In a game in which a total of 12 touchdowns and 85 points were scored, you wouldn’t think defense played a major role in the outcome.
But for Class AAA No. 4 Westminster that was exactly the case in the Wildcats’ 49-36 homecoming-night win over No. 2 Pace Academy. Well, defense and Zay Malcome, who was an absolute wrecking ball all night.
The 5-foot-5 scat back, who also runs with tremendous power, picked off a pass while playing safety and returned it 66 yards, while rolling up close to 400 total yards on offense and special teams – including a 99-yard kickoff return for one of his four touchdowns in the game.
“We wanted to keep our foot on the gas,” Malcome said afterward. “We’re conditioned to play for four quarters and we knew they couldn’t hang with us for four quarters. It was good competition. They played hard but at the end we came out on top.”
The win gives Westminster a 1-0 lead in the “Battle of West Paces Ferry.” Though the schools are only about two miles apart, they never faced each other in football until Friday night. But more importantly, Westminster (4-2, 3-0) is now in the driver’s seat to win what is perhaps the state’s toughest region in any classification, Region 5-AAA. The league includes four teams ranked in the top 10, as along with Westminster and Pace, Lovett is ranked No. 6 and Cedar Grove is No. 9.
Since beginning the season 0-2, scoring a total of just 33 points, Westminster, the defending Class AAA champion, has now won four straight and scored at least 40 points in all four wins. And while the Wildcats indeed need all those points to hold off Pace, the defending Class AA champs, who moved up a class this season, Westminster’s defense made the play that changed the momentum and helped put the game away.
The Wildcats built a two-touchdown margin, 28-14 at the half. But Deon Jackson, the Knights’ senior running back/linebacker committed to Duke, opened the third quarter by going on a personal 11-play, 75-yard drive from the wildcat formation. He capped the march with a 6-yard touchdown run to pull Pace to within one score, 28-21.
But Malcome answered instantly, taking the ensuing kickoff 98-yards for a touchdown to push the lead back to 14 points, 35-21. But Jackson struck again. On the first play of the Knight’s next possession, he took a toss from quarterback Gunnor Faulk, pulled up and lofted a strike to Trey Blount down the near sideline for an 80-yard pitch and catch that closed the gap to 35-28.
The result of the play made Jackson, who was nearly as brilliant as Malcome, the only player in Pace history to throw a touchdown pass, and score a receiving and rushing touchdown, all in the same game.
Still, just as it did all night, Westminster answered with a seven-play, 85-yard scoring drive, punctuated by a 3-yard touchdown run by Ian Ude, to give the Wildcats their two-touchdown lead again, 42-28, at the end of the third quarter.
Pace went back to the wildcat with Jackson at the controls, and the senior led another march deep inside Westminster territory. But instead making it a one-score game again, Westminster’s defense stepped up with about 10 minutes left to play, as linebacker David Edmiston and defensive end Tanner Hines stuffed Jackson on fourth-and-one from the Wildcat 10.
“We stuck together and gang tackled all night,” Edmiston said. “That was our plan. We hung in there and played together as a team.”
After the stop, Malcome scored his fourth touchdown of the night, a 6-yard run, to make it a three-touchdown lead for the Wildcats, 49-28, with just over four minutes left.
Pace Academy 14 0 14 8 36
Westminster 14 14 14 7 49
P – Deon Jackson 58 pass from Gunnor Faulk (Patrick Markwalter kick)
W – Zay Malcome 4 run (Jack Schlafly kick)
W – Ward Croft 9 run (Schlafly kick)
P – Jackson 66 run (Markwalter kick)
W – Croft 1 run (Schlafly kick)
W – Malcome 5 run (Schlafly kick)
P – Jackson 6 run (Markwalter kick)
W – Malcome 99 KO return (Schlafly kick)
P – Trey Blount 80 halfback pass from Jackson (Markwalter kick)
W – Ian Ude 3 run (Schlafly kick)
W – Malcome 6 run (Schlafly kick)
P – Mark Sommerville 30 pass from Faulk (Faulk run)