Varsity football opens season with win at Belton

The hype that had built up in anticipation of the first varsity football game of the season was tangible. The visitors side of Tiger Stadium was filled with parents, fans and the band, giving the players on the field plenty of vocal support. While many of the fans were on edge, watching the pre-game proceedings quietly, all it took was the kick of a football for the noise to begin. The Chaps received, and the Westlake football season was underway.

It took nearly a full quarter for the Chaps’ offense to warm up, but from then on, it functioned effectively, leading the team to a 38-17 win over Belton.

“We had to quit getting behind the chains,” head coach Todd Dodge said. “We had several misalignment issues with our offensive line, pre-snap penalties. Really, the catalyst of the game was the 99-yard drive we had.”

The Chaps debuted their new starting running back, senior Tripp Graham, who was instrumental in the 99-yard drive they had in the first quarter. He took four carries for 56 yards on the drive, running up the middle of the defense in Nakia Watson-like fashion. After making it to the Belton 20, quarterback senior Taylor Anderson delivered an over-the-shoulder pass to wide receiver senior Penny Baker, scoring the first points of the game. Tripp finished the game with 23 carries for 154 yards and a touchdown.

Belton gave up a safety after a bad snap went straight to the back of the end zone, making the score 16-10 and handing possession to Westlake. From there, the Chaps drove down the field, and quarterback Taylor scrambled for a 17-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion was a lobbed throw off of his back foot and across his body to find wide receiver Penny, putting Westlake ahead 24-10 going into the half.

“It was huge, and we wanted to hang on to that momentum,” Dodge said. “We had that shark mentality, seeing blood in the water. They then kicked to us, and we were able to turn that into points as well.”

The Chaps defense was stout in the second half. They intercepted two passes, had two sacks and recovered a fumble, holding Belton to just one touchdown, a punt return, in the fourth quarter.

“Throughout the week, we had a certain set of things we like to focus on, and this week, it was focusing on becoming a team together,” defensive lineman senior David Neil said. “I think what we have in this team is a super strong bond that I haven’t seen in any year I’ve been at Westlake. My mentality in the game was: If I mess up, my teammates have my back, and if they mess up, I have their back.”

Thinking back on the game, Dodge insisted that, despite the win, the team wasn’t at its full potential just yet.

“We beat a good team 38-17, and we’re not even close to being our best yet,” he said. “That’s encouraging to me. I wouldn’t want to be as good as we’re going to be on week one. We haven’t even scratched the surface.”