Down pulled off a shock win in Mullingar as a strong finish propelled Ronan Sheehan's troops to a deserved two-point win in Division 2A of the Allianz Hurling League.
The Lake Men, who played in Division 1 last year, now need to beat Kildare on the final day and hope Kerry win against Down or they will miss out on the final and the chance of promotion.
Joey Boyle edged Westmeath in front after a mere 14 seconds, but Down took the lead in the second minute when Eoghan Sands found the net from close range.
Westmeath pulled a point clear (0-04 to 1-00), but Sands equalised superbly in the seventh minute. When Daithí Sands was fouled in the 12th minute inside the large parallelogram, the ensuing penalty from Paul Sheehan was powerfully struck but wide of the target.
Westmeath had a goal from Niall Mitchell disallowed for a square ball offence in the 20th minute, but a brace from Ciaran Doyle (including a huge free) and a classy point from Derek McNicholas put the home team ahead by 0-10 to 1-03 with 26 minutes elapsed.
However, Westmeath were wasteful – they shot 10 wides to their opponents’ three in the first half – and Down were on level terms by the second of three allotted minutes of added-time, the highlight coming from a monster free from Conor Woods.
With just seconds remaining, Westmeath were awarded a penalty, but the hitherto-reliable Jack Gillen was denied from the spot by a great save from Stephen Keith. Gillen pointed the resultant ‘65’ to put Joe Fortune’s charges ahead by 0-12 to 1-08 at the interval.
A brace of points from Sheehan, the first of them from a ‘65’, nudged Down in front early in the second half, but Westmeath responded with a close-range goal from McNicholas in the 42nd minute and points from Killian Doyle, Boyle (his third) and Gillen (a free) to go five points clear (1-15 to 1-10) with 47 minutes on the clock.
A fabulous free from Sheehan and a neat score from sub Marc Fisher kept Down in touch however.
Gillen’s 55th-minute free put the Lake County three clear, but Down finished much the stronger with five unanswered points from the sticks of Sheehan (two, including a free), Oisín McManus (two frees) and Eoghan Sands to seal a noteworthy victory.
Down: S Keith; M Conlon, J McManus, M Hughes; L Savage, C Woods (0-01, 0-01f), C Teggart; D Hughes, T Murray; R McCusker, P Sheehan (0-10, 0-05fs, 0-01‘65’), C Egan (0-01) ; P Óg McCrickard, E Sands (1-03), D Sands.
Subs: M Fisher (0-01) for Egan (48), O McManus (0-02, 0-02fs) for McCrickard (53), J Doran for McCusker (60), G Hughes for Murray (65), C Cassidy for M Hughes (67).
Westmeath: N Conaty; D Egerton, T Doyle (0-01) , C Shaw; A Craig, T Gallagher, A Clarke; J Galvin, C Doyle (0-02, 0-01f); N Mitchell, J Boyle (0-03), R Greville; D McNicholas (1-01), J Gillen (0-07, 0-04fs, 0-02‘65’s), K Doyle (0-02).
Subs: E Keyes for McNicholas (45), J Bermingham for Greville (52), E Ahearn for Gillen (57), D Clinton for C Doyle (70).
Ref: M Kennedy (Tipperary)
Elsewhere in Division 2A, division leaders Kerry burnished their scoring difference with a 23-point victory over Meath that will secure their place in the final, barring a heavy defeat to Down in the last round.
Michael Leane and Shane Nolan got the goals in a 2-31 to 0-14 at Austin Stack Park.
A sideline cut from Chris Nolan, five minutes into injury time, rescued a draw for Carlow against Kildare in Newbidge.
The hosts had fought back from a 0-12 to 0-07 half-time deficit to the brink of victory but Nolan's skill ensure it finished 0-20 apiece.
Carlow will still need to avoid defeat to Meath on the final day to be sure of avoiding relegation.