….”

Woley’s numbers for the year: 573 yards rush with 12 touchdowns, 843 yards passing with nine touchdowns.

Westminster's Zay Malcome is dynamite. He actually seems small (he's 5-foot-6, 170 pounds) when you see him up close, but there's nothing small about the way Malcome plays. Just ask Blessed Trinity. Malcome rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns, one of them the game-winner in overtime. He finished the season with 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns.

“What a great kid,” Romberg said. “They’re all great kids.”

The onside kick: When Westminster scored with scored with 3:52 remaining to draw to within 31-24, there was a discussion on the sidelines about whether to try to recover an inside kick or boot it deep and try to stop Blessed Trinity's offense.

“We really weren’t doing a great job stopping them,” Romberg said. “I felt if we could get an onside kick, we had a better chance than trying to kick it deep. Doggone it, I don’t know how he got it.”

The onside kick bounced off a B.T. player on the front line and rolled toward the end zone. Two Titans were in position to grab the ball, but almost seemed to get in each other’s way. Somehow it was junior Watson Jackson who came up with the ball.

Malcome scored on the next play to tie the game.

“All of a sudden we score and we’re in overtime,” Romberg said.

Breaking the tie. Hard to believe, but that's the first time Westminster has played an overtime game under Romberg. He said the overtime procedure is addressed each year, but not much time is spent on it, so there was definitely some cramming on the sidelines.

“We go over it in summer practice, the rules and regulations, but we haven’t talked about it since,” Romberg said. “So we’re on the sidelines talking about how it works, what happens … and I’m like ‘how did we get here.’”

In overtime, Blessed Trinity won the flip and elected to start on defense. Westminster opted to play toward the North end zone, since Romberg said, “We wanted to be on the end that wasn’t as loud.”

Westminster scored in three plays, forcing Blessed Trinity to answer with a touchdown.

“When we scored, it really put the pressure on them, not that it was going to faze them that much,” Romberg said. “But we kept scrapping and knocked that ball out in the end zone.”

Toe meets Dynamite. Wow, how did any of the state's FBS schools let Westminster's Blake Gillikin get out of the state? He kicked three field goals (32, 53 and 21 yards) and averaged 61.7 yards on three punts. Looks like Penn State came out the winner on that deal.

Blessed Trinity's Milton Shelton deserved better. The running back carried the load for the Titans all night. They rode him hard all night, getting him 37 carries. And he responded, too, with 257 yards.

It is unfortunate that Shelton fumbled the ball that wound up losing the game. He was disconsolate afterwards. But he should be remembered as the guy who kept them in the game, not the one who gave it away.

On the final play of the game, Shelton appeared to be stopped, but summoned his second effort to stretch toward the goal. That second-effort was when the ball came loose, which Westminster’s Joe Egan recovered.

Meet Big Play Joe Egan. The sophomore flourished on the big stage. He caught two passes for 41 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown pass that drew Westminster to within one score. He had eight tackles and recovered the fumble that ended the game. That will keep you happy, even if (theoretically) an opponent gives you a cheap shot on the way off the field.