WESTVILLE – The Westville Tigers' high-powered offense garners the bulk of the credit when it comes to their success, and rightfully so with the state's all-time leading rusher paving the way. But their defense isn't bad, either.
Friday night, the Tigers' defense was relentless against Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, recording nine sacks – four from senior linebacker Jordan Barney – and holding the Falcons to 88 yards of offense in a 35-8 victory in the opening round of the Class 2A state playoffs.
"It all comes down to our lines, both offensively and defensively; they are the heartbeat of the team. If they do their jobs, it all opens up," Barney said.
Playing on a wet and sloppy field, everyone in a Westville uniform did his job Friday night as the Tigers took 1 minute, 28 seconds to find the end zone and rolled to a 14-0 first-quarter lead behind a pair of Caleb Pratt (45 and 35 yards) touchdowns.
After a Barney sack on third down forced a Falcons punt, Pratt struck again just before the half, racing 28 yards to cap a seven-play, 52-yard drive for a 21-0 halftime advantage.
"If we play like we did tonight (in the first half), I think we can beat any team that we play anywhere that we play them," Pratt said.
Westville (10-0) put the game out of reach midway through the third quarter when Pratt capped a six-play, 45-yard drive with a 4-yard scoring run for a 28-0 advantage.
One week after breaking the state's all-time rushing and touchdown records, Pratt added to both totals, finishing with 224 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries.
The undermanned Falcons (5-5) refused to quit, however. Sophomore quarterback Stephan Birt answered Pratt's fourth score with a seven-play, 46-yard drive that ended with his 14-yard run and two-point conversion pass to Brenton Fairchild.
Mike Allen's team appeared to have life after recovering the ensuing onside kick, but its next drive stalled at the Tigers' 20.
Westville senior cornerback Aaron Johnson sealed the deal for the Tigers when he intercepted a Birt pass on his own 20 and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown with 10 minutes left.
"I didn't think that our team really practiced that well this week, so I wasn't sure what to expect," Johnson said. "Our defense really came ready to play today. We were ready for pretty much everything they did."
Johnson lost one of five Tigers fumbles in the first half, but Westville coach Guy Goodlove thought the less-than-ideal conditions played a role.
"I think it was more the ball being wet," Goodlove said. "Three of those were fumbled snaps, and our center (Dusty Zaayer) came over and said it was his fault. We got him a towel, and it didn't happen again."
Allen, who will graduate 11 seniors, was impressed by the Tigers' speed.
"We thought (a back) we had saw on film earlier was similar to Pratt, but Pratt's the real deal. We haven't seen a back like that all year. Not even close to that. Then with Barney blocking for him, that's tough. But we fought to the end, and that's a credit to our kids. They are a class act."