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Preps

Wildcats struggle in win

It isn't pretty, but the victory over Citrus earns home field for a tiebreaker.

By JAMAL THALJI
Published October 29, 2004

WESLEY CHAPEL - Whew.

If there is a Class 3A, District 9 tiebreaker Monday night, it will be at Wildcat Stadium.

That's where Wesley Chapel barely won that right Thursday night, surviving an ugly 22-15 non-district win over Citrus to secure win percentage and homefield advantage.

The Wildcats (7-1) looked like a team that was banged up, pushed around on the line and had never seen the forward pass before. But everything they needed to win - two interceptions, 16 penalties and some poor tackles - was provided by the playoff-bound Hurricanes (4-3).

After being gashed for 259 passing yards, Wesley Chapel's defense finally made a stand. Danny Tolley sacked quarterback Walter Howard on third-and-16 at the Wildcat 25 with 4:25 left, ending Citrus' last gasp to tie it. After the punt, Chad Hatfield intercepted Howard with 1:10 left in 'Canes' territory, ending it.

"We told them this is a playoff team," Wesley Chapel coach John Castelamare said, "so let's treat this like a playoff game."

Quarterback Anthony Rawson was out with a stress fracture in his left shin, and fullback Nigel Bryant came limping off after the first series. He re-aggravated a high left ankle sprain, didn't return and might not Monday.

Carrying the depleted offense fell to Aaron Dickler, who took back-up Hatfield's pass 67 yards for a touchdown on the third play from scrimmage, but a bad snap nixed the extra-point.

Up 6-0, Daniel Turner intercepted Howard at the opposing 31, and Dickler scored from 2 yards out. Hatfield's 2-point pass to Mario Melvin made it 14-0 with 8:23 left in the second.

Then the Wildcats' special teams went to sleep, and the defense started having nightmares. Willie Miller took the kickoff to the opposing 40, and on fourth-and-goal at the 4, E.J. Cobb took a swing pass for the touchdown to make it 14-7 with 3:47 left.

With 6:45 left in the third, Dickler broke out of a pile of tacklers, cut right, spun the safety around and went 67 yards for the score. Citrus was flagged for a personal foul on the extra-point kick, which Wesley Chapel turned into a 2-point dive by Hatfield.

Then the 'Canes made a game of it and made the Wildcats look silly. On fourth-and-3 at the 16, Howard threw a touchdown pass to Thomas Duvall (Howard was 23-of-44), and Miller's 2-point run cut the lead to 22-15. On the next possession the Citrus defense almost sacked Hatfield for a safety.

"That was probably the point where we could have folded," Castelamare said.

"Our mistakes cost us and that's my fault," said Citrus coach Rik Haines. "The best team didn't win this game, but the best coached team won this game, and that's my fault as head coach."

[Last modified October 28, 2004, 23:50:16]


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