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Suwannee 56, Palatka 26
Bouncing back

Bulldogs pummel Panthers to snap skid

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Suwannee quarterback Ty Wehinger threw for three touchdowns Friday, including a 65-yarder to Keiwan Ladler while under pressure late in the first half against Palatka.

LIVE OAK — Watching his team in practice all week, Suwannee High coach Kyler Hall had a feeling Friday night’s homecoming festivities would include a grand finale.

The Bulldogs didn’t disappoint. Scoring on its first eight drives, SHS routed Palatka 56-26 at Langford Stadium. It was the most points the Bulldogs had scored since a 64-point outburst against the International School of Broward in 2015 and is tied for the seventh most points in a game in program history.

“We were going to respond either how we did or we were going to come out flat,” Hall said of the Bulldogs’ answer to their three-game losing streak entering Friday. “But I thought we had a really good week of practice.

“When we practice good and we’re clean in our turnover department and some big plays, we’re pretty good.”

SHS (4-3) definitely looked good Friday.

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Suwannee wide receiver Keiwan Ladler hauls in a pass Friday night against Palatka. Ladler had two catches for 113 yards and a touchdown.

Averaging just 88 yards passing per game entering Friday, the Bulldogs needed two drives to surpass that.

On Suwannee’s second offensive snap, junior quarterback Ty Wehinger hit Keiwan Ladler on a slant for 48 yards and after a facemask penalty at the end of the play, SHS had first-and-goal. Three plays later, Tyree Taylor snuck in from the 1 to put the Bulldogs up 7-0 just three minutes in.

Less than four minutes later, SHS struck again through the air to take a 14-0 lead as Jaquez Moore took a wide receiver screen and reversed field through the 1-5 Panthers’ defense for a 54-yard touchdown.

Wehinger, who finished 9-of-10 passing for 246 yards after completing all five of his first-half throws for 200 yards, threw two more touchdowns before intermission.

“When everybody is doing their job, it works really well,” Hall said. “We just have to continue to do that.”

Leading 21-10 in the second quarter, he found Wesley Jones behind the Palatka defense down the sideline for a 30-yard touchdown. Then with 25 seconds remaining in the half, he put Suwannee up 42-10 as he scrambled out of the pocket and hit Ladler crossing on a scramble drill for a 65-yard scoring strike.

“I almost ran out of time and I saw someone coming across the field so I just tried to get enough air under it and he ended up making a great catch and a great play on it,” Wehinger said.

The Bulldogs, who also scored on a 10-yard Malachi Graham run and another 1-yard Taylor run in the second quarter, picked up where they left off after halftime.

DeMarius Thompson, who rushed for a game-high 84 yards on 15 carries, capped the opening drive of the third with a 4-yard touchdown run and then early in the fourth Wehinger scored from 6 yards out. SHS finished with 237 yards rushing and 483 yards of total offense.

“They were keying in because we had kind of been one dimensional before this game,” Wehinger said. “They were keying in on stopping the run and that opened up some things in the passing game.”

Palatka, meanwhile, didn’t run an offensive snap in the second half until 36 seconds remained in the game.

The Panthers, though, didn’t need their offense to score in the second half. Rather, Ke’shawn Hughes answered both of Suwannee’s touchdowns with kickoff return scores of his own, first from 87 yards and then from 75 yards.

“Ke’shawn, he’s been an explosive player for us all year,” Palatka coach Willie Fells said. “And was still explosive for us tonight. He’s just an explosive, dynamic football player. Does a lot for our football team, means a lot to our football team.

“Can’t coach a kid like that, you just let them go man.”

Palatka was limited to just 190 yards of offense and only 28 offensive snaps. The Panthers, scored their lone offensive touchdown early in the second quarter when Demontae Ashley found tight end Lane Heuer wide open down the middle for a 54-yard score.

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Suwannee's defenders, including Austin Smith (53), wrap up Palatka quarterback Demontae Ashley on Friday night at Langford Stadium.

Ashley, who completed 4 of 8 passes for 85 yards, hit Heuer on a 25-yard pass on the previous Palatka possession to set up a 22-yard Gabe Herrington field goal that made it 14-3 late in the first. Ashley also rushed for 66 yards.

“They have big-play potential in the passing game and also with their running backs,” Hall said. “We took that away for the most part.

“Again, when we’re taking care of our basic fundamentals, we’re a pretty good team.”

Jamie Wachter is the editor of the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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