Middletown’s early lead over Maloney disappeared quickly Friday at Rosek-Skubel Stadium (Photo by Ayanna McCalla).
By Marc Silvestrini
MIDDLETOWN — For 15 minutes of play Friday night — which covers the entire first quarter and the first three minutes of the second — Rosek-Skubel Stadium in back of Middletown High School was a joyous and happy place.
The young and largely inexperienced Blue Dragons football team, which only dressed seven seniors for its game against highly regarded Maloney, led 14-0 and Middletown’s Kenny Fountain had just intercepted a pass by Spartans quarterback Angel Arce to give the Dragons the ball at the Maloney 41.
Unfortunately, that was about the last feel-good moment of the game for the Dragons and their fans.
Two plays later, Maloney’s Jeremiah Williams intercepted a pass by Middletown quarterback Chris Danas and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown to launch a 34-0 run by the Spartans over the next two-and-a-half quarters that propelled them to a 34-21 win.
Maloney is now 4-0 on the season while the Blue Dragons drop to 2-2.
“We’re a young team and that’s exactly how we played tonight,” Middletown coach Sal Morello said. “We played hard, the kids never quit, and we showed a lot of heart. But we also made a lot of mistakes, and you just can’t do that against a good football team like Maloney.”
Their youth and inexperience was also evident in the number of costly penalties the Blue Dragons were assessed throughout the game. In all, the Dragons – who were flagged for the first nine penalties of the contest – were penalized 15 times for 131 yards.
One of those flags negated a 69-yard touchdown run by Middletown’s Shaun Gaskins that would have upped the Blue Dragon lead to 21-7 with five minutes to play in the first half.
Maloney, which did not draw a flag until the final 1:49 of the first half, was penalized five times for 55 yards.
“We definitely hurt ourselves with all those penalties,” Morello said. “Justified or not, it’s hard to get any type of rhythm going with all those yellow flags out there.”
The Dragons wasted little time in letting the Spartans know they had come to play, marching 59 yards in 11 plays to the end zone off the opening kickoff.
A 31-yard strike from Danas to Fountain, followed by a 13-yard completion to Kyle Despres and a 12-yard bullet to Fountain moved the ball to the Spartans’ 3. After a 2-yard loss on first down, Gaskins sprinted wide to his left and cut behind a great seal block by Despres to score the game’s first touchdown. Matt Aresco’s PAT made it 7-0 four-and-a-half minutes into the game.
Jake Bowen and Gaskins combined to sack Arce early in the second quarter to stop a Spartan drive at the Maloney 41, but a booming, 54-yard punt by Stone DeLeon backed the Blue Dragons all the way back to their own five.
Danas quickly responded by hitting Kristian Glemaud on a 15-yard slant on Middletown’s first play from scrimmage and Glemaud simply outran the Spartans’ secondary to the end zone, completing a 95-yard scoring play. Aresco’s PAT made it 14-0, Middletown, with just over 10 minutes to play in the half.
“They jumped on us and had us in a pretty good hole at the start of the game,” said Maloney coach Kevin Frederick, who served as an assistant on Morello’s staff for two years before taking over the Maloney program six years ago.
“But we never panicked,” he said. “We kept our composure and fought back into the game. Good teams are supposed to do that.”
A holding penalty wiped out a long pass play on the Blue Dragons’ series following Williams’ long interception return, eventually forced Middletown punter Josiah Albert to kick from the back of his own end zone. The resulting punt gave Maloney the ball at the Blue Dragon 22, and — after another sack of Arce by Bowen — the resourceful Maloney quarterback lofted a perfect 28-yard pass to Ian Graham that tied the game at 14.
The Spartans took the lead for good on their next possession by launching a 49-yard, five-play drive that culminated in another Arce-to-Graham strike, this one from 10 yards out, to make it 21-14 with two minutes to play in the
Arce threw his third touchdown pass of the game late in the third quarter when he hit Kam Moreno on a 19-yard bullet to make it 28-14 after three quarters.
James Tarver, Maloney’s All-State running back, scored on a 4-yard sweep with four minutes to play to pad the lead to 34-14. Gaskins then capped the scoring by muscling his way through about six Maloney defenders from the 5-yard-line for his second touchdown of the game.
The Blue Dragons’ final scoring drive was set up by a 15-yard sack of Arce by Richarldo Fortune, resulting in a short Stone punt from deep in Spartan territory.
“The kids didn’t quit, they kept fighting, they played with a lot of heart. I like that,” Morello said, indicating that his young team may well have a bright future.
Tarver, who was limited to six yards in six carries in the first half, found a bit more running room in the second half and finished with 80 yards and a
touchdown on 23 carries. Arce completed 11 of his 21 throws for 172 yards
and three touchdowns, while Graham caught three balls for 110 yards and
Danas completed 15 of his 31 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown, but also suffered three interceptions. Despres caught six passes for 92 yards, while Tyron Scharborough grabbed four for 30 yards.
Gaskins, a sophomore, had 46 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.
The Blue Dragons will host Hartford Public next Saturday. Kickoff is 1 p.m.