Westlake's defense steps up in second half to halt vaunted Carroll offense

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Southlake Carroll was putting together a special performance at halftime of the Class 6A Division I State Championship game. The Dragons scored 21 first half points – more than Austin Westlake gave up over the entire regular season. 

At the beginning of the third quarter, Westlake defensive coordinator Tony Salazar brought one of the state’s best defenses together and gave them an ultimatum. 

Said Salazar: “Do we want to stay getting ran through and getting kicked in the butt, or do we want to stand our ground?” 

At that moment, Westlake’s vaunted defense rose to the occasion. On Carroll’s first pass attempt of the second half, Westlake defensive back Michael Taaffe stepped up and picked off 5-star quarterback Quinn Ewers. Westlake converted the break into points four plays later. 

Then, Carroll started with the ball at its own 25 and drove six plays before turning the ball over on downs, which converted into a 36-yard field goal. Then, Carroll repeated the drive, once again driving six plays before Westlake once again forced a turnover on downs. Westlake took this one all the way for an exclamation point score by running back Grey Nakfoor. 

“We told our kids all week long, we were not going to wait,” Westlake coach Todd Dodge said. “I don’t care how good you are on defense, they’re going to get theirs. There’s a sign outside of our fieldhouse and it simply says 'Believe.' Our kids believed that we could get it done and I was so proud of them.” 

Suddenly a game that was within seven points at halftime ballooned to a 52-21 lead in barely more than a quarter of game time. 

In the third quarter alone, the defense held the Dragons’ elite offense to just two first downs, 88 yards and 5-of-12 passing. More importantly, the Chaparrals held Ewers’ offense scoreless to key a crucial 17-0 run that iced a second straight state title. 

The top-ranked Ewers still finished with 351 yards and three touchdowns, but Taaffe’s two interceptions made all the difference in a 52-34 Westlake victory. Perhaps more importantly, it cleared the way for blue-chip Westlake quarterback Cade Klubnik to complete 90 percent of his passes for 220 yards and a touchdown and rush for 97 yards and two more scores.

“We knew that we were going to face adversity going into this game,” Taaffe said. “It’s no big brainer that their quarterback is a hell of player and that offensive brain with his son are two of the best in the state...we got little sparks with some turnovers and the offense rolled.”

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