BY GENE NARDI
The Wellington High School varsity football team traveled to take on crosstown rival and district foe Palm Beach Central High School on Friday, Sept. 16. The Wolverines orchestrated a second-half rally to overcome the Broncos 31-28 in a thriller.
The two schools resumed the rival game last season, with Wellington winning 35-7 to reclaim the Wellington Cup, which has been at Palm Beach Central for most of the past decade.
Fans from both schools packed the stadium. The game had more at stake than just the Wellington Cup, though, since both teams are in District 9-8A. The win would notch a top spot in the district, with the loser facing the pressure of staying in contention.
The Broncos took advantage early, intercepting Wellington quarterback Ben Schmickle four times in the first half, and forcing a fumble that was scooped up by Nicholas Johnson and returned for a touchdown. Running backs Anthony Wynds and C.J. Stewart each scored in the first quarter to give the Broncos a comfortable 20-0 lead going into the second quarter.
Before the end of the half, Wellington finally clicked on offense. Schmickle connected with Mark Anthony Richards and Jymetre Hester for touchdowns to close the margin, making it 20-14. The Wolverines closed out the half picking up some momentum.
The second half was equally as intense, with the teams slugging it out on both sides of the ball. The Wolverines knocked out 17 second-half points to come back, while putting together a more solid defensive stance to hold the Broncos to just one touchdown. Both defenses were able to force a safety, with Wellington’s coming near the end of the game to stop the Broncos on their final drive.
Schmickle gave the Wolverines their first lead of the game when he found receiver Sage Chen-Young on a 44-yard touchdown pass that made the score 21-20. What Wellington could not do was stop Wynds, who had 30 carries for 252 yards. Wynds ran it in from 1 yard out to give the Broncos back the lead 26-20.
Then Wellington’s offense went back to work through the air. Schmickle linked up with Hester for a 70-yard scoring pass. He found Hester again for the two-point conversion, giving Wellington a 29-26 lead.
“We need to work on our pass defense, as well as eliminating mental mistakes,” Bronco head coach Tino Ierulli said. “Penalties killed us and ended up costing us a win.”
Wellington was forced into a punt situation from the 5-yard line; the Bronco defense pressured the line, forcing a high snap out of the end zone for the safety. The Broncos thus cut the margin to 29-28. The Wolverines defense needed a big play, and they got one when they stripped the ball from Wynds, the Bronco running back. Wellington drove to midfield, only to punt, but still forced the Broncos to travel the distance.
On fourth-and-long, the Broncos had to attempt to move the chains with less than a minute to play. Chen-Young pressured Bronco quarterback Michael Moreland to get the safety and extend the Wellington lead to 31-28. The Wolverines then ran out the game clock for the win. The victory allows Wellington to retain the cup another year, and it puts the team at 3-1 (1-0 in division play) on the season.
“Palm Beach Central is a tough, tough football team; they came out and smacked us right in the mouth,” Wellington head coach Tom Abel said. “Good teams win ugly, and I don’t know if we’re a good team yet until we can put two halves together.”
For Wellington, Schmickle totaled 316 yards and four touchdowns through the air but threw five interceptions. Richards had 65 yards receiving and a touchdown. Hester recorded two scores. Chen-Young is credited with a touchdown, the safety, a fumble recovery and an interception.
For Palm Beach Central, Moreland was 13 of 30 for 109 yards and one interception. Wynds scored two touchdowns. Running back Lakevious Simmons had seven carries for 75 yards. Camron Mann had four rushes for 61 yards, and Stewart had one touchdown. Linebacker Ben Panitz had eight tackles and an interception returned 21 yards, plus a pass deflection on defense. Cornerback Nick Hollis had two picks, and Johnson had the fumble recovery for a score.
The Broncos continue to look for their first win and will host Glades Central High School on Friday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. Wellington is on the road against Fort Pierce Central High School this week.
ABOVE: The Wellington High School football team celebrating with the Wellington Cup.