MILLEDGEVILLE -- A comeback like this might not have been possible a year ago.
What a difference experience makes.
Westside (6-1, 4-0 GHSA Region 2-AAAA) rallied from a double-digit deficit in the first half Friday and closed with 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points to beat Baldwin 44-26 at Braves Field. The win moves the senior-laden Seminoles much closer toward capturing the region championship.
Noah Grayer rushed for 171 yards and a touchdown and passed for 163 yards and two touchdowns, and Daniel Hall rushed for 152 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
“We just stuck together and didn’t get down,” Grayer said.
Several Seminoles players were yelling “region champs” after the game, but they still need to win two of their final three games. They play Perry next and close with the two teams -- Howard and Rutland -- that are winless in region play. The Seminoles hold tiebreakers over the two teams -- Baldwin and Mary Persons -- that are a game behind them in the standings.
“We still have to take one game at a time,” Westside head coach Sheddrick Risper said. “We don’t have a three-game lead. We can’t just show up and stay in first. We have three games left that matter.”
After a pair of special teams mishaps handed the Braves touchdowns in the first half, Westside came up with its own special teams magic for the second straight game.
Risper called a fake punt run by DeQavius Walker on fourth-and-11 on his own 21-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter. Two weeks after a throwback on a kickoff return jumpstarted Westside in a win over Mary Persons, Walker gained 29 yards and a first down. Grayer rumbled for a 50-yard touchdown on the next play, giving the Seminoles a 30-26 lead.
The Braves, who scored touchdowns in the first half after recovering a short kickoff and falling on a blocked punt in the end zone, gave the ball right back to Westside on an interception by Jonquavas Johnson. Hall scored from 1 yard out two plays later to extend the lead. Hall punctuated the scoring six minutes later when he scored again from a yard out. That final touchdown followed a 91-yard Hall run after Westside stopped Baldwin on downs at its own 4-yard line.
The Braves (5-2, 4-1) jumped out to a 13-2 lead following a 39-yard touchdown pass from Tahjea Chambers to Marcus English 97 seconds into the second quarter.
Baldwin’s lead was nine points when it recovered a fumble inside of Westside territory late in the second quarter. Westside wide receiver Jacari Mann didn’t give up on the play, however, and stripped the Baldwin defender to get the ball back for Westside inside its own 5-yard line.
The Seminoles drove 97 yards and scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Grayer to Shannon Smith with 37 seconds to play in the first half. Grayer completed 5-of-6 passes for 74 yards and had a 22-yard run on the drive, and Westside trailed 19-17 at the half.
“That was huge to get some momentum going into the half,” Grayer said. “We went into the locker room believing that we would win. It was a big drive.”