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Tiger defeat raises bar for season

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School football team had plenty of chances to win Friday night’s game against Brattleboro, or at least take a first-half lead that would have put tremendous pressure on a Colonel team that came to Doc Collins Field with a 0-2 record.
Instead, the Tigers, who outgained the Colonels in the first half by 204 yards to 130, turned the ball over twice inside the Brattleboro 10-yard line and a third time inside the Colonel 20 in the first two periods. In the second half Brattleboro came up with two interceptions, one in their own end zone and one they returned for a touchdown.
And the Colonels and 225-pound fullback Cheick Diakite — who ran 29 times for three touchdowns and 241 of Brattleboro’s 330 rushing yards — unleashed their ground game in the second half, one the Tigers had controlled before intermission.
The result was a 28-13 setback for the Tigers, who dropped to 2-1 with their first regular-season loss since falling to BFA-St. Albans, 21-3, on Oct. 5, 2012, a streak that covered 28 games.  
After Friday’s game, Coach Dennis Smith first pointed to the five turnovers and missed opportunities.
“You’re not going to get many victories on that,” Smith said. “It was just a bad night. We’ll throw this one away and go to the next one.”
He also noted a side effect of the Tigers’ failure to take a bigger lead than 7-0 at the break: The Colonels didn’t have to change their game plan after showing no ability to pass the ball — quarterback Tony Martinez was 0-for-4 and was sacked twice for 9 yards in losses.
“We held them in check in the first half except for that one big run (a 50-yarder by Diakite after which the Tigers stiffened), but we weren’t able to put points on the board and make them do some things maybe they didn’t want to have to do,” Smith said. “They were in the game the whole time and could establish the run.”
The trouble started on the first Tiger possession. A short punt put the Tigers on their 34, and they marched to the Colonel 12 behind some good runs by Trey Kaufmann and quarterback Andrew Gleason and a fourth-and-six pass from Gleason to fullback Spencer Carpenter to the 12. But a fumble on the next play recovered by Colonel Matt Gaboriault on the Brattleboro 8 killed the drive.
The Tigers soon got the ball back, thanks in part to Pierson Beatty breaking up a Martinez pass on third and 7. Another short punt put MUHS on the Colonel 31, and, after runs by Kaufmann and Carpenter, Gleason scored from three yards out. Doug DeLorenzo’s kick made it 7-0 at 2:19 of the opening quarter.
That proved to be the only score of the half. On the Tigers next possession, Gleason (11 runs for 119 yards) bolted 81 yards to the Colonel 12. But soon afterward, on third and goal from the four, the Colonels picked off a Gleason pass on the goal line. On the Tigers’ last possession of the half, they moved 42 yards to the Colonel 17, but lost a fumble.
The Tigers got the ball to open the second half, but went nowhere, and suddenly a Colonel team that managed only five first-half first downs began to move at will, scoring TDs on three straight possessions. While Diakite was averaging nearly 10 yards a carry, both Martinez (36 yards on six attempts) and halfback Kolton Ravenna (63 yards on 11 carries) were knocking off six yards a clip.
On their first possession of the third quarter, the Colonels moved 59 yards in 10 plays, the last a 3-yard Diakite run, to make it 7-7 at 4:43.
Then linebacker Conor Hiner picked off a pass at the Tiger 25 and bulled his way into the end zone, and at 3:19 of the third, the Tigers trailed, 14-7.
The Tigers then made a bid to tie the game. Behind running from Kaufmann (five carries, 25 yards) and Carpenter (11 carries, 48 yards) and a 12-yard pass from Gleason to Kaufmann, they moved to the Colonel 29 as the third quarter ended.
But on the first play of the fourth quarter Gleason (seven for 15 for a net of 51 yards) lofted a ball to DeLorenzo in the end zone, triggering a fight for the ball. The ball deflected to Gaboriault, arriving late to the party, for another interception.
Gaboriault tried to run the ball out of the end zone, and the Colonels took over on the Tiger 4. A stop would have put the Tigers in good shape, but instead the Colonels moved 96 yards in 13 plays to take a 21-7 lead. Diakite capped the march with a 25-yard run at 5:05. The Colonels tacked on another Diakite run at 2:25, this time a 29-yarder.
The Tiger second string contributed the final score, a 69-yard dash down the left sideline by Dustin Davio that accounted for more than half the team’s 125 second-half yards.
Smith believes the Tigers will learn from their mistakes on Friday, the same message he said he shared with them.
 “I just said you can take this two different ways. You can keep your head hanging and things will be tough. Or you can come back next Monday and be ready to work and make ourselves a better team,” he said. “Everything that happened tonight is fixable.”
And Smith remains confident in his team.
“We’re 2-1. We’re still in the hunt,” he said. “We can get better, and I feel we will be better. We’ll be right there at the end of the year.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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