Westminster Academy, the Southeastern Football Conference’s top seed in the South Division, fell short in its fourth-quarter comeback as Pope John Paul II held on for a 26-24 quarterfinal upset Thursday night.
The Lions (7-2) trailed 26-18 before sophomore Elisha Daniels, who switched to quarterback to start the second half, connected with junior Andrew James on a 13-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-12 with 6:30 remaining in the game. They failed to tie the score on the two-point conversion.
With just over three minutes left, Westminster Academy took over from its own 8-yard line, but on fourth down, junior quarterback Joe Vairo threw one of his three interceptions.
Early on, the Lions captured the lead on their opening drive on senior Spencer Saliba’s 3-yard touchdown run. The Eagles (4-5) countered with 12 straight points on junior quarterback Raymond Rizk’s 60-yard pass to senior wideout Javonta Swinton and senior Dequan McGriff’s 2-yard run.
Trailing 12-8 halfway through the second quarter, Westminster Academy closed out the half with 10 unanswered points. Saliba found the end zone for the second time on an 8-yard run, while senior kicker Hunter Eakin nailed a 35-yard field goal.
Down 18-12 to start the second half, Pope John Paul (4-5) snapped its two-game losing streak by scoring 14 straight points on a pair of touchdown runs by McGriff. The back finished with 25 carries for 140 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s tough [because] you work all season to get to the pinnacle,” Westminster Academy coach Jake Sorg said. “We were a couple of plays short. We didn’t convert when we needed to convert. We made some plays, but they made better plays.”