Wewahitchka rebounded in a big way from their 53-6 opening game loss to Brookwood by unleashing a powerful ground attack en route to a 38-8 thrashing of the visiting Bell Bulldogs, bringing both teams to 1-1.
The Gators overcame seven first half penalties, including two that nullified would-be touchdowns, before scoring twice in the final 4:15 of the second quarter to take a 16-0 lead into halftime.
Sophomore Damian Hughes put Wewa ahead 8-0 with an 11-yard touchdown run and added the 2-point conversion. Hughes added his second score from 10 yards out with only four seconds remaining before halftime.
After the second touchdown, sophomore Tyrann Williams completed the 2-point conversion, and then provided defensive heroics when he tackled Jayden Lopez at the Gator 22-yard line after a 31-yard pass from quarterback Zack Powell, preventing a last-second Bulldog score.
Hughes, who rushed for a total of 128 yards for the game along with two touchdowns and three 2-point conversions, “was a guard last week,” said Wewa coach Bobby Johns.
“We had to make some changes, and we needed more physicality in the backfield. We moved him to the backfield, and he did a good job.”
The Gator backfield will need to remain more physical, since junior star running back Zay McDaniel has been lost for the season after a devastating ACL injury suffered during the pre-season contest against Maclay on August 19.
“It’s been tough,” said Johns. “Here’s a guy who’s rushed for about 4,000 yards in his career; that’s hard to overcome.”
But overcome they did, relentlessly pounding the ball for a total of 361 yards against a steadily tiring Bulldog defense.
Junior Caleb Carter led the Gator ground attack with 169 yards, Williams added 44 yards, and senior PJ Garrison ran for 30 more.
Garrison, who thrilled the home crowd with a 35-yard kickoff return to open the second half, left the game on the next play with an injury after a 28-yard burst that was negated by a Gator penalty.
“I really don’t know” what kind of injury Garrison suffered, said Johns. “I’m worried (that) it’s a leg injury, but won't know until we take a look at it.”
The Gators secured the win in the third quarter, burning a total of 11:09 off the clock and adding a Carter score from the 1-yard line with 3:56 remaining in the period. Hughes added the 2-point conversion, giving Wewa a 24-0 lead.
Only two plays later, the Bulldogs crossed into paydirt for their only score of the game after a 50-yard pass from Powell to Patterson Wiles. Powell added the conversion, and the Gator lead was cut to 24-8.
Bell’s attempt at an onside kick failed when senior Gunnar Grogan recovered the ball at midfield, and the Gators responded with a methodical eight-play scoring drive, culminating with Carter’s six yard run.
Hughes once again added the conversion, and Wewa’s lead increased to 32-8 with 10:26 left to play.
The Bulldogs put together an eight-play drive of their own, but failed to complete a fourth down conversion at the Gator 12 yard line. During the drive, junior Bryson Greene broke up a potential
Taking nearly five minutes off the clock, the Gators marched 88 yards for their final score of the night, with Williams doing the honors from the half-yard line. This time, the conversion failed, but Wewa held a commanding 38-8 lead with only 2:33 before the final horn.
Aided by a Gator personal foul penalty, the Bulldogs got as far as the Wewa 16 yard line, but lost the ball on a fumble with only nine seconds remaining.
Ball control and time of possession proved to be in Wewa’s favor on the night. Besides rushing for 361 yards, the Gators retained possession for more than 34 of the regulation 48 minutes.
“We practiced a lot more physically this week,” said Johns, “and that helped us. We had a better rotation tonight, and we didn’t turn the ball over.” The Gators did lose one fumble early in the first
quarter, but that was a huge improvement over the seven turnovers against Brookwood.
“We have to be physical if we’re going to win,” said Johns. “We’re not a finesse team. We don’t throw the ball, so we have to be able to control the line of scrimmage, and our kids did a good job of that tonight.” Senior lineman Joey Salerno contributed stalwart play on both offense and defense.
Defensively, besides the Bulldog touchdown pass play, the Gators “finally played assignment football tonight,” said Johns. “We finally played our responsibilities, and if we do what we’re supposed to do
and be physical, we’ll have a chance.”
Huddled together after the game ended, Johns told his players that they would have another chance on Friday, September 9, when they play “a very much improved” Vernon team on the road.
The Yellowjackets fell to 0-2 after Friday night’s 14-12 loss to Franklin County.
After enjoying a bye week, the Tiger Sharks will travel to Panama City on Friday, September 9, to take on the 2-1 Bay Tornadoes.
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