This was meant to be a statement, an opportunity for Wellington to prove it was truly back to the height it achieved a decade ago.
It was homecoming for the senior class that had revived the Crusaders, injecting life into a football-crazy community that packed the stands Friday night armed with cowbells for a showdown against fellow unbeaten Andale, the No. 1 team in Class 4A-Division II.
But the statement will have to wait for another night against another team. Not against Andale, a machine that improved to 5-0 with a 63-21 thrashing over Wellington behind 505 yards of offense.
“We knew it was going to be a crazy environment and it looked like their whole town was out here,” Andale quarterback Luke Walstad said. “Everybody wants to knock off Andale, so we have to come into games with a lot of intensity or else you’re going to lose.”
While it is true Wellington won its first four games, it accomplished it against teams that entered Friday with a combined 1-15 record.
Andale proved itself on another level from that competition. Eck finished with 150 yards and three touchdowns, which was matched by fullback Anthony Capul, who averaged better than 15 yards on seven touches.
“We’ve gotten away with some technique issues, some little stuff that’s been overlooked because we’ve been the better football team,” Wellington coach Tyler Ryan said. “Well, tonight we weren’t the better football team. When there is such a little margin for error, those mistakes get exposed big time.”
Before Friday, Wellington had moved up and down the field, almost at will, behind towering quarterback Trevor Nance and his favorite target, senior Colin Reichenberger.
Against Andale, Nance was intercepted three times and Reichenberger didn’t catch a pass until the fourth quarter.
Nance finished with 231 passing yards, 174 of which were produced by Connor Phelps on eight catches, but Wellington’s offense could produce just 102 total yards in its five first-half possessions.
“We knew they were going to bring it with that crowd, so we had to get above them,” Eck said. “We just came out and did what we do.”
And that’s cutting the margin for error against them so thin that their opponent feels desperation as early as the first quarter. That’s rolling up 436 rushing yards, using seven different ball carriers to gain first downs. That’s scoring touchdowns on the first seven possessions of the game.
It’s what Andale does, turning Wellington’s biggest home game in more than 10 years into a 57-14 mauling by the time its starters exited the field in the third quarter.
“This was a good day to play Wellington,” Andale senior Hunter Knoblauch said. “We were off school all day, so we stayed together as a team all day today. We just bonded together all day today and the intensity was there the whole time. I think it showed (Friday).”
Wellington’s nightmare began with a three-and-out, followed by Eck racing 46 yards up the sideline untouched on Andale’s first play of the game. Two plays later Nance was intercepted by Knoblauch.
Barely two minutes into the game and the Crusaders’ tidal wave of emotion entering the game had come crashing down upon themselves.
Andale took such great pleasure in silencing the crowd because of how much it respected what Wellington had created, even if the electricity wore off after just a quarter.
“It kind of reminded me of home,” Eck said. “It’s good to see what kind of community they have down here. It was kind of like playing ourselves in Andale.”
It was a small moral victory for Ryan, the man in charge of restoring Crusader football.
Wellington was back to playing important football games again in front of a sea of onlookers. Now the task shifts to winning those games.
“That was one of the best atmospheres I’ve seen in a while here in Wellington,” Ryan said. “We have great community support here and that’s what makes Wellington special. And that’s why it’s so disappointing to come out with the effort that you saw. (Andale) just flat whipped us.”
A—Eck 46 run (Johnson kick)
A—Eck 23 run (Johnson kick)
A—Capul 3 run (Johnson kick)
W—Condit 4 run (Reichenberger kick)
A—H. Knoblauch 15 run (Johnson kick)
A—H. Knoblauch 7 run (Johnson kick)
A—Eck 4 run (Johnson kick)
W—Phelps 74 pass from Nance (Reichenberger kick)
A—Capul 11 run (Eck pass from Walstad)
A—Capul 60 run (Johnson kick)
A—Albert 101 interception return (Dagenais run failed)
W—Reichenberger 2 run (Reichenberger kick)
Rushing—Andale, Eck 13-150, Capul 7-108, H. Knoblauch 14-62, Walstad 10-56, Reichenberger 2-25, B. Knoblauch 1-11, Richter 1-11, Dagenais 3-10, Meyer 2-3, Stuever 1-0; Wellington, Beard 15-54, Reichenberger 5-41, Condit 7-36, Hines 2-12, Nance 2-4.
Passing—Andale, Walstad 4-6-69-0, Richter 0-1-0-0, H. Knoblauch 0-1-0-0; Wellington, Nance 12-24-231-3.
Receiving—Andale, Bugner 2-40, Eck 1-21, H. Knoblauch 1-8; Wellington, Phelps 8-174, Reichenberger 4-57.