On Friday, Sept. 13, the Palm Beach Central High School football team didn’t have to travel far to retain the Wellington Cup. The Broncos relied on a fourth quarter special teams rally to defeat the host Wellington High School Wolverines 30-7.
“I learned today!” Palm Beach Central first year coach Scottie Littles exclaimed in reference to realizing how much intensity there was behind the rival schools. “Bad things happen, adversity happens, penalty after penalty, at the end of the day they have to learn to fight through adversity, and the kids proved that they could do that tonight. We found a way to win the game.”
The game had all the indicators for a classic rival matchup, and it delivered through most of the game. Emotions ran high, which paved the way for miscues and penalties.
Palm Beach Central got on the board first with a 27-yard Ethan Wilder field goal to give the Broncos a first quarter lead. The Wolverines notched two points with a safety when a high snap to the Bronco punter hit the ground in the end zone, which made it a one-point game. The 3-2 Bronco advantage held at the half. Both teams struggled offensively, while the defensive units shined.
The Wolverines opened the second half with an unsuccessful onside kick attempt but got the ball back in Palm Beach Central real estate by recovering a fumble. Wellington missed a 52-yard field goal attempt earlier, but Morgan Suarez hit one from 44 yards out to lift the Wolverines into the lead for the first time, 5-3.
Wellington extended its lead when defensive end Stephen Passeggiata forced Bronco quarterback Anarjahe Douriet into the end zone for a safety, to make the score 7-3. The Wolverine offensive woes continued with several three-and-out possessions. When the Wellington offense finally clicked, driving to the Bronco 7-yard line, they fumbled the ball away.
With the Wolverines clinging tightly to a narrow lead entering the fourth quarter, it seemed as if the Wellington Cup was destined to change hands, but the Broncos had other plans. The special teams unit took charge. A big Wolverine punt rolled without being downed, and Cedric Williams scooped up the ball, broke an early tackle and took off down the far sideline 75 yards for a touchdown, recapturing the lead for the Broncos, 10-7. The play ignited a Bronco flurry of 27 unanswered points in a few short minutes in the final quarter.
On the Wolverines’ next possession, the Bronco defense forced a three-and-out, then blocked the Wellington punt. The play sparked the Broncos’ only offensive touchdown. Douriet led a two-play drive with 5-yard keeper to lift his team to 17-7.
Wellington’s visions of reclaiming the cup became further out of reach when, on the team’s next possession, quarterback Blake Kendall was intercepted by the Bronco defense and returned 37 yards for another score, making it 24-7 in favor of Palm Beach Central.
The Broncos put the game on ice when De’angelo Pompey returned another Wellington punt 86 yards for the game’s final score, making it 30-7.
Wellington seemed to never recover after the Broncos reclaimed the lead in the fourth quarter.
“We were a better team than Palm Beach Central. We gave them one,” Wellington head coach Tom Abel said. “Special teams has been our Achilles heel all year, and it continues to plague us. Right now, everyone wants to beat Wellington, and they’re doing it. I always blame the top, so it’s on me as a coach.”
In the last three contests, Wellington has seen a lead falter off of big plays. The Wolverines continue their quest for a first win on the season.
The Broncos are 7-4 in the Wellington Cup series, having improved to 3-1 on the season (1-0 in the district).
The Broncos have a bye this week while Wellington hosts John I. Leonard High School on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m.