COLUMBIA STATION - In a game that for a while looked as though neither offense would be stopped, Wellington's defense made two plays that helped the Dukes turn a nail-biter into a runaway.
After Columbia scored 28 first-quarter points Friday, the Dukes held the Raiders without another point until a final-minute touchdown.
While Wellington's defense dominated for the final 36 minutes, a goal-line interception by defensive back JuJuan Howard and a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown by lineman Nick Sutherland served as the big plays that fueled the Dukes' 56-35 win in Patriot Athletic Conference crossover action.
Howard's interception led to a crucial 96-yard drive to end the first half, one that covered nearly seven minutes and kept the Raiders offense off the field.
Sutherland's interception and runback, on the Raiders' first possession of the second half, killed any momentum Columbia had gained after finally stopping Wellington's similarly rolling offense, led by running back Clay Wright.
"JuJuan's play was the play of the game," said Wellington coach Matt Stoll. "It gave us some momentum and gave us the chance to go right down the field and get back in it. Neither team was flinching up until that point. Nick's play was big for us, too."
The Raiders (2-2) drove to the Dukes 7-yard line with eight minutes left in the first half, threatening to extend their 28-21 edge.
But Columbia quarterback John Banyasz - who amassed 417 yards and four touchdowns - fired between receivers and Howard made the interception.
Fourteen plays later - including seven carries by Wright for 52 yards - Wellington quarterback Dylan Weidrick found Chase Bealer for a 13-yard score to tie it, and the Dukes received the second-half kickoff.
Columbia, though, forced the Dukes (2-2) to punt on their first second-half possession, potentially regaining control - until Sutherland dropped into coverage, held onto Banyasz's bullet and rumbled for the score.
"I dropped like I was taught, and the ball came our way and I wasn't going to be stopped," Sutherland said. "The momentum definitely shifted after that play."
The Raiders missed a 29-yard field goal on their next possession. And the Dukes poured it on from there.
Wright, who gained 273 yards overall on 22 carries and scored five times, ran for touchdowns of 17 and 33 yards in the second half, while Weidrick broke one of his own for 52 yards.
The Dukes scored 42 unanswered points before Banyasz ended the scoring with a late 1-yard touchdown run, set up by a 32-yard pass to Shane Lambert.
"The cutback lanes were there," said Wright, who averaged 12.4 yards per carry. "The offensive line came tonight and did their jobs. But those defensive plays were exactly what we needed. (Stoll) said the whole game, 'A defensive stop is going to win the game.'
"After we got those stops, it was over."
The loss put a damper on the efforts of Banyasz and Lambert, the latter of whom caught 11 passes for 182 yards and four touchdowns, the last of which was set up by a Lambert interception and gave the Raiders a 28-14 lead.
Columbia gained 502 yards total, while Wellington tallied an eerily similar 501. Both teams recorded 17 first downs.
"Our interception inside the 10 and their interception for a touchdown after we stopped them really hurt us," said Columbia coach Jason Ward. "We got beat by a better football team."
LIGHT LINE TAKES A HIT: Columbia's Bryan Horn started the game on the Raiders defensive line - all 66 inches and 135 pounds of him.
He suffered an apparent left knee injury in the second quarter and had to be carried off the field.
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or email@example.com.