Rapid-Fire: Western football explodes for five early touchdowns to beat Albemarle

Photo by Ashley Thornton

In the lead up to senior night, Wyatt Thomas was hoping he’d get a chance to step up for Western Albemarle.


“I’d been praying the last week that I’d get a good play and the opportunity came and I just took it,” Thomas said. “It felt amazing.”


The Warriors’ senior, 5-foot-8 cornerback got his chance. With Western up 28-0 already, Albemarle seemed poised to gain at least get a little momentum going after a Western three and out. But when the Patriots went for a quick strike downfield, Thomas leapt up and came up with an interception, helping Western maintain momentum en route to a 35-10 victory.


“Thomas has been solid all year, he’s just a great corner,” said Western coach Ed Redmond. “He’s a tough kid, he competes and practices his craft every day. He’s just a kid that’s a real strong competitor.”


To come up with that kind of play on senior night clearly meant alot to Thomas, who has had to work and grind his way into his spot like many in Western’s large senior class who’ve worked their way into a starting spot.


“I started off freshman year probably 110, 115 (pounds) and now I’m around 160 — I’ve been in the weight room the last four years,” Thomas said. “Everything has kind of come into place and I take pride in that.”


Thomas’ play was part of an incredible start by the Warriors, who methodically jumped out to a 35-0 lead, thanks to a lockdown defensive effort and a balanced, efficient offense.


“We hadn’t started a game like that all year where all three phases were clicking,” Redmond said. “It was good to see our kids be able to do that and keep them off balance. We punted well and covered kicks well because they’ve got some weapons out there and you couldn’t have scripted a better first half.”


The win pushes the Warriors to 8-2 and locks up a home game in the Region 3C playoffs while also helping avenge last year’s narrow loss to Albemarle that knocked Western out of playoff contention. Both teams will discover their playoff fate later this weekend when other games are wrapped up. Albemarle is also likely going to get into the Region 5D mix at the eight seed, though they’re also awaiting their fate based on games later this weekend.


The Warriors got going with a rapid-fire opening drive that started with a 34-yard run by sophomore Austin Shifflett who rushed for 222 yards and two scores on the night in a massive effort. Carter Shifflett capped the four-play drive with a 16-yard touchdown toss to Jack Lesemann and getting that little bit of a passing attack going seemed to help put Albemarle’s defense on its heels.


“Once you’re able to pass the ball, it just opens up everything,” said Austin Shifflett. “Then they actually have to bring their guys out and it just shortens the box, there’s not as many people in there and it opens up running lanes.”


Western’s offense just didn’t slow down during that initial run, capitalizing on good field position after a three and out on Albemarle’s first drive when Austin Shifflett ripped off a 34-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0. Albemarle went three and out again and Western bullied its way into the end zone again thanks to a 19-yard reverse by Wyatt Hull and another Lesemann catch that picked up 12 yards and set up Austin Shifflett for a 7-yard touchdown.


“They jumped out, they were physical, they were executing at a high level and we weren’t able to get going offensively early,” said Albemarle coach Brandon Isaiah. “They got ahead of us and there wasn’t too much we could do about it.”


Albemarle finally got the offense going down 21-0 when DaQuandre Taylor hit Forrest Warner for a 25-yard pickup and a defensive pass interference penalty helped the cause, but the drive stalled out, with a Taylor run on fourth down coming up just short on the doorstep of the redzone.


Western started grinding a little more after that defensive stop and a 10-play drive helped along by a roughing the passer and defensive pass interference penalty ended with Carter Shifflett streaking in from 26 yards out.


After an Albemarle fake punt failed to pickup the first down on the next drive, Western stalled for the first time with a sack and two incompletions forcing a punt. That set the stage for Thomas’ pick and the sixth Western drive of the first half that culminated in Aidan Saunders plowing in from a yard out.


Albemarle finished the first half with a sustained drive and a Yousef Algburi field goal and managed to start the second half with a touchdown drive that ended with Taylor hitting Myles Ward for a 19-yard touchdown. Western’s defense answered the bell after that though, coming up with a fourth down stop near the goal line that preserved a 35-10 lead late in the third quarter. The offense followed that stop with a 94-yard march (including Carter Shifflett hitting Jack Weyher on a jump pass at the sideline across his body for a 59-yard catch and run) that ended with a fumble at the one, but served its purpose by sucking a lot of time off the clock.