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Tiger football’s rout of Rutland puts MUHS on track for top seed

MIDDLEBURY — Another big win this past Friday night has put the defending champion Middlebury Union High School football team firmly in the driver’s seat for a top seed, if not the top seed, for this year’s Division I playoffs.
On Friday, the Tigers erupted for 391 yards of offense and scored touchdowns on six of seven possessions in bolting to a 41-6 first-half lead over visiting Rutland. When the second-half dust settled, the final stood at 41-19.
At 4-0, the Tigers are halfway through the regular season and finish against four teams that will enter this weekend with 1-3 records: Champlain Valley, which MUHS will visit on Saturday; Mount Anthony; South Burlington and Burlington.
The only downside from Friday came in injuries to starting lineman Wyatt Laberge, who was icing a knee that looked like it might sideline him for a while, and linebacker/kicker Nathan Lalonde, who limped off with an apparent sprained ankle.
In all, Coach Dennis Smith was happy with Friday’s effort and the future outlook.
“We’re 4-0. That’s puts us in good standing come playoff time,” Smith said. “We’d like another four wins to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and then go from there. And by then we might get some guys back who are banged up right now. We’ll see. But we’ve got a good nucleus here, and I think we’ll be fine.”
Smith said he would be learning about how the team responds to the injuries this week, but said he was confident the Tigers would be ready to handle the adversity.
“We’re going to have to have some guys ready to step in at some different spots, and some people ready to start next week that haven’t been starting,” Smith said. “The nice thing is that our No. 2s have been getting plenty of playing time, so hopefully they’re ready to step in and do the job.”
Rutland did outgain the Tigers with many substitutes on the field in the second half, 165-114 yards, and outscore them 13-0.
But the proverbial horses had long since left the barn by then. The Tigers held the Raiders to three yards in the first quarter and scored three touchdowns, one on their first play from scrimmage — an 86-yard Bobby Ritter run on a counter play to the left, the same call that resulted in a long scoring run on their first play vs. Colchester the week before.
“My guys came out ready to play some football right off the get-go and set the tone with the first offensive play,” Smith said. “Boom, just like last week, a touchdown. It was a rerun, same play. We blocked it well, and Bobby made a great cut.”
The Tigers then took advantage after Lalonde recovered a Raider fumble at the Rutland 33. Seven plays later, fullback Cortland Fischer punched it in from the six.
Then the Tigers went to the air after a Sam Killorin sack helped stop the Raiders and MUHS took over at midfield. Ritter took a short pass 28 yards, and then quarterback Austin Robinson hit tight end Ian Gill from 19 yards out on fourth and seven to make it 20-0.
The Tigers then stopped a fourth-and-two play at the Rutland 40, and soon another 18-yard completion to Gill gave the Tigers first-and-goal as the quarter ended. But a missed field goal proved to be the only time MUHS would not score in the half. On their next possession, Robinson broke tackles a couple yards downfield and ran for a 41-yard TD, and it was 27-0.
Rutland QB Andrew Kenosh (four for seven, 56 yards) then completed three passes and Caleb White ran 15 yards to the Tiger 1, where a Dylan Hotchkiss (eight carries, 39 yards) plunge at 4:25 of the second made it 27-6.  
The Tigers answered with two quick scores. After the kickoff, Fischer (15 carries, 105 yards) burst up the middle, broke a tackle and rambled 63 yards to make it 34-6.
After a James Ploof sack stoned the Raiders, the Tigers struck again, moving 74 yards on three plays: a seven-yard Robinson run, a 23-yard completion to Cullen Hathaway, and Hathaway’s 44-yard ramble to cap the Tiger scoring at 1:09 of the half.
Robinson finished four of five through the air for 85 yards, one of the most efficient passing performances in memory for a Tiger QB.
Smith said passing was not necessarily part of the game plan, but something the Tiger coaches picked up as the evening progressed.
“I just felt they were playing us really tight and giving some things up in the pass area,” he said.
In the second half, Oakley Gordon played quarterback, most often handing the ball to Jerry Niemo (11 carries, 78 yards). Ritter finished with three carries for 90 yards; Robinson, seven carries for 71 yards; and Hathaway, three carries for 49 yards.
Rutland’s Hotchkiss tacked on a 12-yard run in the third quarter, and Jimmy Mee scored from a yard out in the fourth after Mac Pockette broke a 78-yard run on his only carry. Hotchkiss also took over at QB and completed three of seven passes for 26 yards; Robinson picked off one of his passes.
One thing Smith appreciated on this past Friday was that after an early score the Tigers kept their feet on the gas vs. Rutland after going a little flat in the same situation vs. Colchester.
“What I did like is unlike last week, where we did go a little stale after that, this week we kept coming right after them,” Smith said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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