The longtime-rival Dukes and New London Wildcats renewed their series Friday for the first time this century in less-than-enviable weather conditions.
When time expired, it was Wellington that came out on top with a 17-14 win.
“This was an important game for us,” said Wellington coach Sean Arno. “It gets us in the win column and renews a rivalry that should be played every year. Our team was excited to play this game and it’s a game that should be on our schedule every year.”
The Dukes (1-2) prevailed over the Wildcats (1-2) on a last-minute touchdown. Trailing 14-10 on second-and-goal from the five yard line, Ethan Thomas took the handoff from quarterback Tristan Arno on a counter play and ran into the end zone.
A Nate Nocella PAT put the Dukes up 17-14 with 50.3 seconds left on the clock.
The Wildcats had one more series to try to score but were unable to generate a first down as the Dukes took over on downs and ran out the clock.
New London put the first points on the board after a high snap on a Dukes punt attempt gave the Wildcats the ball at the Wellington nine yard line.
Three successive run plays moved the ball down to the five before quarterback Spencer Cole snuck around the end for the score. The PAT was blocked and the Dukes trailed 6-0 with 6:44 left in the first quarter.
Neither team could get much going until midway through the second quarter when Everett Kropff picked off Cole and returned it to the Wellington 20 yard line. The Dukes drive stalled at the six as Arno’s pass to Trevor Porter was incomplete.
New London took over with 2:07 left in the half but, in a Pete Carroll moment, Wildcats coach Brad Pickens called two successive pass plays that fell incomplete. A run on third down resulted in no gain and the Dukes called timeout with 1:45 left.
On fourth down, the Dukes blocked the punt in the end zone for the safety to trail 6-2.
The ensuing kickoff by the Wildcats saw the Dukes start their drive at their own 48 yard line.
Wellington gained 16 yards on a third-and-eight when Arno connected with Trevor Porter to move into New London territory. Two plays later, the Dukes moved down to the one yard line on a 29-yard thrown by Arno to Thomas.
Arno connected with Jordan Howard on the next play for the touchdown. The two-point conversion pass from Arno to Porter with six seconds left in the half gave the Dukes a 10-6 lead.
New London regained the lead in the third quarter following a failed fourth down conversion by the Dukes near midfield.
New London needed one play as Trevor Spears broke through the Wellington defense and down the right side of the field for a 55-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion run by Spears put the Wildcats up 14-10 with 46 seconds left in the quarter.
With 9:52 left in the game, the Dukes took over at their own 27 following a New London punt.
On third-and-four from the 33, Arno’s pass was tipped by a pair of New London defenders and was caught by Kropff who raced 48 yards down to the Wildcats 19 yard line.
Although the Dukes drive would stall at the four, it set the stage for Dukes’ game-winning touchdown.
The Wildcats moved the ball up to the 22 yard line before a sack moved it back to 19. An incomplete pass on third down forced the Wildcats to punt.
However, an illegal procedure call on the Wildcats moved the ball back to the 14 and forced New London to punt the ball again with 2:23 left in the game.
Instead of taking the safety and kicking from the 20, Perkins elected to punt and the Dukes returned it to the 17 yard line. Six plays later, Thomas made his way into the end zone for the score and the win.
“We still have work to do but we did a lot of good out there,” said Sean Arno. “We came up big on special teams. We had several key defensive plays and stops. The heads-up play by Kropff to keep the one drive alive helped put New London in bad field position… Just a good win for these young men and hopefully we can build on it.”
Hans Schneider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Russ Gifford | Wellington Enterprise Led by Max Carevic, the Dukes defense tracks down the New London quarterback.