Pictured: Middletown coach Sal Morello, surrounded by his eight seniors, following a 35-20 win over East Hartford at Rosek-Skubel Stadium. From left: Richarldo Fortune, Brady Foster, Eric Alicea (53), Chris Danas, Morello, Kole Strycharz, Tyron Scharborough (2), Jacob Smith and Kristian Glemaud.
By Marc Silvestrini
MIDDLETOWN — Middletown High rang up 35 points and 271 yards of total offense in its 35-20 win over East Hartford Friday night at Rosek-Skubel Stadium.
But the game was actually won by the gritty, determined Blue Dragons’ defense, especially in the second half when MHS turned away a pair of first-and-goal opportunities — from their 4- and 5-yard lines, respectively — and scored a critical touchdown on a forced fumble and scoop-and-score play that pretty much sealed the victory.
“The defense came up huge for us, they were tremendous,” Middletown coach Sal Morello said. “That goal-line stand in the third quarter was the most important series of the game. It stopped their momentum when they had rallied back at us. It won the game.”
Although their seven-year streak of qualifying for the state playoffs is over, the win guaranteed a winning season for the Blue Dragons (6-3). They finish up with a Nov. 27 game at Windsor.
Trailing 21-14 at the half, East Hartford took the second-half kickoff and immediately had a 69-yard scoring run called back on a holding penalty.
However, the Hornets responded on the very next play when quarterback Darrion Williams hit running back Malik Bennett on a wheel route 15 yards down the field. Bennett caught the ball at the Hornets 40, eluded two Middletown defenders at midfield and sprinted into the end zone to complete a 74-yard scoring play.
The ensuing PAT was blocked, leaving Middletown on top at 21-20, but the Hornets got their offense right back on the field by recovering an onside kick at the Blue Dragon 49.
Four plays later, a 35-yard run by Bennett gave East Hartford a first-and–goal at the Middletown 4, but that was as far as the Hornets would get.
Middletown linebacker Jake Bowen held Bennett to no gain on first down; Kristian Glemaud limited Bennett to a 2-yard gain on second down; Eric Alicea led a swarm of Dragons that stopped Bennett at the one on third down and Bowen completed the goal-line stand by sacking Williams for a four-yard loss on fourth down.
“We’re a young team and we’re just starting to learn how to win,” Morello said, saluting his eight seniors for helping guide and teach the younger players. “Nothing is easy in this game, nothing is given to you. We’re starting to learn that lesson now and I think it will only make us a stronger and better team down the road.”
Following the first goal-line stand, Middletown’s offense took center stage, launching a 95-yard, 14-play scoring drive that gave the Dragons some breathing room. The Hornets actually forced the Dragons to punt after the drive had reached the Middletown 44, but Josiah Albert’s high, booming punt was muffed at the Hornet 33 and recovered by Tyron Scharborough at the East Hartford 33, bringing the Dragon offense back on to the field.
A facemask penalty and two completions from Dragon quarterback Chris Danas to Scharborough brought the ball to the Hornet four from where sophomore Shaun Gaskins ran it into the end zone. Matt Aresco’s extra point extended Middletown’s lead to 28-20 with 10:41 to play in the game.
Trailing by eight points, East Hartford got the ball back at its own 15 with 4:10 to play, but on a second-and-2 from their own 23, Williams was chased out of the pocket by Dragons linebacker Jayden McDaniel.
McDaniel caught Williams from behind at the Hornet 11 and punched the ball loose. Gaskins picked up the fumble at the Hornet 13 and raced into the end zone untouched. Aresco’s kick increased the Dragon lead to 35-20.
The scoop-and-score was Gaskins’ fourth touchdown of the game.
“My job was to contain (the opposing quarterback) and then chase him down when I saw him taking off to the other side,” McDaniel said. “So I chased him, caught him and hit the ball, knocking it loose. And Shaun made a great play picking it up and scoring.”
The Blue Dragons opened the game smartly, launching a four-play, 39-yard drive on their second possession. The touchdown came on a 32-yard pass and run from Danas to Glemaud.
Brady Foster then recovered an East Hartford fumble at the Hornet 49 on the Hornets’ first play from scrimmage following the kickoff to bring the Dragons offense back on to the field. A 21-yard Danas completion to Gaskins and 10-yarder to Alexander Rios advanced the ball to the 9, from where Gaskins rumbled into the end zone for his first touchdown of the game.
A nifty 58-yard run on a sweep by Bennett brought the visitors back to within 14-7 four seconds before the end of the first quarter.
The Dragons opened the second quarter by completing an eight-play, 62-yard drive that ended on a 2-yard touchdown run by Gaskins, making the
score 21-7 with 7:12 left in the half.
The Hornets responded with an eight-play, 55-yard drive of their own which ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by Bennett to make it 21-14 at the half.
Gaskins ended his big evening with 52 rushing yards on 14 carries, caught one pass for another 21 yards and scored four of his team’s five TDs.
Danas completed 14 of 21 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown, while Albert caught four passes for 79 yards and Rios hauled in three for 25.
Bennett finished with 147 yards on 15 carries and caught one pass for 74
yards. He scored all three Hornet touchdowns. Williams hit eight of his 16 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown.
“We lost the game and I’m never happy when that happens,” East Hartford
coach Richard Milton said. “But I liked the fact that we played them pretty
tough. We never quit, we never gave up. But those turnovers (the Hornets
had three while the Dragons had only one) really killed us. They won the
turnover battle tonight.”