Pictured: Chace Petgrave (2) and Middletown teammates Terrance Jackson (54) and Manny Neale on the sideline during Friday night’s game against Enfield. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)
By Marc Silvestrini
MIDDLETOWN — The revival of Middletown High’s football season continued its three-week run Friday night before a large Senior Night crowd at Rosek-Skubel Stadium with a 35-0 triumph over a winless Enfield team.
Middletown, which began its season with five consecutive losses, has now won three in a row.
“I’m very proud of these kids and the way they’ve fought back and persevered,” Blue Dragons coach Sal Morello said. “When we were 0-5 they could have called it quits and packed it in for the season. But they hung in there, kept showing up for practice and kept trying to get better.
“Instead of lying down and playing out the string, they put in the time and effort and bought back into the season. I’m very happy for them.”
The Dragons’ shutout of the Eagles was keyed by a strong defensive effort, a big game by the offensive line and a steady, mistake-free game by sophomore quarterback Colin Skene.
And then there was the play of senior wideout and cornerback Chace Petgrave, who had the kind of night that comes along about once in a career.
All Petgrave did was catch seven of Skene’s passes for 49 yards, run the ball twice for 61 yards and two touchdowns and return an interception 40 yards for another score.
All that adds up to 110 yards in total offense and three touchdowns, if anyone’s counting. Now that’s a Senior Night.
“Honestly, I’m just trying to do my thing out there and help my team win the game,” Petgrave said. “This team has got some serious chemistry going. We’ve been practicing hard and giving it 100 percent effort and now things are starting to turn around.”
Petgrave scored on a 2-yard end-around scamper on Middletown’s second possession of the game to give the Dragons an early lead. The key play of the 71-yard scoring drive was a 52-yard pass from Skene to Matt Steuerwald that brought the ball to the Eagles’ 4-yard line.
Griffin Ladd, who would go 5-for-5 on his extra-point kicks, tacked on his first successful conversion to give the Dragons a 7-0 lead seven and a half minutes into the game.
Skene and Steuerwald teamed up again to produce a 31-yard catch-and-run scoring play on Middletown’s first possession of the second quarter, concluding a five-play, 72-yard drive that made it 14-0.
Twenty-two second later, Petgrave intercepted a Christian Benvenuto pass and raced 40 yards down the right sideline to pad the lead to 21-0, which was the score at halftime.
Enfield launched its best drive of the night on its opening possession of the second half, marching to the Middletown 24 before the Blue Dragons’ defense stiffened and forced the Eagles to turn the ball over on downs.
From there, a 49-yard burst by David De’Leon advanced the ball to the Eagle 23 and three straight runs by Shaun Gaskins produced Middletown’s fourth touchdown of the evening.
Petgrave added Middletown’s fifth and final score on the Dragons’ next possession when he took an end-around that was designed to go to the right, cut against the grain to his left and raced 57-yards, untouched, to the end zone to make the final score 35-0.
“That one was on my offensive line,” he said. “Those guys just opened it up for me. Once I cut against the flow I could see the field opening up for me and I knew it was all over.”
Middletown’s offensive line — which includes center Ky’ron Gaskins, a guard rotation of Jaiquan Miller, Nick DeShong and Mike St. Paul, and standout tackles Terrance Jackson and Manny Neale – is one of the areas that has improved dramatically since the team’s 0-5 start, Morello said.
On Friday, they blocked well enough to produce 377 yards of total offense, including 226 on the ground. Three players — David De’Leon, with nine carries for 80 yards, Shaun Gaskins, with 8 for 67, and Petgrave — finished with more than 60 yards rushing.
Morello also cited improved play by the defense, the maturing of Skene at the quarterback position, and the consistently solid play of his two key wideouts in Petgrave and Steuerwald, as important keys to the team’s turnaround.
While the defense allowed no points and limited the Eagles to 110 yards of total offense, Skene completed 11 of his 16 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. Steuerwald caught four of those passes for 102 yards.
“We were fortunate in that we had a bye week after that (fifth) loss to Southington,” Morello said. “At that point, the coaches decided it was time to get back to basics, back to the fundamentals.
“From that point on, we’ve been making some good progress. The kids have worked very hard, they’ve been dedicated and I think we’ve become a better football team.”
Enfield coach James Lyver seconded that assessment.
“All credit goes to Middletown and coach Morello and his staff,” Lyver said. “Middletown is one very physical and very well-prepared team.”
He added that he thought the Dragons’ offensive line was “very solid” and that the two offensive tackles (Jackson and Neale) were “outstanding.”
Sounds suspiciously like a team that had managed to turn its season around.