Fresh off a win over one former rival, the Dukes took to the field Friday night against another as they hosted the Oberlin Phoenix in a non-conference matchup.
The heyday of the rivalry was in the 1970s and 80s when both were members of the old Lakeland Conference — but the shine has worn in the past couple of decades as they’ve parted to opposite divisions. This time, the Dukes came away with a 26-16 win.
“This was a really good game and effort by our team tonight,” said Wellington coach Sean Arno. “We had a good week of practice coming off of a win. We started slow tonight but we remained patient and committed to the offense. In the second half, I think our conditioning allowed us to get stronger as the game went on and Oberlin couldn’t keep up.”
The Dukes, who evened their record at 2-2, saw the Phoenix (1-3) get on the board first with a long drive in the second quarter.
Starting at their own 37 yard line, the Phoenix marched on a 14-play, 58-yard drive that stalled after a 10-yard run by David Payne gave Oberlin first-and-goal at the five yard line. The Dukes defense stiffened, holding the Phoenix to zero yards on a pair of runs and an incomplete pass.
A 21-yard field goal by Kudor Thomas gave the Phoenix a 3-0 lead with 7:10 left in the half.
The Dukes’ ensuing drive saw sophomore Justin Skinner put his running skills on display. Starting at their own 29 yard line, Skinner broke off runs of 16 yards and 58 yards to move the ball to the Oberlin two.
Unfortunately for the Dukes, the offense sputtered out.
A pair of runs for no gain was followed by a screen from Tristan Arno to Trevor Porter for a loss of five yards. On fourth-and-goal from the seven, the Dukes scored but a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct backed the ball up to the 26 yard line and a replay of the down. The result was a run resulting in no gain and a turnover on downs.
Oberlin also had a touchdown called back in the final minute of the half as Payne connected with Mark Robinson Jr. on a 20-yard pass.
A holding penalty on the Phoenix and an unsportsmanlike conduct call on the Dukes resulted in a replay of the down. This time Payne was sacked for a loss and Wellington kneeled down to run out the clock.
Whatever words of wisdom were said in the locker room, the Dukes took it to heart in the second half.
After the Dukes’ opening drive of the half stalled, sophomore Mason Wright intercepted Payne and returned it to the Oberlin nine yard line. Two plays later, Ethan Thomas ran it into the end zone to put the Dukes on the board. The PAT failed but the Dukes led 6-3 with 6:29 left in the quarter.
Wellington extended its lead in the quarter after taking over on downs at midfield.
Skinner proved to be the workhorse on the drive as he carried the ball on six of the eight plays and gained 48 yards including a 15-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion pass from Arno to Max Carevic put the Dukes on top 14-3 with 1:13 left in the quarter.
Oberlin drove down to the Dukes six yard line in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter but a fumble by the Phoenix was recovered by Skinner.
Taking over at their own 10 yard line, the Dukes marched 90 yards on five plays, including a 63-yard jaunt by Everett Kropff thAT ended with Skinner scoring his second touchdown of the night from 12 yards out. The two-point conversion failed and the Dukes led 20-3 with 7:40 remaining in the game.
The Dukes recovered an onside kick at the Oberlin 46 yard line, needing only three plays to score as Arno connected with Porter from 31 yards out. Another failed two-point conversion gave the Dukes a 26-3 lead with 6:32 remaining.
Oberlin responded with a pair of late scores as Payne connected with Robinson on a 32-yard scoring pass to cut the gap to 26-10 following the PAT.
A bad play call from the sideline on the ensuing Wellington drive resulted in a 27-yard pick six by Robinson that cut the Wellington lead to 26-16. However, the Dukes regrouped and held the Phoenix in check the rest of the way to secure the victory.
The big story of the night was Skinner, who rushed for a career-high 209 yards on 18 carries with a pair of touchdowns. Skinner was quick to give all the credit to his front line.
“The line did a great job blocking tonight,” said Skinner. “There’s no way I’m going anywhere without them making blocks and opening up holes for me. My job is pretty easy when that happens.”
Skinner’s big night on the ground has been building according to Arno.
“We’ve been waiting for him to pop out like that,” said Arno. “We could see it the last couple of weeks. Skinner has been reaching his potential which is tonight.”
Hans Schneider can be contacted at email@example.com.