The visiting Rutherford Rams handed the Wewahitchka Gators Friday night their second consecutive one-point loss of the young football season, 13-12, in a penalty-laden contest that had nearly as many flags flying as one might see at a Veterans’ Day parade.
The night began with the honoring of seven Gulf County officials at mid-field, including Wewa principal Jay Bidwell, Superintendent Jim Norton, and Sheriff Mike Harrison, who threw out a ceremonial “first ball” prior to the coin toss.
It would end after a total of 18 penalties, 10 by the Rams and eight by the home team including a bevy of tossed linen on the Gators’ final play of the evening as senior quarterback Alex Williams tried valiantly to put his team on top courtesy of a two-point conversion, only to be stifled by a host of Ram tacklers shy of the goal line.
Williams, who last month decommitted from Vanderbilt to leave open his future college options, found sophomore running back Zay McDaniel on a 30-yard pass to the left flag of the end zone on a 4th-and-21 play to bring the Gators to within a point with just 2:13 remaining in the game.
The Gators' try for two points would be for naught as multiple flags flew at the snap of the ball, although no whistles stopped play until the Rams wrestled the exhausted Williams to the turf. When the figurative dust settled, the green field was littered with so many yellow flags that it took on the appearance of a Green Bay Packers jersey.
The referee signaled the Gators were guilty of an illegal procedure penalty, which Rutherford declined.
Wewa’s onside kick went out of bounds, and the Rams ran out the clock to end the hotly contested and highly emotional game.
Controlling the clock for nearly 10 minutes of the first quarter, Wewa took a 6-0 lead with only nine seconds left on Landon Hysmith’s two-yard run, but the extra point try failed.
Hysmith, however, sustained an injury on the play and had to leave the game to be taken to the hospital for observation and tests. Coach Bobby Johns said Sunday that it was a slight concussion, and that he would likely be able to play in Friday's game.
Bailey Cox kicked off and promptly recovered a Ram fumble at the Rutherford 36 yard line just prior to the second quarter.
The next quarter would see a series of punts, interceptions, and a fumble until the Rams got their offense going in the final four minutes before halftime.
Starting from their own 20-yard line, the Rams would need less than two minutes to score.
Quarterback Antonio Morgan connected with Romero Black for 35 yards on a misdirection pass play before hitting Jevon Hamilton for a 37-yard touchdown. Jonathan Walker’s extra point try gave the Rams a 7-6 lead going into halftime, one they would not relinquish.
A Rutherford holding penalty with 4:52 left in the third quarter negated what would have been a 70-yard punt return by Morgan. But the Rams would put together a crucial 65-yard drive in the final frame that consumed nearly 10 minutes of game time on their way to the game-winning touchdown.
Running back Jaicari Brown ran for 58 tough yards on the drive against a weary but plucky Gator defense before Black ran for the final yard. The kick failed, but Rutherford now led 13-6 with 7:05 remaining in the game.
With Williams leading the charge, the Gators worked their way down to the Ram 21-yard line, facing fourth down. That’s when Williams found McDaniel along the left sideline, who eluded two would-be tacklers as he fought his way into the end zone.
That would set up the unsuccessful Gator try for two and the win. Instead, flags flew and Wewa would endure another heartbreaking one-point loss.
Notably absent from the Wewa sideline was Coach Gene Rollins, who according to Johns, was sick and in the hospital.
Tomorrow night, Friday, Sept. 17, the Gators host county rival Port St. Joe. Game time is 7 p.m. Central.