Football: In battle of unbeatens, Tigers rally past So. Burlington

MIDDLEBURY — Friday night’s game between two undefeated Division I football teams, host Middlebury and South Burlington, saw 912 yards of total offense, 478 for the Tigers in their 42-20 victory.
But even with Rebel standout Tanner Contois rushing for 256 yards on 27 carries — including an 80-yard touchdown — defense probably made the difference in what could have been a D-I title game preview.
The Tigers picked off Rebel quarterback Hunter Riehle three times and forced a Contois fumble on the MUHS 2-yard line, and after three of those turnovers moved to scores.
Meanwhile, critically according to Coach Dennis Smith, the 7-0 Tigers took care of the ball.
“We didn’t turn the ball over tonight. They did turn the ball over. We bent, but we didn’t break. We gave up one long big run, but other than that, we made them earn pretty much everything they got tonight,” Smith said. “And that was one of the keys, too, because as you saw, one big play and they’re gone.”
Tiger senior fullback Jake Trautwein, who sparked the offense with 23 carries for 223 yards and four touchdowns, talked about the defensive effort against the explosive Rebels, who fell to 6-1.
“On defense we just had to fly the ball as a team, everybody get in on every tackle,” Trautwein said. “We executed better, we caused turnovers, and that’s how we won.”
Trautwein said he didn’t expect to get the ball so many times, but the Tiger coaches spotted a Rebel weakness and took advantage.
“The defense was leaving a little bit of a hole up the middle, so that’s what our great coaching staff recognized,” he said. “And we just kept feeding it up the middle.”
Smith said many of the yards came with quarterback Austin Robinson reading the defense on the option play and seeing the best choice was Trautwein, although Robinson (six carries, 116 yards, including an 88-yard TD run) also made an impact.
“We’re just running option, and it could be the fullback, it could be the quarterback, it could be the halfback,” Smith said. “If they want to start taking way everything from us inside, we’ll hit them outside.”
There were momentum swings. MUHS held SB on its first possession, but a great punt put the Tigers on their 2. Two Trautwein runs moved it to the 12. Robinson then faked to Trautwein, and ran wide right. On the sideline afterward he described what happened next: “There was nobody on the outside.” Robinson ran 88 yards untouched, and after a missed extra point it was 6-0.
Two possessions later, Riehle hit Max Smith for 38 yards to put the Rebels on the Tiger 4. On second and goal from the 2, the Tigers smacked Contois and the ball popped into the end zone, where Robinson fell on it for a touchback. The Tigers moved again, with runs from Trautwein, Cullen Hathaway and Sam Smith helping move the ball to the Rebel 33 as the first quarter ended.
On the next play, Trautwein burst over the left side of the line (Sam Messenger at center, Holden Yildirim and Josh Stearns at guard, and Sam Usilton and James Ploof at tackle) and 33 yards into the end zone. Stearns tacked on the extra point, and it was 13-0.
Then the Rebels came alive. After a touchback on Stearns’ kickoff, Contois shot up the middle for an 80-yard score, and it was 13-7 at 11:41 of the second.
After a Tiger three-and-out, the Rebels moved 87 yards in 17 plays to take a 14-13 lead at 4:14. Riehle hit Cam Nolting five times on the drive, including for a seven-yard touchdown on third-and-goal and for 14 yards on fourth-and-six from the Tiger 24.
The Tigers had not surrendered 14 points this fall or trailed in the second quarter. But they answered. Runs by Trautwein and Robinson moved the ball into SB territory, and Trautwein ran for three yards on fourth-and-one from the 27. From there, Robinson found Nick Felkl for 23 yards to the SB 1. Trautwein then punched it in and added the two-point conversion to make it 21-14, MUHS, at 0:41 and the half.
The Tigers stalled on their first possession of the second half, but soon took over on the Rebel 41 after Bobby Ritter intercepted a pass that Stearns tipped. On the next play, Trautwein went off tackle to the left and scored behind some great downfield blocking. Stearns’ kick made it 28-14 at 4:25 of the third.
Soon, miscues hurt the Rebels again. Usilton sniffed out a screen pass, picked it off at the Rebel 38 and returned it 30 yards to the eight. Trautwein bulled in from there, and it was 35-14 with 9:51 to go.
Next, Connor Quinn picked off Riehle at the 50. After two Robinson runs and a 29-yard Trautwein dash, Robinson hit Nathan Peck in the back of the end zone from 7 yards out to make it 42-14 at 6:05.
SB moved 80 yards for a consolation score, a five-yard pass to Contois at 3:43. Riehle finished 15-of-27 for 163 yards, while Robinson was two for four for a net of 18 yards.
The Tigers and their coach were happy to win Friday’s showdown, but said they still have larger goals in mind — the D-I final comes in Rutland in the second weekend of November, and to get there means three more victories.
“It feels great to stay undefeated, but it’s just another win,” Trautwein said. “We still have to go up to Burlington next week, and we have to have a big performance.”
Smith also tried to downplay the result, although he acknowledged what produced it. 
“It just means we’re 7-0 right now. Yeah, we’ll probably be the first seed going into the playoffs. But we’ve go to show up next week, take care of business and then get ready for the playoffs,” he said. “But it shows how hard these kids have worked all year.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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