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Tigers go for repeat in D-I vs. undefeated St. Johnsbury

MIDDLEBURY — The next game for the undefeated defending Division I champion Middlebury Union High School football team is the D-I final at Rutland High School on Saturday, and the next opponent is also undefeated St. Johnsbury.
On this past Friday, the top-seeded, 10-0 Tigers posted their fourth shutout in their past five games, 42-0, over visiting No. 5 Colchester. On Saturday, No. 2 St. Johnsbury defeated No. 3 Essex, 26-6.
A year ago, the Tigers defeated St. Johnsbury, 48-6, in a quarterfinal when the Hilltoppers were the No. 8 seed with a 3-5 record. But the Hilltoppers look different this year and defeated Hartford, 40-0, in a quarterfinal before scoring three touchdowns in their first four possessions vs. Essex on Saturday.
MUHS coach Dennis Smith said on Friday he didn’t yet know much about S. J, but would be doing some homework.
“I’ve seen them once on film,” he said. “I know I’m making a trip tomorrow.”
Certainly, the Lakers were no match for the Tigers this past Friday. After the Lakers rushed for nearly 400 yards in topping Rutland the week before, the Tigers held them to 130 yards on the ground in 28 carries. Combined with their loss of eight yards passing (quarterback Travis Boutin was one-for-seven for six yards, was sacked for a 14-yard loss and picked off twice by Tiger Austin Robinson, his leading receiver), the Lakers gained 122 yards.
Laker fullback Grant Cummings gained 49 of those yards rushing five times up the middle in the first quarter, but the Tigers clamped down on him, and he finished with 12 carries for 73 yards.
“We were doing a couple things defensively in the middle, and they were finding a little seam,” Smith said. “So then we changed a couple things.”
Senior defensive end and fullback Justin Stone said there is no secret to the Tigers’ success on defense, or, for that matter, in the rushing attack that produced 281 yards on 49 carries on Friday.
“It’s more hard work in practice and knowing what we’ve got to do when it happens and knowing the formations of the other team and making adjustments,” said Stone, who recorded the sack, rushed four times for 59 yards, and dropped two punts inside the Laker 5-yard line. “And then making our blocks. Our line does a great job on offense. They make it easy for the running backs, they really do.”
The Tigers scored on their second, third and fifth possessions and led at the half, 21-0. Cortland Fischer (13 carries, 96 yards) capped the first scoring drive with an 11-yard run at 2:11 of the first quarter. On that 64-yard march, Robinson, the QB, completed passes to Ian Gill (22 yards) and Cullen Hathaway (7 yards) and scrambled 11 yards for a first down. Robinson finished three of three passing for 61 yards.  
At 9:05 of the second, Hathaway finished a 44-yard march with an 11-yard run. A Robinson interception gave MUHS good field position, and Bobby Ritter (10 carries, 51 yards) broke an 18-yard run on the drive.
Just before the half, the Tigers moved 42 yards in two plays after a Stone punt and a Laker three-and-out gave them good field position again. Stone burst for 25 yards, and then Hathaway went wide right, broke one tackle, stepped around another Laker, and waltzed into the end zone behind a wall of blockers. The third of five Nathan Lalonde extra points made it 21-0 at the half.
“A lot of our offense is getting field position from our defense,” Robinson said. “Our offensive line and our defensive line played great.”
Colchester managed 108 yards of offense in the first half, and 14 in the second half. Meanwhile, the Tigers tacked on two more scores in the third quarter, a one-yard Robinson run and a 25-yard Robinson TD pass to Hathaway. The Tiger second string controlled the running-time fourth quarter and added a 10-yard TD pass from Oakley Gordon to Ali Abdul-Sater.
Stone said he was happy he and the team played well in what was the last game at Doc Collins Field for the 17 Tiger seniors on the roster.
“I really like playing with my team. I’ve been playing with them since I was really young, playing flag football. It hurts to have this our last game on this field, but I guess it’s bittersweet because we won tonight and we’re going on to the championship,” Stone said. “And hopefully we’re going to do good things.”
Smith described the Tigers as “bright-eyed and ready to go” on Friday.
“I’m just proud of my kids,” he said. “They came to play tonight, and we get a chance to defend the title.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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