WATERTOWN — Standing on the grass of Alumni Field after the demoralizing 48-14 loss to Melrose nearly two weeks ago, Wilmington High School Football Coach Craig Turner was asked who would be the starting quarterback in the team's following game against Watertown. Would it be any of the three players who suited up and attempted passes against the Red Raiders?
Well yes, sort of.
Door number four was the option for week four's opponent. When you opened that door, it was No. 8, senior Christian Robarge, who had been the team's top wide receiver to this point of the season and last year as well.
Previously a back-up QB through his earlier years in the program, Robarge, a senior, along with freshman Joe McCauley, split the duties with Robarge running the spread offense and McCauley running a Power-I, mostly handing the ball off to senior Bailey Smith.
That combination was terrific on Friday night as the Wildcats defeated the Raiders 33-7, the same score of last year's game. The win snapped a nine-game losing streak for Wilmington dating back to last year’s win over Watertown.
Under Turner, the Wildcats have defeated Watertown all three times with scores of 32-17, 33-7 and 33-7 and all three times, a running back rushed for over 100 yards and scored three touchdowns. In 2017, John Kenney had 153 yards and three scores, last year Peter Marino had 249 yards and three scores and this time, Smith had 123 yards and three scores.
He got things going right away.
“I thought the Power-I stuff would give us a better chance to get downhill and get some double teams (against us) to the point of attack so then we put a fullback in there (Jared Venezia) to go in front of Bailey,” said Turner. “I thought by doing that, it could clean up the reads for Bailey a little bit more instead of some of the (defensive) zone stuff.
“Then with the spread stuff with Christian, I just think that he's our most dynamic kid with the ball in his hands, and maybe Andre (Turner is right there with him), but he's still kind of young. And Christian can throw the ball a little bit too. So that really opens up some stuff and I always love the QB run game and I think that will help us as we go. He'll get better as we go on here.”
The move also takes a lot of pressure off of a ninth grader.
"Plus, it eases McCauley in — he was really put into a tough situation last week,” continued Turner. “He's done a great job of running his portion of the offense. We will give him a little bit more every week and I think that is more of an appropriate way for him to develop. He's doing a great job. He's making mistakes like all freshman do, but he also shows flashes of really good stuff and we're excited to see more of that."
Robarge really was terrific. He completed 6-of-7 passes for 106 yards including a pair of touchdown passes to Gavin Erickson, coming late in the second quarter, and then to a wide open Joao Germano in the fourth quarter, coming on a fourth-and-16 play. And when he didn’t find an open receiver, Robarge also understood when to take the ball under his arm and utilize his legs and his athleticism.
“Christian was very good tonight,” said Turner. “He's an athletic kid who can really bring that running element to the offense which we want from the quarterback. We went with some (Power-I) stuff down the middle just to get Bailey going and we put a fullback in front of him. I'm not a genius so if what we are doing is not working, I'm not above changing it so we can figure out what's best for us.”
After taking it on the chin in each of the previous two weeks, giving up a combined 88 points to Bishop Fenwick and Melrose, it was extremely important for Wilmington's offense and defense to set the tone in this game right away.
Offensively, that happened. The Wildcats scored on the opening drive, putting together a 9-play, 69-yard drive, capped off with a 2-yard TD run by Smith, while Stephen Smolinsky booted the PAT.
Watertown countered and started to the move the ball down field including three first downs. But on second-and-ten from the Wildcat 20, Dean Nally knocked the ball loose from the QB hands and Smith pounced on it giving the 'Cats the ball back. Five plays later, Smith scored his second TD of the quarter, beautifully shifting through the Raiders' defense for a 30-yard score, but the kick failed and the 'Cats were up 13-0.
Watertown couldn't get anything going on its next drive and punted but it only went ten yards. Wilmington took advantage of that, stringing together a 9-play scoring drive. Robarge got it going with a terrific 27-yard QB keeper run, which ultimately led to a 5-yard score by Smith. The conversion pass failed and the 'Cats were up 19-0 with 4:34 left in the first half.
The Raiders finally got on the scoreboard after two big runs and a facemask penalty moved the ball deep into the 'Cats end setting up a 1-yard TD run by David Manoukian and the kick was good making it 19-7.
Wilmington wasn't done yet scoring in the first half. Starting on their own 15, it took just 2:40 for the 'Cats to score. The big play came on third-and-nine from the 16. Robarge dropped back and moved to his right and sent a pass about ten yards down field. The ball was tipped in the air by Marcello Misuraca and went right into the hands of Joao Germano, who then raced down the sidelines and was tackled at the Watertown 25, resulting in a 59-yard reception. Five plays later, Robarge found Erickson for a 6-yard TD completion and the kick was good making it a 26-7 game at halftime.
Neither team scored in the third, and then Robarge connected with Germano on that fourth down play to end the game's scoring.
Wilmington's offense combined for 322 yards, while defensively, the unit gave up just 156 including only 40 on the ground. Smolinsky and Erickson also came up with defensive interceptions, Smith had the fumble recovery, while, Nally and Dylan Clerico each had a QB sack.
"More than anything, we wanted this (win) for the kids," said Turner. "The kids have been working their tails off and haven't been seeing any results from it. I'm really happy for them.
"I've been trying to tell the kids this and they may think I am full of it, but we needed to get through the tough stuff first and we would be better for it in these games," said Turner. "It started, especially in the first half, as we were physically dominate.
“We had a good game plan coming in and we wore them out upfront. I think playing the teams that we have so far, prepares us for that. I was just really happy with the way our kids played tonight.”
Wilmington will host Burlington (3-1) on Friday starting at 7 pm. The Red Devils beat Watertown, 21-20, the week before, and then were pummeled by Wakefield this past Friday, 30-7.