Tiger football tops Burr & Burton in D-1 semifinal

“We’ve matured and grown up, and we’re definitely playing our best football right now. And we’re looking forward to next Saturday.”
— Tiger Coach Dennis Smith

MANCHESTER CENTER — The Middlebury Union High School football team for the second time in two weeks upset host No. 2 Burr & Burton, this time on Saturday in a Division I semifinal, 14-9.

The 7-3 Tigers, who are 7-1 after an 0-2 start, will next take on No. 1 Champlain Valley Union (9-0) for the D-I title. That game will be played this Saturday at 5 p.m. at Rutland High School.

CVU trounced MUHS on Doc Collins field on Sept. 2 in the opener for both teams, 56-19. But Coach Dennis Smith said in a Sunday phone interview the Tigers are a different team now.

“We’re a long ways away from when we played them the first time,” he said. “We’ve matured and grown up, and we’re definitely playing our best football right now. And we’re looking forward to next Saturday.”

Burr & Burton dropped to 7-3 with the setback. The Bulldogs lost only to the Tigers twice and once to CVU this fall. The first time the Bulldogs and Tigers met came on Oct. 21, when the Tigers rallied from down by 22 points in the second half to win in overtime, 43-36.

Smith said this past Saturday’s game was a continuation of the Tigers’ defensive turnaround in that earlier game, coupled with diligent work preparing in part through watching game films.

“We did pretty much what we did from the last game,” he said. “Our guys we’re pretty confident in knowing what they were going to be doing out of certain sets in certain situations. They’ve learned that film study is a big part of this game and can help immensely.”

Smith said the Tigers picked off Bulldog quarterback Jack McCoy three times, twice by Jackson Gillett. As well as strong play in the secondary, he credited the Tiger defensive front for pressuring the quarterback, even if he managed to complete 14 of 20 attempts for 136 yards and a 16-yard TD pass to Trevor Green.

“Our pass rush was just relentless,” he said.

The Bulldogs led by 9-7 at the half after also getting a 37-yard field goal from Seb Dostal. The Tiger first-half points came on a 1-yard Cam Stone run and a Gillett extra point. Smith said a key sequence came late in the half, when the Tigers fumbled on their own 30, but the defense kept BBA off the scoreboard.

“The defense held strong there. That was huge,” Smith said.

The Tigers mounted a drive in the third quarter capped by another 1-yard Stone run and Gillett kick for the game’s final points. Smith said that score was set up by a third-and-eight conversion on a halfback pass on a fake reverse, on which Gavin McNulty tossed a long gainer to tight end Angus Blackwell to the BBA 15.

The Tigers clinched the victory in the fourth quarter by running out the clock with an 18-play drive that consumed almost 10 minutes, all on the ground. Even though they didn’t score, Smith said it didn’t matter.

“They punted the ball to us with just under 10 minutes left and never got the ball back,” Smith said.

More of that ball-control attack will be critical if the Tigers are to upset the top-seeded Redhawks on this coming Saturday, Smith said.

“They’ve got a high-powered offense,” he said, “and the more times they touch it the better chance they have of scoring.”

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