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Football: Wiregrass Ranch 35, River Ridge 7

Rocco Becht and Keith Walker make quite the dynamic duo for the Bulls.
High school football teams around Tampa Bay were in action Friday night. [Times]
Published Sep. 21

WESLEY CHAPEL — Wiregrass Ranch sophomore Rocco Becht threw for 280 yards in the first half alone Friday, and the ball may have traveled 50 yards in the air.

He just kept getting it into Keith Walker’s hands. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound senior speedster turned an assortment of smartly-designed outlet plays into a sensational night and the undefeated Bulls rolled to a Homecoming victory over River Ridge, 35-7.

Walker caught four passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half. Becht ended the night 7-of-13 for 315 yards and four scores.

"Keith’s just a special guy,” said Wiregrass Ranch coach Mark Kantor. “When the ball’s in the open field with him, he’s going to to win a lot of battles.”

The Bulls (5-0) needed all of 13 plays on their first four touchdown drives, thanks to scores of at least 40 yards, three by Walker. After Corneil McCrary ran for 27 yards on the game’s first play, Becht found Walker, who sprinted 55 yards, making it 7-0 just 39 seconds into the contest.

River Ridge (2-2) used tailback Anthony Roussos, who carried his offense with 137 yards on 22 attempts, to get down to the Bulls’ 34, but a swarming defensive interior caused a turnover on downs. Walker then went over the middle for a 12-yarder, McCrary (51 first-half rushing yards) gained 12 more, then Becht found Julian Gonzalez on a slant for a 42-yard TD.

It was 21-0 by the end of the first quarter, Becht going for 181 yards. On third and 1 he appeared to underthrow Walker out of the slot, but the nimble senior scooped the short toss with one hand, got his balance and was promptly off for a 72-yard touchdown. And after a three-and-out, the Bulls needed three plays to get it back to Walker, who simply curled out after going in motion, embarking on a 55-yard jaunt.

Kantor pointed to some adjustments made in Wednesday’s practice that Becht carried out to perfection.

“It’s smart football. We did some things to be able to get that thing out of his hands a whole lot quicker, which took away their blitz concept of what they do in that 4-3,” he said. " We thought we could have some opportunities. How they run that 4-3, we felt like if we were able to motion, things of that nature, get them to adjust, we’d be able to hit something."

Though his receiving and scoring was over, Walker’s best work was still to come ― even if he was disappointed that it didn’t produce a fourth touchdown.

His 60-yard punt return, highlighted by two 360-degree spins, was as wondrous to watch as it was for Walker to describe.

“I was so angry (for not scoring),” he sighed. “When I caught it, I thought, ‘I can probably take this to the house!’ I got my boy JT (Jonavon Tillis) blocking, everybody’s blocking, there’s a huge hole in the left side, I shot right through it. I’m running. I gotta stiff arm this dude, I stiff arm him, he fell. Then you saw, I’m getting spun around, spun around, I’m STILL running. Then ... I was gassed. I was so tired.”

He broke about eight tackles getting inside the 20, but River Ridge’s Conner Miner recovered a fumble on the next play — only for Gonzalez to intercept Trenton Hawks on the next snap. And after another big screen pass (to Nate Miller) gained 44 yards, McCrary made it 35-0 with 1:25 in the half on a 3-yard plunge.

In between Wiregrass had two touchdowns called back due to penalties, one on a Grady Clower interception, a block in the back happening when he was 2 yards from the end zone well ahead of his pursuers.

The second half was a formality due to a running clock, something Kantor would never have imagined against the Knights.

"No, never. They are tough, physical, coached well, a great bunch of guys and I enjoy playing against them. We talked to the kids the whole week, they're going to punch you in the mouth and play physical football, and they did," he said.

Tyler Hayes and Dylan Ridolph led the defensive effort for the Bulls, and the line didn't give Hawks much time to operate. He was also hindered by several drops and finished 6-of-16 for just 45 yards. The Bulls held a 326-151 advantage at halftime. The final yardage count was 389-185.

River Ridge's only points came courtesy of a shanked punt that Quinton Stedman scooped up and ran back 40 yards. Craig Kailimai supplied the highlight of the second half with a big hit forcing a third Knights turnover, a fumble recovered by Mark Kieper.

Wiregrass gets into district play next week, going to Armwood with the Hawks a league opponent for the first time.

“We just gotta play,” Walker said. “How we came out here, that’s the same thing we gotta do next week.”

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