BY GENE NARDI
On Thursday, Nov. 10, the Wellington High School football team hosted Atlantic High School in a first round playoff match-up and fell to the Eagles 28-21 to end the Wolverines’ season.
If the Wolverines have a true nemesis in the county, it is the Eagles. The two have met four times in back-to-back seasons, both in the regular season and postseason. Wellington has yet to defeat the Eagles, but nearly pulled it off last week.
The Wolverines (6-4) drove down the field 80 yards to put the first points on the board. The 12-play drive was capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Schmickle to receiver Sage Chen-Young. Logan Robinson’s point-after kick put Wellington in the lead early 7-0.
The Wellington defense, which had been labeled as suspect on occasion, played strong the previous three games, and that night was no different. “Our defense was outstanding at the end of the year. I’m very proud of them,” Wellington head coach Tom Abel said.
The Wolverines held Atlantic to a four-and-out, taking up great field position, but a costly 36-yard pick-six by Schmickle put Atlantic back in the game tied at 7-7 midway through the first quarter.
The Eagles caught Wellington by surprise with an onside kick and grabbed possession in Wolverine territory. Five plays later, Atlantic was sitting on a 14-7 lead. The Eagles added to their tally before the half to extend the lead to 21-7.
With Wellington starting the second half on defense, chances of a rally looked bleak. The Wolverine defense appeared determined to keep their squad in the game. They grabbed back-to-back interceptions from the Eagles offense.
The first was on Atlantic’s first possession of the second half. Tyler Jolly picked off a pass and returned it 10 yards. The second was cornerback Dion Cooper, who returned his pick 12 yards to terminate the Eagles’ drive. But neither turnover converted into any points from a struggling Wellington offense. While the Wellington defense continued to roll, the offense stalled.
With 7:18 on the clock in the fourth quarter, The Wellington offense responded. Schmickle led the offense to the Atlantic 12-yard line. From there he found slot receiver Jymetre Hester in the back corner of the end zone to cut the gap to 21-14.
With momentum starting to shift for the Wolverines, after another big stand by the Wellington defense, a catastrophic turnover put the Wolverines back in a hole. Schmickle led the offense to the Eagles’ 36-yard line, then threw his second interception, which was nearly returned for a touchdown. The Eagles had to drive in only 4 yards for the score, extending the lead again to 28-14.
Schmickle then led the Wolverine offense to the Atlantic 13-yard line. On the next play, he connected with receiver D.J. Dobkins for a touchdown to cut the margin to 28-21. However, the Eagles retained possession after a Wellington onside kick attempt and ran out the clock to lock in the win.
“Penalties and turnovers will kill you,” Abel said. “That’s what happened — we just shot ourselves in the foot too many times tonight.”
The loss ends the Wolverines’ run at a chance for a regional finals appearance, but in its wake still marks the third-straight season the team clenched a playoff spot, including two district titles. They finished the season 6-4 overall.
Atlantic advances to the regional semifinal round to take on Palm Beach Gardens High School, the team Wellington defeated for the district crown.
“We have some things to fix in the off-season,” Abel said. “We’re proud how they turned the year out.”
Schmickle completed 22 of 34 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Pierre had 14 carries for 56 yards. Chen-Young had seven catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. Hester and Dobkins are each credited with a score. Jolly and Cooper each had an interception on defense.
ABOVE: Wellington running back Marvin Pierre finds running room for a first down.