WELLINGTON — No one was going to stop Keystone receiver C.J. Conrad.
The sophomore caught 12 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns in the Wildcats’
27-14 victory Friday night, but it was one particular play — a 30-yard fourth-down pass from Marcus Gunter to Conrad — that sealed the deal for Keystone.
After the Dukes had cut the lead to 21-14 early in the fourth quarter, Keystone drove to the Wellington 31-yard line. Facing fourth-and-16, Gunter lofted a deep pass down the right sideline toward the 6-foot-4 Conrad, who jumped over 5-10 cornerback Joseph Holliday to grab the ball at the apex of his leap.
Conrad pulled the ball down and was tackled at the 1. Three plays later, after an illegal procedure penalty, Conrad closed out the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown grab, his third of the night and 14th of the season.
“Before the play I told Marcus to throw it up there and give me a chance to make a play on the ball,” Conrad said of the 30-yarder. “He put it right where he had to and allowed me to make a play on it.”
Gunter, who started after missing two games with a sprained right ankle, had no doubts where he was going with the ball.
“He’s 6-foot-4 and can really get up, so I tried to utilize that,” Gunter said. “We were in a tight spot and he’s one of our best athletes — no one has outjumped him all year — so I laid it up there and he went and got it.”
The win lifted Keystone to 4-4 overall and 3-2 in the PAC. But out of the gate it appeared as if the Dukes, who dominated Keystone 55-6 last season, were going to have the upper hand.
After receiving the opening kickoff, Wellington was forced to punt after three plays netted just 7 yards. Pierce Young was unable to handle the punt for the Wildcats, however, and Jake Diedrick recovered the fumble at the Wildcats 18-yard line.
Five plays later Tyler Polen opened the scoring with a 3-yard touchdown burst that gave the Dukes a 7-0 lead.
That would be the score until late in the first half when Gunter warmed up. With 1:56 remaining in the half, the Wildcats took over at their 18. Nine plays and 81 yards later, the game was tied when Gunter found Conrad on a 40-yard scoring strike with 54 seconds remaining.
“It was really clear during the two-minute drive at the end of the first half,” Keystone coach Rob Clarico said when asked how important it was to have Gunter back. “We didn’t have a lot of time and had a lot of field to go. He was calm and there was no hurry in him. That really rubbed off on the rest of the team.”
Keystone scored on its first two possessions in the second half — an 8-yard reception from Conrad and a 1-yard run by Gunter — to take a 21-7 lead, but the Dukes had some life left.
Chase Bealer rushed for 52 yards in a six-play, 65-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 10-yard burst by Quinn Dendinger that cut the lead to 21-14.
Conrad and Gunter made sure Wellington pulled no closer.
“Conrad is an outstanding receiver and you really have to give him credit,” Wellington coach Matt Stoll said. “Their quarterback was able to get the ball to him and he made some plays. We knew they had a lot of weapons, but they were able to make plays.
“That’s the way most of our losses have been. The bottom line was that we didn’t make the plays. We didn’t make the plays when it counted and they did. That was the difference.”
Wellington (2-6, 1-2) was lead by Bealer, who carried the ball 13 times for 72 yards. Quarterback Dylan Weidrick added 65 yards on nine carries.
The Wildcats remain in the hunt for the PAC Stars Division title, but Gunter, who was originally told he would be out for two more games after Friday, isn’t worried about watching the standings. He’s playing the game and letting everything else sort itself out.
“It’s a ton of fun being the quarterback in a spread offense,” he said. “It’s especially fun for me because I have all these weapons around me and an awesome line. It doesn’t matter if you throw an incomplete pass because you know you are going to come right back and someone’s going to make a play. It’s a lot of fun.”
GOING PRO: Stoll and Weidrick will be on hand Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, where the Browns will honor them on the field. Weidrick earned MVP honors in one of the Browns’ recent high school games of the week.
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.