WILMINGTON — With a young and relatively inexperienced team, there are bound to be nights like this for the Wilmington High Football team.
It will ultimately be part of the growing process for the team as they continue to improve. But that doesn't make it any easier to take for Wildcats head coach Craig Turner and his staff, who saw his team turn the ball over three times in a 17-8 loss to Woburn last Friday night in the their home opener at Alumni Stadium.
In an otherwise evenly played game, those turnovers as well as penalties at critical times and other unforced errors proved to be the difference between winning and losing for the Wildcats in an otherwise evenly played game, where Wilmington (0-1) actually outgained Woburn (1-1) 257-154 in total yards.
"Woburn is too good of a team to give them the ball like that so easily," Turner said. "That was tough. I felt like every time we got something going, we kicked ourselves in the rear."
The Wildcats played very well defensively all night, and they got off to a strong start, holding Woburn to a three and out on the opening possession of the game behind a couple of big plays be linebacker Stephen Smolinsky and defensive tackle Shane Roberts.
But as Turner indicated, the Wildcats were their own worst enemy at times, and this was one of those times, as they fumbled on their third play from scrimmage, returning the ball to the Tanners at the Wilmington 31-yard line. The defense stood strong behind Smolinsky and Bailey Smith, but limiting the Tanners to a 24-yard field goal by Ty Eller to give them a 3-0 lead with 5:48 left in the first quarter.
After trading scoreless possessions, Woburn went on a six play, 60-yard scoring drive, aided in part by a 15-yard personal foul penalty against Wilmington. A pass completion for the Tanners had moved the ball to the Wildcats 37-yard line, but a personal foul penalty moved the ball up to the 22, and three plays later Woburn’s Paul Langlois capped the drive with a two-yard burst up the middle with 4:40 left in the half.
The Tanners then added the two-point conversion on a pass from Logan Wilson to Symon Sathler for an 11-0 lead. The two-point conversion came after the Wildcats had jumped offside on the initial conversion attempt, moving the ball half the distance to the goal on the Tanners kick attempt.
It looked like the Wildcats were going to respond immediately with a score of their own, when wide receiver Christian Robarge took a quick slant from quarterback Tristan Ciampa (11-for-17, 184 yards) at about the 25 yard line and raced 71 yards to give them a first and goal at the Woburn four-yard line. But a bad snap over the head of Ciampa on the very next play moved the ball back all the way to the 22-yard line, and the Wildcats never recovered and stayed off the scoreboard.
“When I say he (the center) hasn’t done that once since August 16th, I mean not once,” said Turner. “But it was that kind of night. Every time we got something going, we got in our own way. We saw some good things, but we also saw a lot of things we need to work on other than just dropping the ball.”
Wilmington opened the second half with their best drive of the game, going on a 13-play, 74-yard drive capped off by a one-yard sneak by Ciampa with 5:21 left in the third quarter. Freshman running back Andre Turner kick started the drive with a 15-yard run, followed by a 22-yard scamper by Ciampa and suddenly the Wildcats were in business at the Tanner 37-yard line.
A pair of 12-yard completions by Ciampa, one to Robarge and one to Smolinsky, brought the ball down to the 11-yard line. Three plays later Ciampa snuck in for the score. Moments later Ciampa found a wide open Robarge in the end zone for the two-point conversion to make the score 11-8.
Turner credited some halftime adjustments for the scoring drive.
“We felt pretty good about trying to figure out what they were trying to do to us," he said. "They were bringing some pressure off the edge to us and we were having a hard time handling it. But credit to coach (Bob) Donoghue and the offensive line. We got it kind of schemed up a little bit, and were able to move down the field and get a score.”
The Wildcats once again held Woburn to a three-and-out and appeared to have seized momentum after a bad snap on the Woburn punt attempt gave them great field position at the Tanners 32-yard line with 3:00 left in the third quarter. But a fumble on the first play of the drive returned the ball to the Tanners, who proceeded to go on a ten play, 66-yard drive, capped Langlois’ second touchdown of the night, this time from one yard out, for a 17-8 lead with 8:51 left in the game after the failed extra point.
“We get the ball again, and it felt like we had the momentum going our way and then we give the ball right back to them," Turner said. "It felt like we were playing defense all night. It was tough to go out there over and over again and try and make stops. They scored 17 points, and I think 14 of them were off of turnovers”
The Wildcats were still in the game at that point, and actually put together and impressive drive on the ensuing possession, marching from their own 27-yard line to the Woburn 35, keyed by a 22-yard pass from Ciampa to Robarge. But the Wildcats third fumble of the night returned the ball to Woburn moments later.
While obviously disappointed with the loss, and with the number of mistakes the Wildcats made, Turner remains optimistic about the remainder of the season.
“I think we have the potential to be a very good football team, if we can learn from this, and be more careful taking care of the ball," Turner said. "We’re not good enough, because we are so young to give a team like that so many chances. But if we can improve on that, we can do some good things."