Kapow! Tiger football bulldozes St. J., 48-6
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School football team scored six first-half touchdowns on just 22 plays on Friday, when the top-seeded Tigers thumped No. 8 St. Johnsbury, 48-6, in a Division I quarterfinal.
The 9-0 Tigers will host three-time defending champion Hartford — at 6-2 the No. 4 seed — on Friday at 7 p.m. The Hurricanes defeated No. 5 Essex on Friday, 46-14.
The Tigers blanked Hartford on Sept. 6, 23-0, at MUHS, and Coach Dennis Smith expects a battle on Friday.
“With only four teams left, it’s going to be a challenge no matter who you’re playing,” Smith said.
Smith said after Friday’s game he and his staff would study film to see if the Tigers should expect new wrinkles from a team that defeated MUHS in the past two playoff campaigns.
But ultimately, he said, it would come down to the Tigers playing their best.
“(We need to) just come out like we have been, play tough defense, and be able to execute offensively,” Smith said.
Certainly, the Tigers executed vs. the 3-6 Hilltoppers, who somehow upset Hartford this fall. The only time the Tigers did not score in the first half was their opening drive, when Nick Felkl fumbled after breaking tackles — a consistent theme all evening — at the end of a 42-yard run.
In all, the Tiger starters amassed 373 yards, or about 17 yards per play, in the first half. Smith said St. J played hard, but acknowledged the mismatch.
“It’s one team that’s been playing well all season, and one that’s been playing at their capability,” Smith said. “They’re a little bit down, athletic-wise.”
The second MUHS possession began at the St. J. 18 after a flubbed punt. Jake Trautwein (four carries, 67 yards) ran up the middle virtually untouched for the TD at 8:54 on the first play, and Josh Stearns added the first of six straight extra points.
Next, the Tigers began on their own 47 after a long Sam Smith punt return. Smith (two carries, 67 yards) ran for 30, and Felkl (six carries, 90 yards) carried for 18 and then the final eight to make it 14-0 at 4:45.
Pass break-ups by Bobby Ritter and Connor Quinn stalled the Highlanders, and St. J punted. This time it took four plays to cover 55 yards: a five-yard pass from quarterback Austin Robinson to Quinn, a 35-yard Trautwein run, 14 yards for Felkl, and a six-yard Smith TD run at 2:33.
With 1:33 to go, Quinn recovered a fumble at the Tiger 46. Three plays later, it was 28-0. After runs by Felkl and Cullen Hathaway (three carries, 24 yards), Ritter took a swing pass from Robinson 37 yards to the house from there, eluding several tacklers.
St. J then mounted a drive behind talented QB Colton Hudson (18 for 31 passing for 149 yards and 16 rushes for 85 yards). Hudson ran for a first down on a fake punt and tossed a 47-yard pass to Jarrett Bridges to the Tiger 2. But a Hudson run got stuffed and a pass fell incomplete before Ritter picked off a Hudson pass in the end zone.
That meant the Tigers had to go 80 yards. It took them five plays. The first was a 57-yard run by Matthew Dunton (two carries, 64 yards) to the St. J 23. The last was a one-yard Robinson sneak in to make it 35-0 at 6:01.
The Tigers’ final first-string drive began at their own 38 and took four plays. The touchdown came from the St. J 45: Hathaway made a one-handed grab of a Robinson swing pass along the left sideline, cut back to the middle past several hapless tacklers, broke through one Highlander who managed to make contact, and raced the rest of the way to make it 42-0 at 1:44. Quinn then picked off Hudson as time expired.
Hudson led St. J to a third quarter TD, completing all six passes on an 80-yard march that made it 42-6 at 3:02.
Not to be outdone, the Tiger subs, led by Quinn at QB, moved 67 yards for a score, a one-yard Nathan Herrmann run during fourth-quarter running time. Runs of 15 and eight yards by Nathan Peck helped set up the TD.
Seth Wright capped the night for the Tigers by picking off Hudson as time wound down. Also defensively, Grover Usilton and Samuel Holmes recorded first-half sacks.
Smith said he was happy to see the Tigers come through without injuries, and to have another game to tune up the team for the challenges ahead.
“It’s another week to prepare for the following week and just making sure that we’re still playing at the level we need to be playing at this time of the year,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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