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Late score lifts Tiger football

MIDDLEBURY — The team that keeps finding a way to win did it again on Friday night.
With a minute-and-a-half left in the Division I football quarterfinal at Doc Collins Field, a No. 6 Colchester team that moments before mounted a game-tying 80-yard drive had to punt from its own 23.
On the sidelines, assistant coach Jed Malcolm told the Tiger punt team, including senior defensive end Dylan Lanpher, to be ready.
Lanpher said Malcolm had a hunch.
“Coach said they were going to over-snap this, and I was like, OK,” Lanpher said.
Sure enough, the ball sailed high over the punter’s head into the end zone. The Laker kicker couldn’t pick it up cleanly. A Tiger drilled him, and the ball sat there for the Lanpher, who pounced for the score that made it 14-7 with 1:21 to go after Josh Stearns’ extra-point kick
“My goal is to fly, fly, fly. And I kind of did,” Lanpher said “And luckily my other end knocked it loose and I was able to get it.”
A week before at Champlain Valley, the 8-1 Tigers won, 27-21, to clinched the No. 3 seed when the Redhawks fumbled a punt to set up the game-winning touchdown.
That time, head coach Dennis Smith made the prediction. Smith afterward pointed to the unusual circumstances in both games.
“My assistant coach, Jed Malcolm, said we need a bad snap or something. It was like me saying last week, ‘We’re going to punt the ball, they’re going to fumble the ball, and we’re going to get it, and then we’re going to score against CVU.’ He called it tonight,” Smith said. “So we’ll take it. A win is a win, anyway you can get them, and we move on.”
The Tigers earned a date at No. 2 BFA-St. Albans (8-1), probably on Friday at 7 p.m. The Tigers lost in St. Albans, 23-7, on Oct. 7, but had a third-quarter lead.
But they have also managed to pull out many tight games in the past couple years. Lanpher said the Tigers’ unity makes a difference.
“If one of us messes up, we pick each other up, and we just keep playing as a team,” he said. “That’s how we’ve been getting it done. It’s just awesome.”
Smith said the team’s experience helps, too.
“This group of seniors, they’ve been with us since they were sophomores, and some of them were playing then. They’ve been in these close games so many times there’s no faze to them,” he said. “There’s no getting down on each other. There’s no complaining. It’s just keep working, keep chugging, and something will happen in the end. And so far it keeps happening.”
On Friday, they faced plenty of adversity early on. The Lakers had eight cracks at the end zone from the Tiger 5-yard line or closer in their first two possessions. The first came after a long opening drive by the Lakers, the second after a fumble by the Tigers on their first play after the goal-line stand. And the Lakers drove to the Tiger 10 on their third possession, all in the first quarter.
In the first stand, the Tigers stopped Laker quarterback Taylor St. Germain twice for losses twice to take over on downs, with Dillon Robinson making the fourth-down tackle. In the second, Jordan Connor made a key play on tailback Bobby Brigante’s sweep on second down, and the Tigers stuffed a St. Germain bootleg on fourth down. When the Lakers reached the 10 and faced a fourth-and-1, Brigante, who had moved to QB, was denied on a keeper.
In the meantime, the Tigers gained just 49 yards in the first half. Neither team generated much in the second quarter or early in the third. Finally the Tigers marched 80 yards in a drive that started with 5:38 to go in the third and ended with Robinson’s 1-yard, fourth-down scoring run to open the fourth.
On the drive, Connor (15 carries, 47 yards) had runs over the right side of 13, 13 and 17 yards; Marshall Hastings (15 carries, 61 yards) had runs of 6 and 9 yards, and Robinson (7 attempts, 54 yards) ran for 17 yards.
But the Tigers managed just one first down in the fourth, and 159 yards in all. Meanwhile, the Lakers went to the air in the fourth quarter, when they picked up 143 of their 281 yards. St. Germain (2 of 3, 26 yards) and Brigante (7 of 13, 108 yards) combined for 134 yards passing.
Much of that came on a 50-yard bomb that sparked the Lakers’ 80-yard scoring drive. It came on third-and-18 and went from Brigante to St. Germain and put Colchester on the Tiger 6. Brigante hit Brady Corrigan from 4 yards out on fourth down, and the game was tied at 5:00.
But soon the botched punt gave MUHS the lead. The Lakers then moved to the Tiger 23, but a knot of Tigers defended Brigante’s desperation heave into the end zone as time expired.
As Smith said, the Tigers lived for another week. And he believes they have it in them to rise to the occasion against the Bobwhites.
“We usually play to the level of the team we’re playing,” Smith said. “We’ll play the tough teams close, and we’ll play the teams close that maybe we should beat a little easier, too. But we’ll find a way.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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