WELLINGTON — The Dukes went nearly two years without tasting victory on the football field.
That changed Friday night when Wellington defeated neighbor New London 34-22 in non-conference play.
First-year coach Rob Howells breathed a sigh of relief after the 13-game losing streak ended.
“To be honest … it feels great,” Howells said. “This team has fought and gone through brick walls for me. I can’t thank those guys out there on the football field more.”
The last win for the Dukes (1-2) was on Oct. 21, 2016, against Patriot Athletic Conference foe Brookside. Wellington prevailed 48-12.
“Crazy, we’re so excited,” running back Mason McClellan said. “We haven’t won in awhile and it feels great.”
Wellington’s defense made two big plays in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
The first was on a Jayden Skinner interception off a pass from New London (0-3) quarterback Peyton Wilson. Then linebacker Jayson Keenan tackled Wildcats running back Norbert Sword on a fourth-and-3 to end a potential scoring drive.
“Defense stepped up huge,” Howells said. “I thought our chances of winning the game were better at the point, but there was no way that game was over.”
Wellington’s offense got off to a strong start thanks to quarterback Ben Higgins. Higgins tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nick Laposky in the first quarter to go up 7-0.
Then Higgins really showed off his passing skills when he scrambled in the pocket and hit Skinner for an over-the-shoulder catch that went for 27 yards. Running back Kaleb Taylor capped the drive to make it 13-0.
“Higgins is a great athlete,” Howells said. “He’s a leader on this football team. He may not be a captain but being the quarterback that automatically falls on you.”
Wellington and New London traded touchdowns with the Dukes leading 20-8.
The Dukes went into their bag of tricks to start the second half. Wellington used an onside kick and recovered the ball at midfield. Three plays later, Higgins threw the ball to Parker Alder in the backfield and Alder threw to Skinner for a 49-yard halfback pass that went for a touchdown. Wellington extended the lead to 27-8.
“I felt that was the right call to go to those plays,” Howells said. “You always have to have a couple of plays in the back pocket, and I thought scoring coming out of the half was important — especially getting the onside kick.”
Higgins threw one more touchdown pass to Skinner late in the third quarter. Facing a fourth-and-30, Higgins rolled outside the pocket and found Skinner, who turned upfield for a 31-yard touchdown.
Higgins went 8-of-19 passing with 168 yards, and Skinner caught six passes for 146 yards.
Contact Tim Grattan at 329-7207 or email@example.com. Follow him @Tim_Grattan77 on Twitter.
Wellington 34, New London 22
New London 0 8 14 0 — 22
Wellington 7 13 14 0 — 34
W — Nick Laposky, 13 pass from Ben Higgins (Cory Feron kick)
W — Kaleb Taylor, 3 run (Feron kick)
NL — Norbert Sword, 3 run (Mike Dalton run)
W — Mason McClellan, 3 run (Feron kick)
W — Jayden Skinner, 49 pass from Parker Adler (kick failed)
W — Skinner, 31 pass from Higgins (Feron kick)
NL — Parker Ruble, 65 pass from Peyton Wilson (Josh Hess run)
NL — Ruble, 15 pass from Wilson (conversion failed)
First downs 13 16
-- by rushing 8 9
-- by passing 5 6
-- by penalty 0 1
Yards rushing 122 167
Yards passing 162 217
Total offense 284 384
Passes att./comp. 9/18 20/9
Intercepted by 2 0
Fumbles/lost 1/1 3/2
Penalties/yards 2/20 5/45
RUSHING — (NL) Norbert Sword 13-63, Josh Hess 12-59, Peyton Wilson 1-(-9). (W) Mason McClellan 21-125, Kaleb Taylor 9-49, Tyler Moore 4-8, Luke McClellan 5-6, Ben Higgins 2-(-39).
PASSING — (NL) Peyton Wilson 9-18-162-1-1. (W) Ben Higgins 8-19-168-2-0, Parker Alder 1-1-49-1-0.
RECEIVING — (NL) Parker Ruble 2-80, Hess 3-49, Sword 2-8, Jaden Keys 2-25. (W) Jayden Skinner 6-146, Nick Laposky 3-51, Tyler Moore 1-20.