By Kyle LoJacono
No playoff berths or championships were claimed when the Wesley Chapel football team traveled to cross-town rival Wiregrass Ranch on Aug. 31.
Something more important was on the line — history.
The Wildcats (1-0) maintained their winning streak against the Bulls (0-1) with a 30-6 victory, pushing the all-time series record to 6-0. None of Wesley Chapel’s players wanted to be on the first squad to lose to Wiregrass Ranch.
“It’s everything,” said junior defensive end Josias Vizcaino. “The win at the beginning of the season against Wiregrass makes the season for us. It’s brightness for the rest of the season.”
The rivalry’s importance to the Wesley Chapel schools was evident by the turnout from the community. Wiregrass Ranch athletic director Dave Wilson said all 2,513 tickets for the contest were sold.
Wesley Chapel sophomore quarterback Ty Tanner received some advice from his brother Keegan, who graduated last year and played in the rivalry three times.
“My brother called me about an hour before the game,” Tanner said. “He told me to keep my composure, play your heart out and be a leader. … I told him I’m ready to kick their butt. We came in here, played hard and 30-6.”
The Bulls opened the scoring with 11:43 left in the first half when sophomore quarterback Shane Bucenell stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure and hit senior Ryan Shea in the end zone for a 27-yard strike on third-and-goal.
Junior Elijah Brooks-Davis put Wiregrass Ranch in prime field position for the game’s opening points by blocking a punt. The home team got another boost when junior Vinny Haider scooped up a fumble in Bulls’ territory, but the offense was unable to capitalize.
The Wildcats got on the board with 3:38 left before halftime when running back Daquan Caesar scampered for a 10-yard score to put his team up 7-6. The senior finished with a career-high 168 yards on 35 carries and two touchdowns.
“I’ve never had that many carries,” Caesar said. “I’m so happy to have a game like this. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been.”
The Wiregrass Ranch defense came out of the locker room fast. Senior linebacker Xavier Wilson recovered a fumble he forced on Wesley Chapel’s opening drive. Linemen Aaron Silcott and Christian Borak sacked Tanner on the second possession, and the Bulls turned the Wildcats over on downs with 3:07 left in the third.
Then came the play that swung control of the game for good.
Bucenell completed a pass to Giomani Davis. Cornerback Kuadiel Gomez put a big hit on the Bulls’ running back before he could turn up the field, popping the ball out at Vizcaino’s feet.
“I saw Kuadiel smack the guy and the ball fall out,” Vizcaino said. “The first thing I was thinking is touchdown.”
Vizcaino snapped up the loose ball and sprinted 42 yards to put Wesley Chapel up 14-6. The Wildcats got two more points on a safety when a snap sailed five yards over Bucenell’s head, and fullback Nathan Love ran for a score in the fourth quarter.
Wildcats third-year coach Ben Alford was happy his team racked up 294 yards of total offense, but was more pleased that his defense allowed only 147.
“We had one breakdown defensively, and it led to that one touchdown,” Alford said. “Besides that, defensively we did the job. … First game of the season you’re going to have those mistakes, but if we continue to push and get better each week I think they’ll be pretty good.”
The 24-point win is the largest margin of victory in the rivalry. The Wildcats picked up the win despite being outnumbered on the roster.
“It shows what Wildcat spirit can do,” Tanner said. “Every single one of these guys has that.”
Wesley Chapel hosts Orlando First Academy Sept. 7, while Wiregrass Ranch travels to Sunlake. Both games start at 7:30 p.m.