Pictured: Southington’s Ryan Delmonte is pulled down by Levar Cassanova (9) of Middletown in the second quarter of Friday night’s game at Rosek-Skubel Stadium. (Photo by Paul Augeri)
By Paul Augeri
MIDDLETOWN — Under coach Sal Morello, Middletown reached the CIAC football playoffs six times in the last seven pre-pandemic seasons. In those years, the Blue Dragons usually reached the midpoint at 5-0, 4-1 at worst. From there, his teams gained momentum and earned their place among the other qualifiers.
Over its final five games this fall, Middletown will be playing for nothing more than pride.
Southington’s 42-0 victory on Friday night at Rosek-Skubel Stadium sent Middletown to its fifth straight loss and into a bye week contemplating where it wants to go from here.
“We can’t keep accepting this,” Morello said after the Blue Knights had their way with his defense in getting out to a 28-0 lead at the half and piling up 493 yards of total offense. “It’s been a horrible first half (of the season) and I told the kids, I was straight with them, ‘I have to be better. It starts at the top. I have to be better and we have to better.
“But the first half, we just have to flush it. We’re a better football team than 0-5.”
Southington quarterback Jack Barnum completed 16 of 20 passes to seven different receivers for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Lincoln Cardillo rushed for 100 yards and two TDs on nine carries as the efficient Blue Knights, who averaged 11.7 yards over 42 plays, improved to 4-1.
Middletown was plagued by injuries coming in — running backs Shaun Gaskins and David De’Leon, receiver Eddie Strong and kicker/punter Griffin Ladd all were out – and dressed fewer than 30 players.
Chace Petgrave had nine catches for 90 yards and Levar Cassanova was Middletown’s leading rusher with 12 carries for 47 yards. Quarterback Colin Skene was 11 of 21 for 108 yards.
What seems bother Morello most is into by far the worst start of any of his teams is that, outside of a 20-16 loss at West Haven in Week 3, the Dragons have not been competitive. A 33-0 lost to Berlin in the opener was followed by a 43-7 blowout against Platt (43-7).
After the West Haven game, the Dragons jumped out to a 22-6 lead over Newington in an eventual 56-34 loss.
We’re competitive against Newington for a quarter and a half. That’s not being competitive,” he said. “And I’ve said this before, it’s a fair schedule. We should be playing these teams. We just have to flush this first half of the season and we have got to get better.”
Southington scored on its first possession of the game, converting on fourth-and-1 along the way, as Cardillo powered through the middle on third-and-3 for an 18-yard score. The first of Barnum’s five PATs made it 7-0 with just 3:49 gone.
After a Middletown punt, Southington gave away a touchdown when Cardillo’s fumble near the goal line went through the end zone.
But the Dragons went three and out on their next possession, leaving the Blue Knights to capitalize in the closing seconds of the quarter. And they did, on the third play of the drive, with a pass from Barnum to Gavin Anderson into the heart of the defense that ended up covering 59 yards.
Southington broke it open with two scores in the second quarter for a 28-0 lead.
After a Middletown drive stalled at the Knights’ 41-yard-line, Southington covered 81 yards in four plays, with Barnum throwing to Ryan Delmonte for a 41-yard score.
Middletown’s ensuing possession stalled on downs at the Southington 22, where the Knights worked quickly. A 31-yard pass play on third-and-4 set up a score on the next play: a 23-yard catch by a wide-open Javon Thomas on a blown coverage with 33 seconds left in the first half.
“I thought we did a nice job early with stopping runs, but then we couldn’t get off the field on third down,” Morello said. “Southington did a nice job on third down.”
Cardillo’s 32-yard touchdown run with 7:32 left in the third quarter put the game on a running clock. Carmine DiBennedetto came on for Barnum and threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Toby Uhlman with 8:55 left in the game.
Anderson led Southington’s receiving corps with 111 yards on five catches, while Delmonte had 5 catches for 96 yards.
Morello said the bye week (Middletown next plays on Oct. 22 at 1-4 New Britain) will test the team’s rallying cry of “All In.”
“We’re going to look at what’s gone wrong in the first half, where we’re deficient, and where we need to get better,” he said. “We have to get better in all three phases of the game, on both sides of the ball. I thought we’d be real good up front and we’ve been anything but that.
“With the bye, we can get some healthy bodies back. It’s not an excuse, but we can hit the reset button. We have a chance to make things right in the second half.”