BY GENE NARDI
On Friday, Aug. 21, the Wellington High School football squad hosted Palm Beach Lakes High School in a preseason kickoff classic, defeating the visiting Rams 41-14.
While the game had no bearing on the standings, it served as preparation for the regular-season contests ahead. The reigning District 9-8A champions appeared to pick up right where they left off last season, averaging 40-plus points per game.
The first half was not without preseason jitters, with both teams committing mental mistakes, including penalties that plagued both sides of the ball.
“We need to fix a lot of things to improve,” said Wellington head coach Tom Abel, now in his fourth season. “We can’t leave behind three touchdowns that we should have had.”
The Wolverines drove inside the Rams’ red zone three times in the first half without converting those drives into points.
All eyes were on Wellington quarterback Blake Dever to see if the St. Thomas transfer would live up to the hype. It didn’t take long for him to respond. After Miami commit Ahmmon Richards intercepted the Rams on their first possession and gave Wellington the football at midfield, Dever connected with Richards on his first touch as a Wolverine for a 50-yard touchdown pass.
After a failed point-after attempt, the Wolverines took the early 6-0 lead. Palm Beach Lakes responded with a solid drive, and capped it with a 10-yard touchdown run. Their point-after gave them a brief 7-6 lead.
Wellington regained the lead when Dever capped a 48-yard drive with a one-yard keeper for the score to lift the Wolverines to a 13-7 advantage going into the second quarter.
Late in the second quarter, on a third-and-long from the Wolverines own 22-yard line, Dever found Richards again. Richards broke several tackles and sprinted down the home sideline for a 78-yard score. The touchdown gave Wellington a 20-7 halftime lead.
“After he calmed down a bit, everything started to fall into place,” Abel said of Dever.
The Wolverines continued to fire on all cylinders. Dever connected with Richards again, and with receiver Austin Gilman for two scores. Wellington capped off the night with Elroy Taylor rushing it in for a touchdown to give the Wolverines the 41-14 home field victory.
“We have to be ready for everything,” Abel said. “We set up our schedule with tough opponents to be playoff-ready.”
Dever was 13 of 18 for 255 yards and four touchdowns, including one rushing touchdown. Richards reeled in five catches for 186 yards and three scores, including one interception. Gilman and Taylor are credited with scores as well. Wellington tallied 321 total yards on offense.
Wellington begins regular-season play on the road Friday, Aug. 28 against Atlantic High School at 7 p.m.
ABOVE: Wellington running back Mark Lopez finds running room for a first down.