The Oakton High football team entered its matchup against Westfield for the Division 6 Northern Region Championship as underdogs — or so the critics said.
The Cougars themselves never saw it that way, as senior running back Mike Wandey said after their first upset win in the playoffs against Lake Braddock on Nov. 9.
"We came out Monday with the mentality that we were going to win. That we were the better team," Wandey said at the time. "I don't look at it as an upset. ... We were never underdogs. We just needed to start playing like the team we knew we could be."
And so the Cougars carried that confidence into their game against the undefeated Westfield Bulldogs, handing them their first loss and quieting those who doubted the Cougars after a four-game losing streak to end the regular season.
The Cougars defeated the Bulldogs 23-16, but the game began with both defenses clamping down to squelch any explosive offensive plays. The Cougars broke the scoreless stalemate in the first half with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Downer to Andy Boone to give the Cougars the first lead.
But after a strong kickoff return, the Bulldogs found the end zone 15 seconds later to tie the game once again.
With three seconds left in the first half, Downer ran in a 3-yard touchdown to give the Cougars a 13-7 lead heading into halftime.
Both teams hunkered down again in the second half, with neither team adding to their point tally by the end of the third half.
Early into the fourth quarter, the Cougars' Brian Burns kicked in a 30-yard field goal to extend their lead to 16-7. Then after a fumble recovery, Downer once again found Boone for a 3-yard touchdown pass to put their advantage at 23-7 with 6:31 left in the game.
The No. 1 Bulldogs continued to fight, adding a touchdown and field goal to come within seven points, but fell short of catching up to the No. 7 Cougars.
Downer led the Cougars in rushing with 124 yards. He also completed three passes, all to Andy Boone, for 48 yards. Mike Wandey added 92 rushing yards, with Boone and Kelly Brooks-Muse tallying 22 and 3 yards, respectively.
The win marks the Cougars' fourth Northern Region title in six appearances. The Cougars will continue their season in the Virginia High School League Division 6 semifinals. They will host the Central Region champion, L.C. Bird, on Saturday.
The Cougars earned their last and only state title in 2005. That year, they also had to defeat Bird to advance to the final game.