LAGRANGE — Keystone couldn’t get out of its own way at times, but Wellington had problems of its own.
Despite losing three first-half fumbles, the Wildcats were able to muscle past the Dukes, 28-14, in a Patriot Athletic Conference – Stars Division game at Keystone Stadium.
Seniors Denny Szalai, Brandon Buttolph and C.J. Conrad each coughed up the ball for Keystone, but only one of those turnovers led to Wellington points as the Keystone defense came up big when required.
After Buttolph was blindsided on an option pass attempt by Wellington sophomore Dauson Hammer, who recovered the fumble he forced, the Dukes took only three plays to put the ball in the end zone.
Senior quarterback Joey Holliday threw a backwards pass to backup quarterback, freshman Tristan Arno, in the left flat. Arno caught the ball, stopped and fired downfield to sophomore Max Carevic, who had gotten behind the Wildcats defense.
That was the lone highlight for the Dukes as Keystone (6-1, 3-0) took control late in the second quarter and was able to answer a fourth-quarter Wellington touchdown to put the game away.
“Things were getting tight there,” Keystone coach Rob Clarico said. “Wellington did a great job of battling and they tested us throughout the game, but we’ve got some people on this team that know how to win when it’s winning time. They came through.”
Keystone took the opening kickoff and marched 49 yards in five plays. Tyler Polen rushed for 29 yards during the drive, which ended in the Wellington end zone when C.J. Conrad pulled down an 11-yard pass from senior quarterback Denny Szalai in the left corner.
Without kicker Turner Giesel, who was out with an injury, Conrad had to attempt the extra point. It was blocked, but Keystone led 6-0 at the 9:43 mark of the first quarter.
The Wildcats increased their lead to 12-0 the next time they had the ball. A 52-yard reception by Buttolph set up an 18-yard run by Polen, who swept around the left end and sprinted into the end zone.
Keystone attempted a 2-point conversion, but Szalai’s pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage.
After the Arno-to-Carevic touchdown both teams had problems moving the ball. The Wildcats lost a fumble before going three-and-out on their next two drives while the Dukes punted once and tried to punt a second time.
With 7:34 remaining in the second quarter, Carevic dropped back to punt from his own 19. The snap was perfect and Carevic had great form on his kick, but he missed the football. The ball bounced to his left, where Carevic chased it down and took off. He was dropped at his own 22-yard line, giving Keystone a short field at the Wellington 22.
Four plays later, senior Ryan Tobicash scored on an 8-yard run. Tobicash crashed in with the 2-point conversion as well, giving the Wildcats a 20-7 lead.
The Dukes (2-5, 1-2) were not done, cutting the Keystone lead to 20-14 with a 4-yard Holliday touchdown run with 8:39 left in the game, but the Wildcats answered with a 4-yard Conrad touchdown reception to put the game away.
Polen, who started his high school career at Wellington, later added a 70-yard run to allow Keystone to run out the clock.
“I have an ankle injury and I’m still limping a little, but when I broke that run it felt great,” Polen said. “Against my old school; so many words were said on the field but I show things by my actions. They were talking but my answer was to run 70 yards on their defense.
“Their student section was making up chants and everything, but that’s fine. I was worried about what was happening on the field.”
First-year Dukes coach Sean Arno was not pleased with how his team executed.
“I really don’t know why we made so many mistakes,” he said. “We work so hard on these things, but we made a lot of mental mistakes and they cost us the game. This team was not two touchdowns better than us. We gave them multiple opportunities…short fields, punt screw-ups, just over and over and over again.”
Polen finished the game with 161 rushing yards on 26 carries. Holliday led Wellington with 88 yards on 25 carries.
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.