By Eugenio Torrens
Keegan Tanner sat on the field during the team’s post-game meeting, leaned back and let out a sigh of relief.
The Wesley Chapel quarterback helped lead his team to a 20-6 home win against cross-town rival Wiregrass Ranch on Sept. 2 in the season opener. Tanner played quarterback as a freshman and sophomore before moving to cornerback last year.
Tanner, a senior, went 8-of-15 passing for 138 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 85 more.
“This is a big step for our program,” Tanner said. “I’ve been working so hard this summer and our whole team has been working so hard that I’m just looking at that, putting all my stuff that I’ve been doing in the summer into this, knowing this is my last time playing this team. …It’s probably the biggest game of the season.”
In a game riddled with more than 200 penalty yards between the two squads, Wesley Chapel (1-0) maintained its perfect all-time 5-0 record against Wiregrass Ranch (0-1).
“It’s a backyard brawl is basically what it is,” said Wesley Chapel coach Ben Alford. “The thing is, with this type of game, your guys can get a little overhyped. That’s what happened in the first half — they got a little overhyped.”
The Wildcats started the game with a botched onside kick. Wiregrass Ranch was unable to capitalize on the field position and the Bulls’ first series ended in an interception thrown by quarterback Jake Day, the first of three for the junior including two in the redzone in the second half.
Day rebounded in the Bulls’ second series. He scrambled to his left on third-and-seven in Wildcats territory and connected with Angel Quiñones for a 31-yard touchdown.
Wesley Chapel responded, aided by two defensive penalties on the Bulls, with a drive that started on its own 28-yard line. The drive concluded with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Tanner to receiver Deyon Cox on fourth down. Tanner found Cox for another score in the second quarter, also on a fourth-down play.
“If we think we can get it, we’re going to go for it every time,” said Alford of taking risks. The Wildcats scored again on their first series of the second half. The Bulls defense forced Wesley Chapel into a fourth down on its own 39-yard line, but Tanner broke off a demoralizing 43-yard run. Tanner capped the drive with his third touchdown pass, this time to Sasha Mentor from 10 yards out.
“I didn’t think I was going to like it that much,” Tanner said with a smile about playing quarterback again.
It seemed like the Bulls might be able to strike back when they got the ball on the Wesley Chapel 40-yard line with one minute left in the third quarter. An offensive penalty pushed Wiregrass Ranch back into its own territory, but Day showed his own moves when he had a 15-yard scamper on third down.
The Bulls drove to the 23-yard line, but Wesley Chapel’s Chris Matter intercepted Day on fourth down. Thomas Fee had another pick in the fourth.
“It just felt like we made some mistakes,” said Wiregrass Ranch coach Jeremy Shobe. “We had third- and fourth-and-long several times. “That’s probably a lot of difference in this game. They made one or two more plays than what we made.”
On Saturday, coach Shobe said Day and running back Jamie Barone would be out with concussions for the Bulls’ week-two matchup against Sunlake. That game is at Wiregrass Ranch on Friday, Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Wesley Chapel will host St. Petersburg Catholic on Friday, Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
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