Orange running back Jaylen Alexander (left) runs the ball against Western Albemarle on Friday in Crozet.

It’s not how you start, but how you finish.

The Orange County football team had plenty to smile about Friday night after finishing off a 20-12 win at Western Albemarle in the regular season finale for both teams.

The win was the Hornets’ fifth in their last six games and kept their Region 4B playoff hopes alive as they wait the announcement of the VHSL’s final power ratings on Sunday afternoon.

“My motto ever since I had the program is make every day count,” Orange County coach Jesse Lohr said. “There is no tomorrow, there’s only right now, so we do everything we can for the moment. Live for the moment and if the good Lord blesses us to have the sun come up tomorrow, then we’ll worry about tomorrow, but right now we’re living for the moment.”

One of the players that epitomized that mindset was senior running back Jaylen Alexander. The Hornets’ all-time leading rusher carried 25 times for 133 yards and a touchdown as the Hornets avenged last year’s 30-20 loss to Western Albemarle.

Orange County (5-5) set the tone early on with a long touchdown drive on its first possession. Douglas Newsome sparked the drive with a 49-yard run on a jet sweep play. That set up Alexander’s six-yard touchdown run to give the Hornets a 7-0 lead with 8:01 left in the first quarter.

“Coming into the game, we could tell they knew all the running plays,” Alexander said. “They studied film pretty good, but we just tried to go up there and execute and beat them every play. We just tried to come out and make a statement and let them know that we were going to be here all night.”

Western Albemarle (4-6) tried to answer on its first possession, driving inside the five-yard line. But Orange County’s defense responded with a big goal line stand as Noah Carey stopped quarterback Carter Shifflett on a fourth and goal from the one to force a turnover on downs.

The Warriors’ defense answered with a big play of its own as senior Dakota Newsome intercepted Orange County quarterback Walker Johnson on the next possession. The pick led to John Buetow’s one-yard TD run with 11:34 left in the first half. The Hornets’ special teams stepped up and blocked the extra point to maintain a 7-6 advantage.

With the running game firmly established, the Hornets turned to the air for their next big play. Johnson hit Douglas Newsome on a fly pattern down the left sideline for a 20-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 14-6 with 4:22 left in the half.

The lead remained that way into the second half as Western Albemarle went back to work. On their first drive, Carter Shifflett connected with Breaker Mendenhall on a 23-yard touchdown strike in the left corner of the end zone to pull the Warriors within two, 14-12, with 7:49 left in the third quarter.

Coach Ed Redmond’s team elected to go for two on the conversion, but Shifflett’s pass to Garrett Livermon sailed high and Orange maintained a two-point lead.

The Hornets extended its lead in the fourth thanks to their second rushing touchdown of the game. After two big runs on the drive, Carey plowed his up the middle for a three-yard touchdown run for a 20-12 lead. Western Albemarle blocked the extra-point opportunity to keep it a one possession game.

The Warriors went back to work offensively as they drove inside Orange County’s 35-yard line. Carter Shifflett bootlegged to his left but Alexander dropped him behind the line of scrimmage for a big sack on third down.

Shifflett suffered a lower body injury on the play and was carried off the field by his teammates with 5:12 left.

“That was a big sack by Jaylen here at the end of the game,” Lohr said. “I didn’t want to see the Shifflett kid get hurt at the end of the game. That’s a shame. I’ve known his father for a while. That’s a tough thing. Hopefully he’ll be ok.”

After a punt, Orange County looked to salt the game away on the ground. Alexander and Carey did a great job picking up first downs on the ground. With less than two minutes to play, Johnson sealed the win with a three-yard gain on fourth and 1 near midfield.

Despite the loss, Western Albemarle should still advance to next week’s Region 3C playoffs as either a No. 7 of No. 8 seed. That would give them a road game with either Heritage (Lynchburg) or Spotswood.

Now the waiting game begins as Orange County hopes to pick up enough points to outduel King George, Powhatan and Chancellor for the final playoff spot in Region 4B.

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