BY GENE NARDI
Wellington High School’s varsity football team traveled to Palm Beach Gardens High School in a key District 9-8A match-up on Halloween night and beat the Gators 23-17.
Both teams entered the contest unbeaten in district play, already having clinched playoff berths.
The Wolverines (8-1, 3-0) drew first blood with their potent air attack. Quarterback Shannon Patrick found receiver Jean Rene on a 36-yard touchdown pass in the opening series of the game. Alex Ng’s kick gave Wellington an early 7-0 lead.
The lead was short-lived as Palm Beach Gardens (5-4, 2-1) marched right down the field on the ensuing possession to tie the game 7-7 with a 3-yard touchdown by Gator running back Tommy Monday. As in a classic heavyweight title fight, blow-for-blow, Wellington drove to the Gator 3-yard line, but the feisty Palm Beach Gardens defense held the Wolverines to a Ng 19-yard field goal, but Wellington did regain the lead, 10-7.
The Gators took their turn at a field goal to tie it 10-10. Patrick took control again and, on a critical third-and-long play, he found Rene, this time for a 70-yard touchdown and a 16-10 lead. On the Gators’ ensuing possession, Rene grabbed his second interception of the game to give the Wellington offense the ball on their 34-yard line, but Palm Beach Gardens linebacker Tevon Coney had other plans for the Gators when he intercepted Patrick on the next play and returned it 34 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and a one-point Gator lead, 17-16.
With Wellington’s standout receiver Ahmmon Richards attracting all the attention of the Gator defense, it was Rene who had Patrick’s attention. They connected for a key 45-yard reception near the goal line, which set up a 1-yard Patrick keeper to give the Wolverines a 23-17 lead with Ng’s kick.
Twice, Palm Beach Gardens attempted to convert on a fourth down but fell short to the stubborn Wellington defense. The most crucial was a late fourth-and-1 inside the Wellington 34-yard line with under two minutes to play and the district title on the line.
Gator running back Monday was stopped short, surrendering possession to Wellington. The Gator defense forced Wellington into a critical third-and-6 situation, but running back Mike Howard had no problems grinding out 12 yards for a first down, which allowed the Wolverines to run out the game clock, and seal the 23-17 win for the District 9-8A championship. “My line is great, and I depend on them to do what they do,” Howard said.
Coach Thomas Abel was thrilled with the outcome. “It was a hard-fought game, and I’m real proud of these boys,” he said after the game.
Patrick was 22 on 36 for 291 yards and two touchdowns, and had one rushing score plus two interceptions. Rene had 11 receptions for 225 yards and two scores, with two interceptions on defense. Howard combined for 100 yards.
Wellington will host John I. Leonard High School on Friday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. for the Wolverines’ homecoming game to finish out the regular season. The Wolverines will then host Park Vista High School on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. in the regional quarterfinals.
ABOVE: Wellington running back Mike Howard makes a first down at the end of the game to retain possession and run out the clock for the Wolverine victory.