Pictured: Middletown’s coaching staff, including head coach Sal Morello (in black), meet on the field after Friday night’s loss to Platt. (Photo by Paul Augeri)
By Paul Augeri
MIDDLETOWN – Down 20-0 late in the second quarter, Middletown was on the verge of scoring its first touchdown of the football season and making a game of it against Platt. Quarterback Colin Skene fired a screen pass on second-and-goal from the 8-yard line hit Shaun Gaskins on the number.
Gaskins got it down to the 1 with two Platt defenders on his back. But in his zeal to get to the goal line, the senior was stripped of the ball. Amari Robinson scooped up the fumble and returned it 99 yards with 12 seconds left to give the Panthers a 27-0 lead at the break.
It was that kind of night for the Blue Dragons.
Middletown lost the CCC Tier 2 game 43-7 at Rosek-Skubel Stadium, perhaps the worst defeat in Middletown coach Sal Morello’s 10-year tenure — which comes a week after a season-opening 33-0 loss at Berlin.
“We’re at a crossroads,” Morello said. “Hopefully we can get better and look at the beginning of the year and say, ‘Jesus, remember how bad we were?’ We’ve got to get back to work and do a lot of soul searching or it’s going to be a long year.”
Instead of going into the break down by two scores and getting the second-half kickoff, Middletown trailed 27-0. After being forced to punt on its first possession of the half, the Panthers struck again when Robinson scored on a 52-yard run to put this one on ice. Zyair Coleman’s two-point conversion run made it 35-0 with 8:16 left in the third quarter.
“I know we’re better than this,” Morello said. “I give Berlin and Platt a lot of credit, but I know we’re better than this. We’re not tackling, we’re not blocking, just fundamentals.”
Platt rebounded from a Week 1, 20-0 loss to Wethersfield by controlling both lines of scrimmage. The Panthers rushed for 223 yards, with Robinson gaining 139 on 10 carries and a touchdown.
Coleman rushed for two touchdowns and quarterback Avery Robinson, Amari’s older brother, was 6 of 12 for 84 yards and a TD.
Middletown’s one bright spot was the play of Skene, a sophomore. He was 10 of 14 for 142 yards and flashed a strong right arm in connecting with senior receiver Matt Steuerwald on a couple of deep balls down the sideline. Steuerwald had 7 catches for 112 yards.
Those were the occasions when Skene had time to throw. A lot of times, he didn’t. For the second game in a row, he was on the run a lot and tagged with negative rushing yardage.
“The poor kid is running for his life,” Morello said. “He has a terrific arm, so the silver lining is him to Matt Steuerwald tonight. Maybe we found something there. But we have got to run the football. We can’t expect Colin to chuck it all the time.”
Middletown caught some momentum on the opening drive of the game when Gaskins intercepted Avery Robinson at the 22-yard line. But the Blue Dragons could not move the ball with any consistency as Platt took over on downs at the 22.
From there, the Panthers marched 78 yards in 13 plays, with Amari Robinson scoring from 2 yards out. Trent D’Aniello’s PAT made it 7-0.
After again taking over on downs, Platt drove 67 yards in nine plays, with Corey Ford scoring from 2 yards out to give the Panthers a 13-0 lead with 8:10 left in the first half. D’Aniello’s kick hit the upright.
Middletown took over at its own 20 on its next possession. The Blue Dragons moved past midfield but stalled as Platt’s dominant defensive line produced three stops for minus-29 yards.
“We have to put ourselves in manageable third downs,” Morello said. “I can’t count how many times in the last two games that we’ve been, like, third and more than 15. I don’t have a play for third-and-30.”
Griffin Ladd punted 25 yards on fourth-and-39 to the 50. After a 17-yard ground gain, Avery Robinson threw to Antwone Santiago across the middle at the goal line for the touchdown and a 20-0 advantage.
Platt coach Jason Bruenn was pleased to see how well his offensive line helped set up the run.
“We actually want to throw the ball more, but it seemed some things were open and we tried to take advantage of that,” said Bruenn, in his 14th season coaching the Panthers. “And that’s kind of where all football teams are at right now. They’re going to look at what you’re offering on the defensive side and they’re going to manipulate what they want.
“We felt we could run it in certain spots and you saw tonight it was pretty good.”
After growing its lead to 35-0 in the opening minutes of the second half, Platt went up 37-0 on a safety when Skene pounced on his own fumble in the end zone.
Coleman scored Platt’s final touchdown of the night on a 4-yard run with 8:47 left in the game.
“We talked about this: Last week was not indicative of what we teach and what our program is trying to do,” Bruenn said, alluding to Platt’s shutout loss against Wethersfield. “We explained that to them and they bounced back well tonight. We just got to keep grinding and making sure we get better every week.”
Morello has the same expectation for his team. He said Middletown has to be physically tougher in the interior.
“And I thought that would be our strength, and that’s where it’s not clicking,” he said. “Offensively, we’re not able to run the football, control the line of scrimmage and control the clock. It’s like teams are ripping off runs left and right – and these are plays we’re prepared for.
“We just got to want to. We just got to want to. That’s going to be the big challenge moving forward and it’s not going to get any easier. We’re going to West Haven (next Friday). I know they can play better than this, and it’s my job to make sure we get better. But this is unacceptable. It’s really frustrating.”
Score By Quarters
Platt…….7 20 10 6–43
MHS……0 0 0 –7
P: Zyair Coleman 2-yard run (Trent D’Aniello kick)
P: Corey Ford 2 run (kick failed)
P: Antwone Santiago 33 pass from Avery Robinson (D’Aniello kick)
P: Amari Robinson 99 fumble return (D’Aniello kick)
P: Amari Robinson 52 run (Coleman run)
P: Coleman 4 run (kick failed)
M: David De’Leon 69 run (Griffin Ladd kick)
Records: Middletown 0-2; Platt 1-1.
Next games: Middletown at West Haven, Friday (7pm); Platt at Enfield, Friday (7pm).