Tiger, Eagle football post road wins; Slaters nip OV

ADDISON COUNTY — The Middlebury and Mount Abraham/Vergennes union high school football teams opened with key divisional road wins on Friday, but Otter Valley lost a non-league heartbreaker away from home.
All three teams return to action this weekend. The Tigers will visit perennial Division I contender Hartford, also 1-0, on Friday at 7 p.m.; Mount Abe will host 1-0 Winooski, a D-III rival, at 1 p.m. on Saturday; and OV will head to 1-0 Fairfax, like OV a D-III playoff team in 2013, for a Saturday game at 1 p.m.
At Essex, the defending champion Tigers built leads of 27-3 and 41-16 on the way to a 41-29 victory over the host Hornets, a team prognosticators had picked to challenge for the D-I title.
The Tigers took a quick 14-3 lead. Bobby Ritter (130 rushing yards) scored on a 24-yard run, and after an Essex field goal Cullen Hathaway returned the ensuing kickoff 87 yards to paydirt after faking a handoff to Ritter.
MUHS kept pouring it on. At 10:04 of the second period, quarterback Austin Robinson scored on a 58-yard run; he finished with 75 yards rushing. The Tigers soon got the ball back, and after a 54-yard Ritter carry Robinson tossed a 5-yard TD pass to Sam Holmes to make it 27-3.
Essex fought back with two scores in the final 2:22 of the half. Joey Robertson (20 carries, 96 yards) scored from 1 yard out, and with 11 seconds to go, QB Eli DiGrande tossed a 12-yard pass to Cody Greene.
The Tigers scored twice in the second half to extend the lead to 41-16. Hathaway completed a 36-yard halfback option pass to Connor Quinn in the third quarter, and fullback Justin Stone later tacked on a 14-yard run.
Essex made the final score respectable with two TDs in the late going, a five-yard pass from DiGrande to Andrew Lounsbury and a 92-yard Greene run that gave him a game-high 160 yards.
In East Montpelier, Mount Abe earned what Coach Ernie Senecal called “a good gut-check win” by holding host U-32 scoreless in the second half to overcome a 22-8 halftime deficit and win, 26-22.
The game’s key sequence came early in the fourth quarter, after the Eagles had cut the Raider lead to 22-20. U-32 drove inside the Eagle 5-yard line, but a big hit by linemen Matt Mullin and Bradley Sturtevant forced a fumble that Sturtevant recovered on the 3.
Mount Abe then drove 97 yards for the go-ahead score, with long runs by fullback Ryan Paquin (19 carries, 77 yards) and halfback Anthony Warner (12 carries, 117 yards) keying a march that ended with a 1-yard, fourth-down Paquin run with 3:03 to go.
The Raiders did get the ball back twice, losing it once on downs and then completing two desperation passes in the final seconds, with Eagle defensive back Matt George making a saving tackle at the Mount Abe 21 as time expired.
U-32 scored twice in the first quarter before the Eagles touched the ball. Dan Greene capped a long Raider drive with a four-yard run, and the Raiders surprised the Eagles with a successful onside kick. Ten plays later, a Hunter Lane 3-yard run and another successful conversion made it 16-0.
Mount Abe then also mounted a drive, with Warner scoring from 18 yards out, and Paquin running in the conversion to make it 16-8. But U-32 answered with a march capped with Lane’s second TD, a 2-yard run, and it was 22-8 at the half.
But Senecal, who also credited the work of center Derek Whitcomb and the rest of the offensive line, said the Eagles made defensive adjustments.
“We bent in the second half, but we didn’t break,” he said. “Both teams were moving the ball consistently, but in the second half we were able to shut them down once they got inside our territory.”
The Eagles established themselves with a 13-play drive to open the half, capped by a Paquin 6-yard run to make it 22-14.
Linebacker Wyatt Gracie then picked off a U-32 pass and returned it 37 yards to the U-32 9. Two plays later Paquin rambled in from 6 yards out to make it 22-20 and set the stage for the late drama.
D-II host Fair Haven moved 67 yards in 13 plays late in the game to edge the D-III Otters, 45-44.
OV QB John Winslow had hit Carson Leary with a 23-yard, fourth-down TD pass to make it 44-29, OV, with 5:40 to go before the Slaters marched for the decisive score, a 9-yard pass from QB Ryan Alexander to Lucas Czarnecki at 2:01.
That score capped a game in which the teams amassed 865 yards of offense, 480 yards by OV, including 330 rushing. The decisive march was helped by two OV penalties, one a holding call on a fourth-down play and another a pass interference call that gave the Slaters a first down deep in OV territory.
Leary and Winslow provided much of the OV offense. Leary ran for 175 yards on 27 carries, and Winslow picked up 130 yards on 10 attempts. Winslow also completed 11 of 26 passes for 150 yards, while Alexander sparked the Slaters by going 17 of 31 for 226 yards and rushing for three TDS.
Leary scored on a 3-yard run, and caught two TDs from Winslow, from 23 and 26 yards out, and he also ran for three two-point conversions. Winslow contributed scoring runs of 1, 22 and 26 yards as well as throwing the two TD passes.
Alexander scored on runs of 50, 4 and 14 yards, and threw TD passes of 45, 3 and 9 yards to Czarnecki.

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