Senior quarterback Alex Williams raced 24 yards into the end zone as time expired to break a 28-28 tie and give the Wewahitchka Gators a dramatic and hard-fought 34-28 victory Friday in their pre-season opener over the Brookwood Academy Warriors of Thomasville, Georgia.
Before the opening kickoff, state weightlifting champion Mariah Baker and bronze medalist Landin Johnson were honored at mid-field, followed by an emotional return by coach Gene Rollins eight weeks after his heart transplant.
Carrying an American flag, Rollins led the Gators onto the field while on his way to his customary spot on the sideline,
In a game full of highlights and legal hard-hitting, the contest was marred by no fewer than 25 penalties between the two teams.
Wewa senior running back Landon Hysmith started the scoring with a 42-yard run off right tackle with 7:47 in the first quarter. The two-point conversion failed, giving the Gators an early 6-0 lead.
With two pre-season games already under their belts, the Warriors answered with a 62-yard drive which culminated with a 13-yard throwback pass from junior Destin Moore to sophomore quarterback Rodge Waldrop. After Wewa stuffed the two-point try, the score was tied 6-6 with 5:16 in the first quarter.
Two minutes later, Williams sped around left end and streaked down the sidelines for a 52-yard score. A nifty fake to sophomore running back Zay McDaniel allowed the touchdown run to look easy, and gave the Gators a 12-6 lead at the 3:10 mark in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Brookwood missed a 15-yard field goal, which would be the only scoring attempt via kick by either team as both squads went for two after each touchdown.
Just when it seemed the second quarter would be scoreless, Williams rolled out and heaved a perfect pass to senior receiver Sam Parker for a 58-yard score with only 8.3 seconds on the clock. McDaniel completed the two-point conversion and the Gators went to the locker room with a 20-6 lead.
While this would be Wewa’s only pass attempt of the night, Brookwood aired the ball 38 times, completing 12.
In the third quarter, Wewa took possession at their own 19-yard line following the only punt of the game, and proceeded to churn out an 81-yard drive, with McDaniel taking the ball the final 12 yards and Williams finishing the two-point try for a 28-6 Gator lead with 3:09 in the quarter.
However, during the drive a scary moment happened at the Brookwood 22-yard line. After a short run by McDaniel, whistles stopped the clock with 6:24 showing. One of the Warrior players lay on the turf and was not getting up.
Senior safety Strong Beverly lay motionless as coaches and medical personnel hustled to him. After nearly half an hour, the first responders were able to stabilize him, get him in an ambulance and to the hospital.
Brookwood coach Shane Boggs confirmed Saturday that “they did all the testing they needed to rule out any fractures and have diagnosed it as a stinger. He is a little sore today but his spirits are good.”
After the Gator score, “we were kind of flat after that,” said Wewa coach Bobby Johns. “They (the Warriors) were ready to go.”
With the elusive Moore running for more than 50 yards on their next possession, Brookwood senior Collin Clark carried it in from the 8-yard line with 42 seconds left in the third. Moore’s 2-point try closed the gap to 28-14.
After the Warriors took over on downs, Moore showed his speed as he scored on a 77-yard sprint. The conversion failed, but the gap was closed to 28-20 with 9:26 remaining in the game.
Things turned a bit ugly at the 8:21 mark. The Warrior defense, loading the box and sending 10 players virtually every down, gang tackled McDaniel for a six-yard loss at the Wewa 18. During what came perilously close to a melee, multiple flags flew and at this point the referee met with the two head coaches.
As offsetting personal foul penalties were announced, both sidelines protested and fans erupted in a chorus of boos. Hard hitting continued on every play, but there would be no more personal foul flags.
This Gator drive would end with the Warriors taking over on downs at the Wewa 17-yard line. Four plays later, Moore knotted the game at 28-all after a 1-yard run and successful conversion try with 5:22 remaining.
Locals held their collective breath as Brookwood recovered the ensuing kickoff at the Gator 33, but the defense stiffened and held, giving the ball back to Williams and the offense at their own 31-yard line with less than four minutes remaining.
Williams, a Vanderbilt commit, did not disappoint Gator fans. Overcoming two holding penalties during the drive, the talented senior ran for every one of the 69 yards necessary to win.
With the clock nearing zero, Williams rolled left to pass but had to scramble to avoid three would-be tacklers. Eluding them, he sprinted right and headed for paydirt, aided by a timely block at the 10-yard line by Parker, taking the lead as time expired.
After the game, Johns commended his players, telling them he had coached earlier teams who “would have folded” when things got tough.
Johns admitted that “we’ve got to get a lot better on the offensive line...We’ve got to make adjustments there.” He added that “two good, hard-hitting football teams (played) a very physical football game.”
Wewa kicks off its regular season Friday night against Liberty County in Bristol at 7 p.m. Central.