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Despite ‘not playing their best,’ Tiger football steamrolls Mount Anthony

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School football team did not feel it played its best during Friday’s homecoming game, but visiting Mount Anthony might beg to differ.
The Tigers scored five touchdowns in the first 18 minutes and held MAU to two yards of offense in the first quarter and two first-half first downs in a 35-0 victory.
Coach Dennis Smith was not completely happy. He could point to the facts the Tigers needed a fumbled Patriot punt reception and a Nathan Lalonde interception to set up their first two scores and took a number of penalties.
But Smith also believes the 6-0 Tigers — who can clinch home field until the final by winning at 1-5 South Burlington on Saturday and can nail down the top seed by then defeating visiting 1-4 Burlington the week after — will iron out the wrinkles.
“As I said to the guys, and they feel the same way, I don’t think this was our best performance of the year,” Smith said. “But it’s a victory. It’s a shutout. There are a lot of positives in tonight. It’s that middle of the season. You’re going to have a lull here and there. And if this was our lull for the year, then I feel very good.”
Smith also gave credit to the 1-5 Patriots for being the first team in three weeks not to allow MUHS to march down and score on their opening possession. 
“Mount Anthony came ready to play tough. I take my hat off to them,” Smith said.
The Tigers got on the board at 8:03 of the first quarter after their first drive stalled. Cullen Hathaway pounced on the ball at the Patriot 11 when the punt returner dropped Justin Stone’s booming kick, and the Tigers scored three plays later on a Bobby Ritter sweep. Lalonde added the first of his five points-after.
The Tigers quickly got the ball back, but quarterback Austin Robinson (he finished three-of-six passing for 67 yards and a touchdown, but also was picked off twice) tossed an interception that Griffin Mattison returned about 35 yards to the Tiger 19, with Hathaway making a touchdown-saving tackle.
Two plays later, Lalonde, a linebacker, picked off MAU QB Carson Cushman and returned the ball to the Tiger 24. On third and one, Hathaway broke a counter play for 67 yards, and it was 14-0 at 3:40.
The Tigers soon made it 21-0, moving 61 yards in four plays to score at 1:20. After a 16-yard pass to Sam Holmes and a 14-yard Hathaway run, Robinson fooled the Patriot D on an option play and took it home from 29 yards out.
The Tigers scored an unlikely TD on their next possession. A 22-yard halfback option pass from Hathaway to Connor Quinn helped move the ball to the Patriot 21, but a series of penalties moved the Tigers back to the 48. On third down, Robinson tossed long to Quinn, who outmaneuvered one defender for the catch inside the 10, stepped around another Patriot, and dove in for the score.
The final Tiger TD was set up by Ritter’s 64-yard punt return to the Patriot 21. From there, Justin Stone burst up the middle, and it was 35-0 at 6:00 of the second.
Because the rules insist four quarters must be played, they were. The highlight of the rest of the evening came at halftime, when longtime MUHS teacher, school alumnus and former Tiger football assistant coach Carl Ciemniewski was inducted into the MHS/MUHS Hall of Fame. Hall officials agreed to waive the normal waiting period for induction for the well-liked and respected Ciemniewski, who died in May, and not to induct anyone else this year.
The Tigers outgained the Patriots, 313-212, on the evening. Hathaway led MUHS with 86 yards on three carries, while Cortland Fischer (10 for 55) and Robinson (six for 38) also piled up yards. Defensively, Oakley Gordon recovered a fumble and the Tigers picked up two sacks, one by Stone.
Three MAU QBs combined to complete five of 16 passes for 28 net yards. Patrick Powers (six rushes, 72 yards), Tyler Mattison (17 for 58) and Cushman (15 for 43) accounted for almost all of the Patriots’ 184 rushing yards on 41 attempts.
Afterward, Hathaway talked about why the Tigers are enjoying such success — their closest game came in their opener, a 12-point win at Essex in which the Hornets scored twice in the late going. 
“We’re all really focused in practice, and we put a lot of time and effort into film,” Hathaway said. “We go out every day in practice and work for two-and-a-half hours, and that correlates to on the field, executing out here.”
That focus will remain in place for as long as necessary, he said. 
“We’re pretty confident, but we have to make sure not to get overconfident at the same time. We respect every single team,” Hathaway said. “We just got to put time and effort in, and then take it game by game, and then hopefully we go to the ultimate goal, which is to compete to win the state championship.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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