Scoring early and often, the Wewahitchka Gators overwhelmed the undermanned Graceville Tigers 54-0 last Friday.
With the win, Wewa improved to 4-6 while Graceville fell to 1-9 on the season.
With only 15 players in uniform, the Tigers managed to secure the opening kickoff when the onside kick caromed off a Gator player and Graceville recovered at its own 47-yard line. From there, the Gators were in control for the rest of the contest.
Guilty of two procedure penalties sandwiched around a three-yard gain, the Tigers returned possession to the Gators when junior Joey Salerno pounced on a fumble at the Graceville 44.
A delay infraction pushed Wewa back five yards, but sophomore Zay McDaniel made short work of the drive when he took a direct snap and dashed up the middle for a 49-yard scoring jaunt.
Senior Landon Hysmith’s 2-point run gave Wewa an 8-0 lead after only 1:11 had expired.
Bailey Cox’s kick off rolled into the end zone, and four plays later Conner Dillard punted to the Gator 45-yard line for the first of his five punts of the game.
Once again, it took the Gators only one play to double their score, this time when senior Alex Williams sprinted around left end and down the sideline for a 51-yard score. This would be the only carry of the night for the senior quarterback.
A holding penalty nullified the successful 2-point try and moved the ball back at the 13-yard line, but Hysmith would not be deterred as he ran around the right side into the end zone to give Wewa a 16-0 lead with 8:06 remaining in the first quarter.
Stymied again after Cox kicked off, the Tigers punted to the Gator 48-yard line. This time, it took the Gators two plays to score.
On this short possession, Hysmith did the honors himself, first gaining 22 yards before taking it the final 30 yards for Wewa’s third score of the game.
Sophomore Caleb Carter completed the 2-point conversion to increase the Gator lead to 24-0 with 4:14 still to play in the first quarter.
After another Tiger punt returned the ball to Wewa at the Graceville 31, the Gators quickly struck again as Carter appeared to score on the first play only to have a holding penalty bring the ball back.
Not to be denied, Carter hit the hole off right tackle and scampered to the end zone, shedding two would-be tacklers on the way.
The try for two, this time via a pass, failed, leaving Wewa in firm command by a score of 30-0 with less than a minute left in the first quarter.
The second quarter began with a running clock, and once again the Tigers were forced to punt. On only his second, and final, carry of the game, McDaniel outran the Tigers for a 73-yard score.
Freshman Tyrann Williams completed this effort with his 2-point run, and the Gator lead increased to 38-0.
Things went from bad to really bad for the Tigers when no one covered Cox’s kickoff and Carter jumped on the ball at the Graceville 15-yard line.
Now with JV players running the ball, it still took only four plays for the Gators to score again. Freshmen Corbin Hysmith, Jake Parker, and Colton Johnson all had positive yards before Johnson scored from seven yards out. Parker’s 2-point try increased the Wewa lead to 46-0 a few minutes before halftime.
“We played a lot of kids early tonight,” said Wewa coach Bobby Johns. “We wanted our young kids to get a chance to play (because) they practiced all year long with us, and next week they probably won’t get a chance to play.”
Besides a running clock in the second half, the quarters were shortened to eight minutes each.
On their initial possession of the second half, Graceville gained their first, and only, first down of the game on Erie Brown’s 8-yard run.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, any joy was short-lived as a bad snap resulted in a loss of nine, followed by freshman Nathan Combs’ quarterback sack for a loss of 10. Dillard was forced to punt from his own 10-yard line.
With sophomores Bryson Greene and Xavier Glass joining Johnson in carrying the ball, Wewa worked the ball down to the Tiger 9-yard line, but Graceville recovered a fumble to end the drive.
Deep in their own territory, the Tigers faked a punt on fourth down, but the would-be receiver dropped Dillard’s pass for what would have been a Graceville first down.
Instead, Wewa had possession again at the Tiger 9-yard line. Two plays later, Greene’s touchdown and freshman Gabe Miller’s 2-point run put the finishing touches on the 54-0 victory.
As a team, Wewa gained 327 yards with seven TDs on only 17 carries. McDaniel led the way with 122 yards, with both of his touches resulting in scores .
“I still don’t know if we played (that well) on offense,” said Johns. “We had a couple of miscues, but we were just more athletic.”
Besides allowing only one Tiger first down, the Gator defense completely shut down the Graceville offense, allowing a net gain of only two yards for the entire game.
Johns said that “(Graceville’s) got two really good players, and one of them broke his ankle and the other one got hurt last week (against Franklin County). That’s either five or six that they’ve lost since they beat Vernon (Oct. 15).”
“Earlier in the week,” Johns said, “they only had 12, and we were afraid they weren’t going to be able to make the trip (but) the coach said we’ll be there if I can get 14 or 15 kids.”
This Friday, Nov. 12, the Gators will travel to Madison County and take on the 7-3 Cowboys in the first round of the FHSAA 1A regional quarterfinals.