WINTER GARDEN The Wekiva Mustangs gradually pulled away from the West Orange Warriors Thursday night in a district finale with a playoff berth on the line.
After trailing early and leading by 14 at halftime, the Mustangs (6-3, 2-1) ended up coasting to a 49-20 victory that gave the program its second playoff berth in its history — and the first under new coach Rich Bedesem.
"It's huge — coming in, we were just trying to build a solid foundation," Bedesem said of the team making the playoffs in his first year at the helm. "The kids have made great strides; we're way ahead of schedule."
Against the Warriors (2-6, 1-2), Wekiva bounced back after Darian Williams scored a rushing touchdown on West Orange's opening drive. When a touchdown run by Warriors' quarterback Austin Burton cut the Mustangs' lead to 21-14 in the second quarter, Wekiva responded by scoring a pivotal touchdown just before halftime on a pass by Trey McGee to Wesly Touze.
"I think both sides picked each other up and did well," Bedesem said afterward.
The Mustangs would not look back in the second half, outscoring the Warriors 21-6.
McGee and Touze hooked up twice for touchdown passes and McGee threw a third touchdown pass to Jaylon Fair — one of Fair's four touchdowns on the night.
"Those two (Fair and McGee) have been huge for us all year," Bedesem said. "The thing that really separates us from last year to this year is we have a passing game."
West Orange scored once more in the second half on a rush by Williams, who finished with two scores on the night. The loss officially ended the playoff hopes of the Warriors, who have endured a disappointing 2016 campaign after reaching the state semifinals in 2015.
The Warriors close the 2016 season at Ocoee (6-3) Nov. 4.
As for Wekiva, they will travel to Showalter Field in Winter Park Nov. 11 for the regional quarterfinals of the Class 8A State Playoffs. The Mustangs, who last made the playoffs in 2014 as a member of Class 7A, defeated the Wildcats (6-2) Sept. 23, 35-7.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].