Tiger football outlasts Essex, 21-13 for the win, moves back to .500
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School football team in Friday’s homecoming game overcame an Essex rally and its own miscues to post a crucial 21-13 victory that evened the Tigers’ Division I record at 2-2.
The Tigers dominated the first half, outgaining the Hornets, 214 yards to 32, but fumbled twice in the first quarter and twice failed to capitalize when they gained possession in Hornet territory in the second quarter.
As a result, they led by just 14-0 at the break, and when the Hornets recovered their own punt that bounced into a Tiger blocker and then scored on Jordan’s Hines’ 25-yard third-and-13 halfback-option pass to make it 14-7, suddenly it was anyone’s game.
The Hornets scored again at 8:46 of the fourth quarter, when Jack Carney capped a 65-yard march to make it 14-13 after tying kick attempt failed.
At that point the Tigers had 12 yards of offense in the second half, but they regrouped to move for the clinching score after recovering an onside-kick attempt at the MUHS 49. Two strong runs by fullback Tyler Hotte, a 15-yard pass from quarterback Cody Pomainville to Hotte, and a 13-yard Paul Deering sweep put the ball on the 12.
On fourth down from the five, Coach Dennis Smith decided to go for the touchdown. Pomainville, who at that point had completed five straight passes, made it six: He rolled found Lane Sheldrick open in the front left corner of the end zone at 4:30, and Jackson Donahue’s extra point made it 21-13.
Essex got a strong runback from Grady Corkum to the Hornet 42. QB Cam Quinn completed two passes to Hines and one to Anthony Hope to move the ball to the Tiger 35.
The drive ended there with minute to go, when tackle Jack Deppman and the rest of the Tigers stacked up Carney for no gain on fourth-and-one, allowing MUHS to run out the clock and earn a win that Smith said was not pretty — but he was happy to get after back-to-back losses to defending champion Hartford and undefeated St. Johnsbury.
“I’ll take an ugly win any day of the week, but it certainly was a struggle out there. We kept making mistakes,” Smith said. “Thankfully we had that drive that got the momentum back and put us up by eight. But they had the momentum at that point. Luckily they missed the extra point, that was good, and then our offense took control.”
Smith said the Tigers will work to correct mistakes he said they cannot afford, including missed assignments and occasional penalties as well as the turnovers.
On the other hand, he appreciated the Tigers ability to bounce back and make plays when they mattered.
“Even with those mistakes we still got the victory tonight, which is a great sign,” Smith said. “We never gave up. We had the lead. We did foolish things, but we didn’t hang our head and we stayed in the game and we did what we needed to do.”
The Tigers started like they would dominate, taking the opening kickoff and moving 70 yards in eight plays to take a 7-0 lead on a two-yard Sheldrick burst at 9:07. Pomainville (10 carries for 86 yards) ripped off two runs of eight yards each and one of 41 yards on the march.
But the Hornets tore the ball away from Hotte and then Pomainville on the Tigers’ next two possessions as MUHS failed to take advantage of its defensive effort.
In stifling the Hornets in the first half the Tigers stuffed six running plays for losses (lineman Jaro Perera, cornerback Tyler Buxton, Hotte at nose guard and linebacker Cooper Bullock all did damage), picked Quinn off three times (twice by Pomainville, once after Buxton tipped a pass, and once by Skyeler Devlin on a diving grab), and forced a fumble (Cam Devlin recovered).
Finally the Tiger offense got back in gear after taking over at the Essex 43 with 2:03 left in the half. A Simon Fischer sweep for 11 yards, a Pomainville pass to Donahue for 10 and a 16-yard Pomainville run helped move the ball to the 17. From there, Pomainville threw a dart to Zachary Dunn slanting into the end zone, and it was 14-0 at 1:23.
Skyeler Devlin immediately picked off a Quinn pass to put the Tigers back in business at the Essex 40, but two untimely sacks helped kill the drive at the Essex 16 as time expired.
Smith was frustrated at the lack of first-half production.
“Instead of stepping on them we kept them in it,” he said.
Essex outgained the Tigers in the second half, 145-63. The Hornets scored on their first possession even though they punted after failing to get a first down: A short punt hit a Tiger and set Essex up on the MUHS 33. Five plays later Hines’ halfback option toss to Hope fooled the Tigers, and it was 14-7.
Two possessions later Essex moved 90 yards to pull within a point on Carney’s short run. On the drive Hines (19 carries, 70 yards) found running room, including a 30-yard burst) and Quinn (seven for 18, 41 yards) hit two passes.
But then Pomainville (six for 10, 71 yards) completed two passes on the clinching drive, one to Sheldrick (nine carries, 37 yards) for his second touchdown. Hotte added 13 carries for 58 yards overall and caught a key 15-yard pass on the final drive.
In all, Smith said Friday’s result allowed the Tigers to move onto this coming Friday’s game at Rutland — and a closing schedule heavy with road games — in a positive frame of mind.
“If we’re 1-3, three out of four of our games are away from now on,” Smith said. “It would have been tough to build them back up from that. So we taste victory again, which is nice … It’s good for our kids.”
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