On Thursday, Sept. 19, the Wellington High School football squad hosted John I. Leonard High School and narrowly outscored the Lancers 31-28, scoring on the last offensive play of the game.
On a fourth down and eight from the Lancer 14-yard line, with eight seconds left to play on the clock, quarterback Blake Kendall linked up with Adrian Hector in the back of the end zone for Wellington’s game winner. Kicker Morgan Suarez added the point after to put the Wolverines up 31-28. Wellington squib-kicked the ensuing kickoff in hopes their special teams would stop a Lancer return. John I. Leonard attempted two laterals during the return that ran out the remaining time.
“My father never saw me coach,” an emotional Wellington head coach Tom Abel said. “He passed away not too long ago, and I always wanted him to see me from up there because I haven’t been doing a good job lately, but tonight, the boys did it.”
The contest started with defense winning the challenges. The Wolverines struck first when Finlay Toussaint picked off a Lancer pass and returned it 68 yards for the game’s first touchdown. John I. Leonard responded by capping a 15-yard drive with a one-yard quarterback keeper from Jadiel Cruz to tie the game at 7-7.
Entering the second quarter, Wellington’s defense continued to pressure Cruz, forcing another interception after the Lancers drove to the Wellington 15-yard line. Matt Barrios picked off the Lancer pass and returned it 96 yards for the go-ahead score to take a 14-7 lead. That lead, however, was short-lived when John I. Leonard marched down the field to cap an 80-yard drive with a touchdown. The 14-14 tie stood through halftime.
Wellington received the opening kick of the second half, and kick-returner Brandyn Butler sped off 86 yards for the end zone after breaking out of a pile that looked to stop him. The return lifted the Wolverines back into the lead 21-14.
With just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Lancers attempted to convert on a long fourth-and-20 from the Wellington 40-yard line. Cruz connected with Jonel Dieujuste in the end zone for the Lancers’ third touchdown to tie the game once again at 21-21.
Wellington’s defense and special teams had scored on the night, but what the Wolverines needed was for the offense to put points on the board. They delivered, driving deep into Lancer real estate, but ended settling on a Suarez 32-yard field goal to reclaim the lead 24-21 early in the fourth quarter.
The Lancers would not submit and bulldozed their way 80 yards to the end zone to lead 28-24. That score would be their last of the night. Wellington’s offense was slow gaining confidence during the game but delivered when it mattered most. With little more than four minutes remaining to play, they went to work, chipping away at the Lancers’ defense, once converting on a fourth-and-short to move the chains.
The drive consumed 56 yards and nearly all the time on the ticker. The fourth-down play was do-or-die for the Wellington offense, which was denied the end zone up until the final play.
Kendal found Hector for the game winner from 14 yards out. The score erupted the Wellington sideline into celebration. “I’m so proud of their effort,” Abel said. “We just kept telling them all week to finish, be playmakers and they finally stepped it up. They wanted it a little more.”
Wellington played Forest Hill High School in a district matchup on Thursday, Sept. 26 at Santaluces High School, but results were not available at press time.