BY GENE NARDI
The Wellington High School varsity football team hosted John I. Leonard on Friday, Sept. 14, defeating the fifth-ranked Lancers 15-7 and giving them their first loss of the season.
The Wolverines remain unbeaten at 3-0. Wellington was able to muster enough offense when needed on several big plays. Solid defense was the backbone of the victory, coming up huge, shutting down the Lancers twice on a fourth and goal and denying scores.
“Our defense came up big tonight, and our offense is coming along,” Wellington head coach Tom Able said.
The first quarter was scoreless, as both teams tried to control the game. The first score of the game came with 4:15 left in the second quarter, when Lancers quarterback Adam Johnson threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Tavares Martin, giving them a 7-0 lead. Wellington responded on the ensuing drive when quarterback Cole Smallridge faked the entire Lancer defense with an inside handoff, and took off around the left side and down the sideline 54 yards untouched for the score. The point-after attempt was no good, cutting the Lancers’ lead to 7-6.
The Lancers failed to field the next kickoff, which was caught down field by Wellington, giving the Wolverines possession in Lancer territory. Wellington managed to move close enough to attempt a 36-yard field goal, but Nicholas Rubinowicz’s kick was wide right. Leonard moved down the field but turned the ball over with a fumble. Wellington regained possession, and with 1:32 remaining in the half, sophomore Shamar Jackson ran through the Lancer defense, breaking several tackles and scoring on a 65-yard run. The score gave Wellington the lead for the first time in the game, 12-7, which ended the first half of play.
The second half brought more frustration to the Leonard sideline as the Wolverine defense held the Lancers, forcing a punt, which was blocked by Wellington, giving them possession at the Leonard 38 yard line. Wellington’s offense was stopped at the 19 yard line and forced another field-goal attempt. This time, Rubinowicz put the 29-yarder through the uprights, extending the Wolverine lead 15-7.
Although there would not be any more scoring, the action was continuous. Twice, inside the closing minutes of the game, the Lancers moved the ball to inside the Wellington 10 yard line, but again, the Wolverine defense found ways to stop the Lancers from scoring. “Again, defense, defense, defense — that’s what we keep preaching to these boys. We’ve been telling them they’re winners, and now they’re starting to see it,” Able said.
Defensive back James Foster came up big at the end of the game when the Lancers were threatening to score. They continuously picked on Foster, but Foster was able to cover and break up several pass attempts in the end zone.
“I had to come through because I missed that big catch earlier in the game, and I didn’t want to let my team down,” Jackson said. “I had to come through.”
Jackson was referring to a near touchdown catch he mishandled, after a Lancer defender fell to the ground. Wellington had 169 yards on the ground. Jackson had three carries for 78 yards, Smallridge had 10 carries for 51 yards, and fullback Matt Sabatino had nine carries for 37 yards. The 15-7 victory marks Wellington’s third in a row, keeping them unbeaten.
Wellington will begin district play as the Wolverines travel to Seminole Ridge on Friday, Sept. 21 to face the sixth-ranked Hawks at 7:30 p.m. Seminole Ridge is 0-2 and looking for its first win to stay in the top 10. A Wolverine win could possibly propel WHS into a top 10 spot.
Above: Wellington fullback Matt Sabatino finds running room for a big gain.