Returning just five starters and eight total players from last year's regional finalist varsity team, the Mustangs would need to reorient quickly to replicate the success of their past few seasons. The opening Winter Park drive showed that Wekiva's defense has not lost its touch in spite of the personnel changes, ending the Wildcat offense with back-to-back nine-yard sacks from junior Luther Johnson and senior Naheim Kendall. The Mustangs would go on to accumulate nine total sacks for 52 yards lost by the end of the night.
But on offense, the Mustangs were no more successful on their first drive, going three and out, and a 19-yard touchdown run by Dakota Mitchell on the first play of the following Winter Park drive put the Wildcats on the board 7-0 eight minutes into the game.
Wekiva and Winter Park then traded fruitless possessions until, with 12 seconds left in the first quarter, Donald Case connected with Braydon Black for 24 yards to give the Wildcats a 14-0 lead, leaving the Mustangs searching for a game plan that could stop the bleeding and perhaps improve the balance of starting field position.
Wekiva earned just one first down to open the second quarter before punting while Winter Park went three and out, cementing the idea that this would be a defense-heavy game. But then the Mustangs put together their longest drive by far. An 11-yard completion on third down to junior Jymon Coleman gave Wekiva new life, and then the Mustangs bounced back from two consecutive yardage losses with a 25-yard completion to freshman Assad Waseem followed shortly by 27-yard throw to sophomore Chris Reed, who took half the Wildcat defensive line with him for about five extra yards to set up the Mustangs with first and goal. Again Wekiva would have to bounce back from a penalty breaking up the momentum, but they did so with an 18-yard touchdown completion to Waseem to get on the board trailing 7-14 with 1:50 left in the half. The defense did their job for the final drive, and so that score would stand headed into the locker room.
Coming back from the halftime, Wekiva got the ball first but stumbled early on the first play with their only turnover of the game, as Ja'marii Pringle picked off the Mustangs. The Wildcat celebration was short-lived, though, as five plays later, Luther Johnson picked up a fumble at the 45 yard line and took it all the way back to the house for a defensive touchdown that evened the score at 14-14.
A three-and-out stop courtesy of the Mustang defense then left Wekiva with an opportunity to take the lead, and they marched down the field on a series of 10 plays mostly anchored by runs from junior Chad Davis. Up to this point in the game, senior transfer Brenden Cyr had taken every snap, which may have come as a surprise to Mustangs who watched returning senior Larry Preston take most of the starts last season and in the preseason classic. Coach Bedesem was quick to point out during the postgame interview that the change was not due to a performance issue with Preston, but rather to better tap into his versatility in other positions and set him up for college play. Here, though, Preston stepped in for his signature red zone QB sneak and claimed a 1-yard TD run to put Wekiva on top 21-14 with three minutes left in the third quarter.
The momentum shortly went from bad to worse for the Wildcats, as they touched but failed to recover the ensuing kickoff. Junior Aquilles Sumpter was there to swoop in and make the special teams play, giving the Mustangs an extra free offensive drive with great field position at the Winter Park 22 yard-line. It initially appeared that the Wildcats had regained their composure and made the stop, forcing Wekiva to settle for a 22-yard field goal by junior Bryan Wilson, which would have been good. But Winter Park was called for roughing the kicker, negating the field goal and giving the Mustangs a fresh set of downs. They did not squander the opportunity, with Preston making another special appearance at QB for a goal line sneak to pick up the six-yard touchdown and put Wekiva up 28-14.
The Wildcats needed badly to turn the momentum around at this point, but the punishment kept coming from the Mustang defense. On the first play of the Wildcat drive, Luther Johnson decided that one fumble return for touchdown was not enough for him in this game and did it again, this time for 50 yards to end the third quarter. Wekiva had now scored 35 unanswered points, and the last three scores had come amid just one offensive snap from the Wildcats.
In the fourth quarter, now leading by two scores, the Mustangs continued to keep up the defensive pressure while adopting a more conservative clock-burning approach on offense. Wekiva gave up one touchdown on the Wildcats' third-to-last drive with a 21-yard completion from Case to Pringle to make it 35-28, but the defense was otherwise flawless, preventing the Wildcats from capitalizing on their last hope after successfully recovering their own onside kick.
The Mustangs are home for the first time of the 2019 season next Friday as they host the West Orange Warriors. Mustang fans are always encouraged to come in person, but if you can't be there at Baptiste Orthodontics Stadium, you can tune in on YouTube or the NFHS Network.
Brenden Cyr: 8/16 for 123 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Larry Preston: 2 QB sneaks for 4 yards, 2TD
Chad Davis: 12 carries for 41 yards
Amari Thomas: 11 carries for 24 yards
Jymon Coleman: 3/6 for 49 yards
Assad Waseem: 4/5 for 47 yards, 1 TD
Luther Johnson: 2 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries for TD (95 yards)
Nathan Pierre: 5 tackles, 3 sacks
Bryan Wilson: 5/5 PAT
Aquilles Sumpter: Own kickoff recovery