Will Howard was good when things were easy for Downingtown West.
He was better when things got tough for the Whippets.
Howard passed for three touchdowns and ran for two as Downingtown West won a wild battle with visiting Haverford by a 49-42 score in the District 1 Class 6A semifinals on a cold and clear Friday night in Kottmeyer Stadium.
With the victory, top-seeded Downingtown West (12-1) set a school record for victories and advance to host Ches-Mont League National Division rival Coatesville in the District 1 title game next Friday.
Coatesville, the No. 7 seed and two-time champion, advanced with a 48-27 victory over third-seeded Garnet Valley in another semifinal on Friday night.
Coatesville handed Downingtown West its lone loss by a 29-21 score on Oct. 18.
“We said before the season we wanted to be West’s best and set the school record for wins and we’ve done that,” Howard said. “Our next goal was to win the district championship. To be able to host Coatesville here in the final, that’s something special.”
Howard, a senior quarterback and Kansas State recruit, helped Downingtown West break to a 35-7 lead in the first half, then made a series of big plays late in the game as the Whippets held off a furious rally by the Fords.
Senior quarterback Trey Blair, playing at less than 100 percent because of a hip injury, led 10th-seeded Haverford (10-3) to the brink of a remarkable comeback.
Blair, a Buffalo recruit, ran 22 times for 249 yards and two touchdowns and also passed for three scores.
“He’s amazing,” Downingtown West coach Mike Milano said of Blair.
Haverford used a blocked punt by Jimmy Callahan, a recovery of an onside kick and Blair’s dynamic play to storm back from a 42-14 deficit late in the third quarter.
“I couldn’t even express how proud I was of these kids,” Haverford coach Joe Gallagher said. “I didn’t have the words.”
Gallagher said Blair did not practice all week after suffering a hip pointer in a victory over Downingtown East in the same stadium on Nov. 8.
“It’s not just his athletic ability, it’s his heart,” Gallagher said.
Howard completed his first seven passes as Downingtown West scored on its first three possessions to take a 21-7 lead in the first quarter.
Howard added a pair of touchdown runs on the second quarter as the Whippets extended their advantage to 35-7 before Blair’s late touchdown run cut the margin to 35-14 at the break.
“He knows as we advance, it’s going to be him,” Milano said of Howard. “He’s got a great cast around him but he’s going to have to play his best football. He played a really good football game tonight.”
Howard might have been at his best when Haverford seized momentum. After the Fords cut the Whippets’ lead to 42-28 and ignited the visiting student section, Howard whipped an 11-yard completion to Alex Rosano on a third-and-4.
One play later, Howard rifled a perfect strike to Justin Williams on a deep slant for a 52-yard touchdown that stretched the lead to 49-28.
Back Haverford came with a pair of scores, the latter on Blair’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Will Higson with 2 minutes, 29 seconds left after the recovery of an onside kick.
But facing a third-and-4, Howard fake a handoff and raced 13 yards for a first down that effectively allowed the Whippets to run out the clock.
“There’s a reason he’s going to Kansas State,” Gallagher said of Howard. “If people want to know what a Division I quarterback looks like, they need to come watch him.”
Haverford 7 7 7 21 – 42
Downingtown West 21 14 7 7 – 49
D: Tyriq Lewis 4 run (Spencer Mochulski kick)
D: Lewis 1 run (Mochulski kick)
H: Chasen Wint 1 run (Beef Wellington kick)
D: Will Mahmud 5 pass from Will Howard (Mochulski kick)
D: Howard 1 run (Mochulski kick)
D: Howard 7 run (Mochulski kick)
H: Trey Blair 20 run (Wellington kick)
D: Mahmud 5 pass from Howard (Mochulski kick)
H: Justin Burgess 3 pass from Blair (Wellington kick)
H: Chris Dempsey 21 pass from Blair (Wellington kick)
D: Justin Williams 52 pass from Howard (Mochulski kick)
H: Blair 1 run (Wellington kick)