The close ones that get away can hurt the most.
Wellington (0-2) chose to go for a two-point conversion instead of the tie after scoring a touchdown with 10 seconds left Friday, but the pass to Trevor Porter was knocked down, securing a 27-26 win for the Columbia Raiders (2-0).
Tristan Arno, stepping in at quarterback for an injured Max Carevic, completed four of five passes on the final drive and went 20-of-29 for 309 yards on the evening. He threw for one touchdown, ran for three more, and added 110 rushing yards on 30 attempts.
“I’ve been here and been in this situation before,” he said. “It was about staying cool, keeping the guys going, and making them believe we had a chance to win the game. We were checking to different plays on the last drive after we saw where Columbia’s corners were lining up. We battled tonight and I couldn’t be more proud of the guys around me. Our goal is to go 8-0 the rest of the way and it starts with film tomorrow morning.”
Arno’s favorite target was junior Mason Wright, who hauled in eight passes for 176 yards. Wright was a headache for Columbia’s secondary the entire game and created separation from defenders while running a wide variety of routes. His 11-yard diving catch for a first down was immediately followed by a 30-yard sideline grab on the final drive.
“I was just running my routes as hard as I could,” said Wright. “If I saw the safety staying high I’d shorted my route up. We ran a lot of corner routes tonight. We came up short but that’s a good team.”
Columbia attempted just seven passes, but mostly because it ran the ball so effectively. The Raiders finished with 316 rushing yards on 41 attempts. Wellington out-gained Columbia 472 to 336, but long runs and penalties that stopped long drives kept creeping up on the Dukes.
Columbia’s Brandon Coleman recorded a 56-yard score and Austin Sahlica punched a run in from 44-yards out. In a moment of deja vu from the first week of the season, a long Columbia run resulted in a fumble only to be picked up by the Raiders’ Lance Boise and taken in for what amounted to a 38-yard score.
“We really got nailed with penalties on our last three drives,” said Dukes head coach Sean Arno. “We had great stops and great defensive holds. Columbia had situations like second-and-three and we consistently held them and even drove them back. We played really well and well enough to win.”
On the decision to go for two at the end, Arno said it was the consensus on the sidelines.
“We never thought twice about it,” he said. “We had momentum and missed a kick earlier. We could’ve went to overtime but Columbia went to overtime last week and won. We could sit here and question it now but I’m not going to do that. We called a good play and they defended it.”
Arno said while there is no satisfaction in a close loss, playing Columbia so well was a step forward for his team.
“I’m sick and tired of losing,” he said. “I don’t want to lose another game. This team is resolving to not lose another game the rest of the season. This team wants to play to win. They proved tonight they can play with anyone. Columbia has been extremely tough for anyone to beat for years now, and these kids stood toe-to-toe with them. We’re going to come back hungrier than ever and we’re going to win.”
He was happy with the big performance from his backup quarterback.
“Tristan hadn’t thrown a ball in a live game since last year,” he said. “He had a shoulder injury in the summer and just started throwing the ball again. He did a great job. Those were poised drives for a kid that hasn’t been in a pocket since last October. It’s hard to say what our situation will be when Max (Carevic) comes back but we’ll see what happens.”
Both coach and Tristan Arno are looking forward to the Dukes’ home opener this Friday against New London. Rented bleachers will be available for fans at the stadium this week before a temporary structure is assembled for the second home game against Brooklyn Sept. 23.
“We’re really excited,” said Tristan Arno. “We don’t care if we have stands or not. We’re playing at home and that’s what it’s all about.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Photos by Jonathan Delozier and Russ Gifford | Wellington Enterprise Junior Tristan Arno fills in at quarterback for Max Carevic and went 20 of 29 for 309 yards and a touchdown. He also ran the ball 30 times for 110 yards and three touchdowns.