Tiger football thrashes defending D-I champ Hartford
MIDDLEBURY — After Middlebury Union High School junior quarterback Austin Robinson and his teammates convincingly ended three-time defending Division I champion Hartford’s 27-game undefeated streak, 23-0, this past Frday, he said that he believed the Tigers had just made a statement.
“It just means we can do anything,” Robinson said. “We already knew that, but this game definitely reinforces it.”
The Tigers are now 2-0, tied for the lead in D-I. Hartford (1-1) has a blemish on its record for the first time since 2010.
Robinson — who scored twice and set up a Josh Stearns field goal with an interception — also talked about how the Tigers were able to shut out a team that had racked up more than 40 points in defeating Mount Anthony.
“We had to make a lot of adjustments,” he said. “Our coaches were awesome. It’s all the coaches. They do so much for us. They put us in the right spot, and we just have to go out there and give it 100 percent.”
In all, Hartford gained just 130 yards, six in two first-quarter possessions as the Tigers took a 10-0 lead. Their runners were thrown for losses six times, and Connor Quinn also picked off a pass.
Part of it was good scouting. One observer high in the booth said the Tigers knew almost every play before the ball was snapped. Coach Dennis Smith said he and assistants John Kneader and Jed Malcolm also did something different in practice: When they were running the Hartford offense against the Tiger D, they took the ball away and forced the Tigers to key on the players.
“My kids were watching and reading (in the game),” Smith said. “All in all, I think that (practice tactic) really helped us. The kids were really focused on what the keys were, and reading, and getting to where the ball was going. Instead of watching the ball, they were getting there based on watching the reads.”
While the Hurricanes were struggling to run the ball consistently, Hartford QB Greg Shinn finished one-for-seven passing for six yards.
Smith said the MUHS secondary, even with starting cornerback Sam Smith sidelined last week, is athletic and deep.
“The kids are making plays,” Smith said.
And, as the game wore on, it became apparent the Hurricanes had the advantage in size, but not in team speed.
“I did feel like our kids were a step quicker today,” Coach Smith said.
One final factor showed up early on. Hartford kicked off to MUHS, and Cullen Hathaway returned it 50 yards to the Hartford 30 to set up the first MUHS score. In the third quarter, when the Tiger offense was struggling, Hathaway took a handoff from Bobby Ritter on a punt return and ran 37 yards, giving MUHS key field position.
Meanwhile, no Hartford return topped 22 yards. Smith said the Tigers’ edge in special teams was no accident.
“We practice one specialty a day,” he said.
After Hathaway’s opening kickoff return, the Tigers needed 10 plays to move 30 yards against the sure-tackling Hartford defense. Nick Felkl ran for four years on a fourth-and-two play and Robinson scrambled for five yards on third-and-five to move the ball to the 8. At 7:07 Hathaway ran wide right from there for the TD. Stearns’ point-after made it 7-0.
Robinson then wrestled the ball away from a receiver at the Hartford 28 at 4:52, and MUHS was back in business. But Hartford held MUHS at the four, and Stearns booted a 22-yard field goal at 0:34 of the first period to make it 10-0.
Hartford reached the Tiger 33 in the second quarter, but on a fourth-and-three play Ritter knocked the ball away from a receiver. In the third period, Hartford managed only two first downs, while the Tigers had two three-and-out possessions.
The third Hartford possession of the quarter started on the Hurricane 4 after a booming Felkl punt, and it ended with a short punt that Hathaway tried to fair-catch, but missed. The ball instead bounced back from the 40 to the 27 as the quarter ended.
The Tigers started to click again in the fourth. Robinson ran twice for a first down to the 16, and then on second-and-10 went back to pass. He dodged two rushers, cut left past a knot of Hurricanes at the line of scrimmage, and raced to the left side of the end zone to make it 16-0 at 10:02.
Quinn then picked off Shinn at the Hartford 49 and returned it to the 39 at 9:09, and MUHS clinched the win. A run by Jakob Trautwein (10 carries for 24 tough yards) and then a 19-yard halfback option pass from Hathaway to Ritter moved the ball to the 5. Two plays later, Robinson (11 carries, 72 yards) romped up the middle from the 3 at 6:26. Stearns’ second kick of the night capped the scoring.
Afterward, both Robinson and Smith said much remains to be done, but the prize might be there if the Tigers remained focused.
“We can do whatever we put our minds to,” Robinson said. “If we work hard we can beat any team in the state.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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