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Wiregrass Ranch’s long-delayed season opener a success

The Bulls, who hadn’t played yet this season because of COVID-19 issues with opponents, topple Mitchell.
Wiregrass Ranch senior quarterback Rocco Becht, a four-star recruit, looks for an open man against visiting Mitchell on Friday night.
Wiregrass Ranch senior quarterback Rocco Becht, a four-star recruit, looks for an open man against visiting Mitchell on Friday night. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Sep. 11

WESLEY CHAPEL — Wiregrass Ranch waited 314 days to play a regular-season game. The Bulls didn’t waste the opportunity, avenging a 2020 thumping by Mitchell on Friday night to post a 21-6 victory.

Playing for the first time this year after having games against Hernando and Wesley Chapel wiped out by coronavirus issues, Wiregrass Ranch scored two second-quarter touchdowns within one minute, 27 seconds and went on to claim its first win since a 42-7 rout of Land O’ Lakes on Oct. 23, 2020.

The Bulls lost 48-14 to Tampa Bay Tech in the ensuing week, the last time they had played in the regular season until Friday.

“It’s been tough around here the last couple of weeks (not playing),” Wiregrass Ranch coach Mark Kantor said. “We were able to reschedule Hernando, which was fantastic. But losing (the Wesley Chapel game) last week really hurts from a competitive standpoint. You just hope when the guys come out, they’re focused, ready to play, and hope that you execute . . . and we did that tonight.”

With the field wet from recent rain, Wiregrass Ranch used a solid ground attack in the first half for a 14-0 lead. Led by senior Corneil McCrary, junior Kenneth Walker and sophomore Davion Brown, the Bulls churned out 122 yards on 19 carries to control the game’s tempo. They had nine first downs, while limiting Mitchell to four.

Wiregrass Ranch’s first touhdown came early in the second quarter, set up by a 10-yard Mitchell punt. The Bulls marched 50 yards in five plays and senior quarterback Rocco Becht, an Iowa State commit, capped the drive with a 20-yard scoring run to the left side of the end zone.

One play later, Wiregrass Ranch recovered a Mitchell fumble at the Mustang 23, and Brown carried three consecutive times — scoring on a 5-yard run. Brown finished the first half with 37 yards on five carries, while McCrary led the way with 42 yards on eight rushes.

WESLEY CHAPEL - Wiregrass Ranch junior Kenneth Walker looks for running room against visiting Mitchell.
WESLEY CHAPEL - Wiregrass Ranch junior Kenneth Walker looks for running room against visiting Mitchell. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

The Mustangs, who beat the Bulls 42-14 in 2020, had shut out their first two opponents — Fivay and River Ridge — by a combined 71-0 score.

The Bulls wound up with 185 rushing yards on 36 attempts.

“With the field conditions, it was understanding what we could do and what we couldn’t do (in the first half),” Kantor said. “It was like London, England, with all the rain we’ve had. I thought the field conditions played more to (Mitchell’s) favor, because they’re more of a downhill running team. At times, we took that away from them.”

In the second half, Wiregrass Ranch went to the air more and Becht completed a 77-yard, 10-play drive with a 37-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Jared West on the first drive after intermission. Becht, who threw only seven times in the first two quarters for 29 yards, finished 10 of 23 for 143 yards.

Mitchell responded with a 34-yard touchdown pass from senior Ethan Rice to sophomore Hayden Guy on the ensuing series to pull within 21-6. The Mustangs eventually threatened late by moving the ball to the Wiregrass Ranch 1 in the final two minutes. But a personal foul penalty on Mitchell killed the drive.

The Mustangs had 170 yards in total offense, eight first downs and converted 2-of-10 third-down tries — both via penalties.

“We’ve been working on our third-down conversions, because last year when you watch film on us, we gave up a lot of third downs,” Kantor said. “Our main goal was when we get you in third down, we’ve got to get off the field.”