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Raiders ride Tiger miscues to victory at homecoming

MIDDLEBURY — A series of miscues and an opportunistic Rutland team made for a frustrating Homecoming setback for the Middlebury Union High School football team, 15-13, on Friday night.
MUHS fumbled a half-dozen times and lost four of them, two setting up two first-half Raider touchdowns and two killing promising second-half drives with the Tigers trying to rally.
Coach Dennis Smith said he had hoped the Tigers would bounce back and play better in the second half after trailing at the break, 15-7, but that they just never played with their usual focus and precision — even though they outgained Rutland, 355 yards to 212.
“We just made mistake after mistake all night long, whether it was fumbling the ball, blocking assignments, it just snowballed all night,” he said. “The plays were there to be made, and we just didn’t capitalize.”
Smith hinted that maybe the Tigers (2-2) were too aware the 3-1 Raiders had been defeated handily by Mount Mansfield, a team MUHS had defeated relatively easily.
“Dealing with kids you just never know what you’re going to get. You hope they’re ready,” he said. “I think we took it too lightly.”
The tone was set early, when the Tigers marched 73 yards on the game’s opening possession to the Raider 2-yard-line, where they faced third-and-goal. But a bobbled snap left quarterback Tyler Provencher stopped short on an improvised play, and the Raiders stuffed the fourth-down play.
Rutland marched to midfield and punted. The ball hit a Tiger running back, technically their second fumble of the night. The Raiders recovered on the MUHS 11, and on the next play Raider back Mike Pileggi (11 carries, 79 yards) ran wide left in to make it 6-0 at 11:31 of the second quarter.
The Tigers answered with an 81-yard, eight-play drive to take a 7-6 lead on a 23-yard Mitchell Clarke run. The drive’s key play was an earlier Clarke 38-yard run to the Raider 41. Clarke led all rushers with 83 yards on nine attempts. Josh Stearns’ extra point gave the Tigers the lead at 8:02.
Rutland moved the ball, but punted to the Tiger 5-yard line. Three plays later, the Tigers fumbled, and the Raiders recovered on the Tiger 19. On third-and-eight, Rutland QB Nick Boles hit Eli Rogers at the goal line, and it was 12-7 at 1:38.
The Tigers failed to move the ball through the air and punted to the Raider 37. Pileggi promptly ripped off runs of 14 and 31 yards, and a nine-yard Boles completion put the Raiders in field-goal range at the Tiger nine. Scott Crosby booted a 26-yarder with 10 seconds to go, and it was 15-7 at the half.
The Tigers tightened defensively in the second half. But in the third quarter a penalty on fourth-and-four from the Raider 29 helped halt one MUHS drive, and they fumbled at their own 45 on the second play of the next possession. In their next possession, the first of the fourth quarter, they came up short on third-and-three from near midfield.
Finally, they scored quickly after taking over at their own 29 with 5:58 to go. Nick Felkl (10 carries, 74 yards) gained 11 on the first play, and on the second caught a pass over the middle from Provencher, broke a tackle and raced down the right sideline at 5:30. But the two-point pass attempt from Provencher to Austin Robinson sailed long, and it was still 15-13.
MUHS got the ball back at its 16 with 3:32 to go. Felkl promptly rambled 24 yards on second down, and the Tigers were on their own 42 with 2:56 left, plenty of time. They fumbled and lost the ball on the next play.
The defense forced a three-and-out, and the Tigers got the ball back one last time, on their 27, still with 2:00 to go. Felkl ran for 16 yards, but a penalty, a bobbled snap and three incompletions ended their chances.
Sam Smith (10 carries, 74 yards) and Justin Stone (six carries, 33 yards) also ran well as the Tigers piled up 282 yards on 40 carries. Tyler Guth was the Raider workhorse, picking up 73 yards on 22 attempts. Provencher finished three of nine for 73 yards, and Boles was seven of 15 for 37 net yards, once a Walter Odell sack was figured in.
Smith said hard work would be in store for the program.
“We’ve got to pick ourselves back up and get back to work next week, everybody, coaches included,” Smith said. “We can’t take anybody lightly.”
He remains optimistic about the Tigers’ long-term playoff prospects.
“I just want to be one of the top eight teams,” Smith said. “Then it’s a new season.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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