HENRIETTA TWP. - On a Homecoming night full of royalty, it was the King that trumped the Dukes in the end.
Firelands senior Jake Myers, who was crowned Homecoming king prior to kickoff Friday night, caught a 21-yard pass from fellow senior Kyle Smith with just 18 seconds left, helping the Falcons to a 20-12 victory over visiting Wellington in Patriot Athletic Conference play.
Firelands improved to 6-0, 3-0 in the PAC. Wellington slipped to 2-1 in league play and 3-3 overall.
On a night better suited for running the ball, as the strong winds, rain and mud played a huge factor, it was the aerial attack of the Falcons that got the job done. Firelands had little success on the ground, rushing for just 32 yards on 35 carries, so Smith threw.
"Between the hashes it was just a muddy game," Smith said. "I had to roll out just to get my footing, so that's (passing the ball) what we had to do (to get the win)."
Myers' catch was the second touchdown strike fired by Smith in a fourth-quarter rally that saw the quarterback hit on passes of 13, 22 and 34 yards in the scoring drives.
"Kyle rolled out, and it was a perfect ball," Myers said of the winner. "It was a backside post and we just got it in."
With 6:42 remaining and Firelands trailing 12-6, Smith found senior Joe Kudela on a 4-yard pass to cap a 12-play, 70-yard drive that was aided by a pass interference call against Wellington in the Falcons end zone.
On the ensuing possession, the Dukes were stuffed and forced to punt. Kicking into the wind, and having to make a great catch of a bad snap that almost sailed over his head, Wellington's Clay Wright saw his kick sail just 11 yards and set up the Falcons in great field position. It was the second short punt of the night for Wright, thanks in part to the wind gusts.
The Dukes returned the favor by stopping Firelands on four plays, only to be faced with yet another fourth-down decision of their own. This time, rather than punt on a fourth-and-3 with 45 seconds to play, Wellington rolled the dice and came up short.
Dukes coach Matt Stoll said the wind blowing in the face of his kicker made the decision to run for the first down a simple one.
"Previously we punted, but we were only getting 10 yards anyway, so I thought we were better off trying to run the ball and get a first down," Stoll said. "Give them credit, they stopped us. It's that simple."
Smith could see why Wellington went for it.
"If they got it (the first down), we're probably going to overtime. And if they punted, with the wind, they'd probably get 10 yards, if that," he said. "This wind was crazy tonight."
Before the heroics of Smith and Myers, Wellington looked to be in control.
After trailing 6-0 at halftime, the Dukes came out in the third quarter and ran off a 14-play, 64-yard scoring drive that took 6:34 off the clock and ended on an 18-yard run by junior quarterback Dylan Weidrick. On the Dukes' next possession, Weidrick scored again, this time on a 2-yard run for a 12-6 advantage.
Weidrick led the Dukes rushing attack with 72 yards on 15 carries, while Wright was held below his season average with just 60 yards on 13 attempts. Wellington, which put the ball in the air just once, finished with 168 rushing yards on 42 carries.
"Wellington is a very good football team," Falcons coach Mike Passerrello said. "We knew they'd come out with a few adjustments (after the half), and they got us with them.
"But our kids are such great fighters. Our staff made some adjustments that put us in position to stay in the game, and then take advantage of some opportunities. It didn't matter how many plays it took us, our kids just believed. This is what you put all of that hard work in for, to win these games. I'm very proud of them."
Smith finished the night 8-of-20 passing for 115 yards, while Myers hauled in three catches for 56 yards and Kudela added 46 yards on four receptions.
Myers, who was quiet for most of the night, was praised by his coach for stepping up when the Falcons needed him most.
"Jake is a great kid. He does what is asked of him, on both sides of the football," Passerrello said. "He got the opportunity to make some plays, and he sure as heck did not waste those opportunities. He's just another piece to the team, and he stepped up for us."
WIND-AIDED: The Falcons decided to take the wind at their backs in the fourth quarter, and it paid dividends in the rally. "It was a staff decision, and Coach (Frank) Horvath did a great job," Passerrello said. "It was a great call, and it worked out for us."
Contact John McDermott at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.