MUHS football clobbers Hartford for D-I playoff victory

“That (offensive line) has jelled over that 11-week period from preseason to now. I felt about midseason those guys were really hitting their stride.”
— Coach Dennis Smith

MIDDLEBURY — The No. 3 seed Middlebury Union High School football team had needed overtime to subdue host No. 6 Hartford in the regular season, but in Friday night’s Division I quarterfinal the Tigers took charge with a touchdown on their opening drive and never let up in a convincing 27-7 victory over the Hurricanes.

By halftime they led, 27-0, and had outgained Hartford, 221-24.

That first scoring march consisted of four plays, two runs each by senior backs Cole Schnoor and Cam Stone, and covered 60 yards, the last 34 a burst up the middle by Stone 1:56 after the opening kickoff.

By the time the halftime whistle sounded the Tigers had scored on four of five possessions. Stone added a 3-yard scoring run, Schnoor scored from 11 yards out, and quarterback Jacob Kemp tossed a 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Penn Riney. Meanwhile Hartford mustered two first downs and turned the ball over twice in the first half.

Tiger Coach Dennis Smith was pleased with his team, which improved to 6-3 at the expense of the 4-5 Hurricanes.

“We came right out that first drive, and boom-boom down the field. The guys really felt confident. What happens sometimes when you do that is all of a sudden you get a little complacent because it was so easy, you think. And they never let up,” Smith said. “The guys kept playing tough the whole game.”

Next up will be a road rematch with No. 2 Burr & Burton (7-2 after dismissing No. 7 Rutland on Saturday), a team that the visiting Tigers upset in double overtime, 43-36, on Oct. 21, after overcoming a 36-14 second-half deficit. That D-I semifinal will be played at BBA at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Smith saw this past Friday’s romp as an extension of the Tigers’ regular-season finale.

“It was kind of a continuation from last week’s fourth quarter,” he said. “The guys feel really confident right now in what we’re doing. They’re really getting the game plan down and executing.”

Certainly the Tigers ruled the first half. Hartford did earn a first down on its initial possession, but fumbled on the next play. Riney recovered it on the Hartford 27, but it proved to be the only time the Tigers didn’t score: Confusion on a field goal attempt led to a penalty, followed by an incomplete pass on fourth down.

No matter, they got the ball back on the Hartford 38 later in the period after a high snap on a punt forced a short kick. And the Tigers moved to score from there at 8:51 of the second period, when Schnoor waltzed in from the one to make it 13-0 after the Jackson Gillett kick.

Of note: The Tigers ran the ball 29 times in the first half without losing yardage on any of the plays, and in all they ground out 277 yards on 46 attempts. Smith credited the team’s offensive line: Kyle Stearns, Jeremiah Tinker, Joseph Bergevin, Tim Whitney and Sawyer Cadoret started up front on Friday.

“That group has jelled over that 11-week period from preseason to now,” Smith said. “I felt about midseason those guys were really hitting their stride.”

After a Hartford dropped pass (it should have been a long gain) and a Stone sack, the Tigers took over at the Hartford 45 and quickly made it 20-0 with a four-play drive. Schnoor covered 34 of those yards with a run to the Hurricane 3. From there Stone punched it in to make it 20-0.

A pass break-up by George Devlin helped the Tigers get the ball back at their 33, and they moved again. Ten- and 11-yard runs by Stone and an 11-yard Gillett reverse helped move the ball to the Hartford 23. From there Kemp found Riney covered by one defender at the goal line, and Riney won the jump ball for the TD at 0:45. The kick made it 27-0.

Tiger defensive back Tassilo Luksch punctuated the first half by picking off a long pass from Hartford QB Brayden Trombly.

Hartford moved the ball better in the second half, but a Gavin McNulty interception on fourth down at the Tiger 35 ended a march that consumed most of the third quarter. Trombly sparked a 92-yard scoring drive early in the fourth with three runs for a total of 65 yards, and Ezra Mock scored from the Tiger 1 at 9:54.

Trombly finished with six rushes for 72 yards, and completed two of nine passes for 15 yards. Hartford fullback Justin Robinson ran 10 times for 50 yards.

The Tigers outgained Hartford, 300-157. Stone (17 rushes, 120 yards) and Schnoor (13 attempts, 102 yards) led the way on the ground, and McNulty added 57 yards on 13 attempts.

Coach Smith said the Tigers are combining opportunistic, bend-not-break defense with an offense that is not only gaining yards, but also, unlike at times previously, taking care of the ball.

“That’s been the M.O. lately. Don’t give up any big plays, and don’t turn the ball over like we were earlier in the season,” Smith said. “We’re not giving the other team that momentum.”

So why not another win in the coming week’s semifinal and then onto a final in Rutland the following Saturday?

“It’s one week at a time,” Smith said. “All we’ve got to be is 1-0.”

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