WILMINGTON — By establishing a solid running game along with good defensive play and taking advantage of breaks, the Woburn High football team was able to overcome a tough opposing passing attack, and still come out on top, to get its season off to a good start.
The Tanners got off to a good start by scoring twice in the first half including a field goal while not allowing a score. Then Woburn fought back a third-quarter comeback bid, and capitalized on a turnover to add a fourth-quarter score, to emerge with an 17-8 victory over Wilmington, in the season opener for both teams at Dick Scanlon Memorial Field on Friday night.
The Tanners ran the ball effectively behind the fine effort of junior running back Symon Sathler, who rushed for 142 yards on 26 carries. Tri-captain David Langlois scored on two short scoring runs while Ty Eller kicked a 24-yard field goal.
The defense, considered to be a primary strength of this year’s Tanners, held Wilmington to just 62 rushing yards.
“This was Symon (Sathier)’s first start, and he had so much pep in our first two series, and he ran the ball really well,” said Woburn coach Jack Belcher. “(QB) Logan (Wilson) managed the offense very well. David Langlois also caught a big pass to help set up our first touchdown.”
While not nearly effective on the ground, the Wildcats hung close throughout behind the fine passing of quarterback Tristan Ciampa, who completed 10 of 21 passes for 186 yards, including a 74-yard toss to Christian Robarge. But Wilmington hurt iself by fumbling the ball away three times, and committed a red-zone bad snap which cost the Wildcats a great scoring chance.
"Woburn has some very good kids on their defensive line which was putting a lot of pressure on us up front,” said Wilmington coach Craig Turner. “Our kids were having a tough time handling that pressure. Credit to Woburn, they're a good team and played us really tough."
The Wildcats gave an early indication they would have trouble holding on to the ball.
After forcing the Tanners to go three-and-out on their first possession, Ciampa fumbled the ball on the third play of the drive, which Woburn's Tom Skeffington recovered at the Wilmington 31, to give the Tanners great field position.
After three runs by Sathler gave the Tanners a first-and-goal at the Wilmington seven, the drive stalled when Wilson threw two incomplete passes into the end zone. So on fourth down Ty Eller came on and kicked a 24-yard field goal, to give Woburn a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Woburn defense made a big stop to force Wilmington to give up the ball on downs, and regain possession at its own 40-yard line.
Two plays later, faced with a third-and-five from the Woburn 45, Wilson hit Langlois with a 12-yard pass to keep the drive going. Then Sathler ran the ball three straight times for 41 yards to move the ball to the Wilmington two.
Langlois took the next carry into the end zone for the score. Sathler rushed home the two-point conversion to extend Woburn's lead to 11-0.
The Wildcats made a serious bid to answer as Ciampa found Robarge with a pass over the middle, and he took it 74 yards to the Woburn four yard line. But on the very next play, the center snap went over Ciampa's head, and he fell on the loose ball on the Woburn 22 for an 18-yard loss.
Unable to gain any yardage on the next two plays, Turner decided to give kicker Steve Smolinsky a shot to kick a 40-yard field goal, but his boot fell short leaving Woburn up 11-0, which it remaining through halftime.
"That was a back-breaker for us there." said Turner. "It looked like we were getting back in it with the ball on their four-yard line and ready to score, and we snapped the ball over our quarterback's head. We just can't do that stuff, since they're a bigger and more physical team than us.”
However, the Wildcats responded on their initial second-half possession when, starting on their own 26, they launched a 13-play scoring drive that took over six minutes. Long runs by Ciampa and Andre Turner, and 12-yard pass completions by Ciampa to Robarge and Smolinksy, helped Wilming-ton move the ball to the Woburn 13.
Then after Ciampa ran the ball to the Woburn one-yard line, he took the next carry into the end zone for the score. Ciampa followed by hitting Robarge in the end zone for the two-point conversion, to cut Wilmington's deficit to 11-8 halfway through the third quarter.
“We were up 11-0, and Wilmington came down and made it 11-8,” said Belcher. “Then they tried the onside kick and we recovered it, but we didn’t close that drive out. But then they gave the ball right back to us, and on the next drive Tom Skeffington made a big catch, and we were able to go down and score again. He did a lot of good things for us tonight.”
After recovering the ensuing onside kick around midfield, the Tanners were forced to go three-and-out. But on the punt attempt the snap sailed over the head of Langlois, and he fell on the ball on the Woburn 33 for a 19-yard loss, to give Wilmington another golden opportunity to score again and take the lead.
However, on the very next play the Wildcats committed yet another critical mistake, when Smith fumbled the handoff, and the loose ball was recovered by Langlois, to give Woburn the ball right back on its own 34.
"We got our kids to calm down at halftime, and on our first second-half drive we pounded the ball and executed, and did things that we thought would work," said Turner. "We were ready to do the same thing on our next drive with the ball in their territory, but we coughed up the ball on the first play. So we had our chances in the second half but we couldn't capitalize on them."
The Tanners then capitalized on this break by launching an 11-play, 66-yard scoring drive, extending play into the fourth quarter. A big 15-yard pass completion by Wilson to Skeffington, and several runs by Sathler and Wilson, moved the ball to the Wilmington one. Then Langlois took the next carry into the end zone for the score, and extend Woburn's lead to 17-8.
The Wildcats had two opportunities to respond, but blew their first chance when, after driving to the Woburn 33, Ciampa fumbled the ball, Wilmington's third lost fumble of the game, which Sathler scooped up and returned 29 yards to the Wilmington 38.
On their final possession in the closing minutes Ciampa completed a 24-yard pass to Gavin Erickson to help the Wildcats move the ball to midfield. But Ciampa then threw four straight incomplete passes to end Wilmington's last scoring chance, and the Tanners were able from there to run out the clock and hold on for the win.
After the game Belcher admitted his squad wasn't perfect and could improve on some issues, but was able to capitalize on breaks and played good enough defense to still come out on top.
“It was a typical first game, as we made some mistakes that helped Wilming-ton, and they made mistakes that helped us,” said Belcher. “But after we gave the ball to them, they fumbled the ball back to us on the next play and we turned it into points. Overall our defense played very well, so for the first game we’ll take it, but we have a lot of things we need to sharpen up on.”
Woburn next plays on Friday when it meets Burlington at Varsity Field (4:30 p.m.).