Late fall evenings with two division rivals vying for playoff contention is what high school football is all about.
The Black River Pirates (7-3) came out of Friday night with postseason football on the horizon as they ran for 570 yards in a 49-14 victory over the Wellington Dukes (5-5).
With the win, Black River will travel to Orwell to take on the Grand Valley Mustangs (9-1) in Division V Region 17 quarterfinal action. The Pirates have won three straight games to close the regular season by a combined score of 146-44.
Three Pirates runners topped 100 yards on the ground against Wellington: Riley Gibbs (11 carries for 170 yards), Travis Sexton (nine for 151), and Corey Bartolic (11 for 101).
Junior Jacob Campbell led the backfield in touches with 17 and amassed 92 yards on tough runs up the middle that killed the clock in the second half and Sexton scored a team-high three touchdowns.
“We’re working hard every day,” said Campbell. It’s what’s gotten us to this point. We’re not taking a day off and always working as a team. We’re a unit. There’s no separating us.”
“I think we can improve on our pass defense at times,” said Sexton. “We stop the run very well and I don’t think anyone can stop our offense right now. Tonight, we went out there knowing what we needed to do.”
Black River’s defense held an explosive Wellington offense to just 33 rushing yards and 240 yards of total offense.
Wellington needed losses from teams above them but could also have qualified for the playoffs with a win. The Dukes still managed to clinch their first non-losing season in five years and rang up two 60-point offensive outbursts, 57 in a defeat of Keystone Oct. 14, and 48 while topping Brookside on Oct. 21.
Trevor Porter led Wellington on offense against Black River with 146 yards on nine catches while Mason Wright caught two for 65.
Seniors Dauson Hammer and Nate Nocella reflected on their time playing at Wellington and what they want to take forward in life from that experience.
“One thing I’m going to take from football in general is when things go wrong, you can’t get down on yourself,” said Hammer. “You have to pick yourself back up and keep moving. I’m looking forward to coming back next year to see this junior class as seniors. They’re going to show the PAC-12 what Dukes football is about.”
“First I want to say that all glory goes to God,” said Nocella. “That’s the biggest thing. These guys have really become my brothers, though. I think we made some huge strides as a team this year. We didn’t want to go out this way but we had a great year. Tonight doesn’t take away from that.”
The Pirates jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to scoring runs from Bartolic, Sexton, and Riley.
After Sexton scored again to start the second quarter, Wellington showed signs of life. The Dukes got on the board courtesy of a 64-yard pass from Max Carevic to Wright. Then on the ensuing drive, Nocella ran back an interception 80 yards to the Black River 14 yard line, where Tristan Arno connected with Porter for another score to make it 28-14.
Wellington then recovered an onside kick before halftime and drove again into the Black River red zone. Senior Mike Hazlett ended the swing in momentum, though, when he intercepted Arno at the 10.
Scores from Gibbs and Sexton in the second half and a 68-yard interception returned for a touchdown by Hazlett in the closing minutes closed the door on any comeback hopes for the Dukes.
After the game, Wellington coach Sean Arno told his players that he benefited from being around them and was proud to be their coach.
“This class has laid a great foundation for us,” he said. “Unfortunately, we just didn’t play well tonight. It leaves a bad taste to go out like this. This senior group has done great things this year. We just couldn’t execute a lot of basic stuff and that’s too bad tonight.”
Pirates coach Al Young knows a tough test awaits against Grand Valley even as his team is peaking at the right time.
“The kids are really playing well,” he said. “The last three weeks, they’ve just been very dialed in. We know we didn’t play well after the Buckeye game. I know Buckeye is a good team but we just had hit a two-week lull. The offense wasn’t clicking. Defensively, we did a lot of film work and it showed. They were ready out there tonight. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re 7-3, but those losses were to very good teams that could have went either way.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Photos by Russ Gifford and Jonathan Delozier | Wellington Enterprise Black River seniors hoist the trophy after their 49-14 win Friday over Wellington.