PERRY — Ronnie Jones didn’t break out the soapbox at halftime.
His team had outgained the opposition 205-39, had given up only two first downs while getting 10 and only had a 14-0 lead.
Two fumbles inside red zone will slow down a team and lead to a rough talk at intermission.
“I tried to stay away from it,” the veteran Westfield head coach said. “I asked them, ‘What do I want to say?’ ”
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And his team said, ‘turnovers.’
“He was a little upset about us not being able to move the ball and turning it over in the red zone,” said running back/defensive back John Lee, who had a hand in the second part of that. “Lately it’s been a problem for us.”
And it almost ended the season.
The Hornets needed a defensive stand early in the fourth quarter and an interception late in the game to hold off Holy Spirit 20-14 on Friday night in a tough first-round GISA Class AAA playoff game.
Holy Spirit, with about two dozen fans on the visiting side, ended the season at 7-3. Westfield improved to 10-1 and visits Tattnall Square in the next round.
The defense Jones praised after two quarters was sent reeling as the Cougars converted a fourth down and a third down on the opening trip of the third quarter, getting a 35-yard scamper down the left side from quarterback Curtis Johnson along the way.
Johnson corralled a high shotgun snap, raced raced to his left, went through four defenders to get to the end zone.
Holy Spirit ate up more than half of the quarter with the drive to pull within 14-7.
Westfield’s offense then sizzled, getting first downs on four straight plays. Lee more than doubled his first-half output with two runs for 38 yards, and then carried it in from 5 yards out.
The point-after failed, and Westfield led 20-7 with 2:32 left in the third, and Johnson started to take over.
“Their quarterback was good,” Westfield quarterback/safety Wesley Rust said. “We had to stop him.”
He had a hand in all 63 yards, but was hit by Kenneth Brown during a handoff and fumbled, Westfield recovering at the 1 with 8:11 left.
Soon after, the punt snap rolled past Westfield punter Wayne O’Neal and stopped at the 1.
“It was a very strange game,” Jones said. “The bad snap on the punt, by the way, was the first one we’ve had in 11 games.”
Johnson took it in three plays later and Marco Silva’s kick pulled the Cougars within 20-14 with 6:48 left.
The Hornets ate up four minutes before punting. On third and 4 from Holy Spirit’s 29, Rust stepped in front Tre Blanchard for the interception with 1:45 to go to seal it.
“John Lee tipped it, I’m pretty sure,” said Rust, who had more than a half-dozen pass breakups. “I was just in the right position.”
Westfield went up 14-0 in the first quarter, but fumbled twice inside the 15 and lost yards on a fake punt.
The Hornets averaged 6.6 yards per play to 1.4 for the Cougars, who had only two first downs in the half. But the fumbles by Lee inside the 5 — one play after he fumbled and recovered it — and Rust at the 12 were frustrating.
“Just hold onto the ball,” Lee said of his thoughts at halftime. “Hold on to the ball.”
In the second half, he did, and Westfield’s defense survived Johnson’s emergence.