Tiger football falls to CVU in hard-fought game
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School football team on Friday came up on the short end of a 21-14 score in a hard-fought home game vs. defending Division I champion Champlain Valley. That means the Tigers’ playoff path will lead away from home.
Champlain Valley improved to 7-1 and has the No. 3 seed that could have belonged to the 5-3 Tigers with a victory. Instead, the Tigers are the No. 5 seed as St. Johnsbury, also 5-3, edged the Tigers for the No. 4 seed based on a slightly stronger schedule.
MUHS will thus visit the Hilltoppers this Friday at 7 p.m. The Tigers and St. J did not meet this fall. The winner of that game will almost certainly travel to face undefeated No. 1 Hartford a week later. Burr & Burton (7-1) edged CVU for the No. 2 seed, and those teams will likely meet in a semifinal.
On this past Friday a slow start, a couple costly mistakes, and Redhawk quarterback Ollie Cheer, who completed nine of 12 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns, contributed to the Tiger loss.
MUHS Coach Jed Malcolm pointed to broken coverage on Cheer’s first TD pass and a holding penalty on what would have been an 80-yard Avery Carl kickoff return for a touchdown as two of the errors. He also praised his defense for limiting the Redhawks to 123 rushing yards on 35 attempts.
“It’s sort of a broken record on the big plays. It was a big secondary breakdown on the first touchdown,” Malcolm said. “And we had a pretty massive penalty on the kick return on the touchdown. Those big plays, those are the difference in this game. That’s a good football team, and especially in the trenches I don’t know that we can play any better with our D line against the biggest and strongest offensive line we’ve seen in a long time.”
Small mistakes also hurt. The Tigers bobbled both the opening kickoff and the first snap from center, hurting field position and helping stall their first possession.
After a 15-yard punt return CVU was on the Tiger 40. On second-and-eight from the 27, Cheer found Jacob Armstrong with his own Zip Code at the goal line, and the kick made it 7-0 at 7:15.
The Tigers went three-and-out, and the Redhawks took over on their 43. They overcame both a Kyle Stearns sack and a bad snap with Cheer completions on third-and-long plays for first downs. A burst up the middle by Nolan Walpole moved the ball to the five, and from there Billy Bates ran wide for the touchdown at 2:11, and it was 14-0.
Then the Tigers came to life, marching 85 yards to make it 14-7 with 1.6 seconds left in the first period. Key plays were a 22-yard run by Tiger QB Jacob Kemp on third and long early in the drive, and he later completed consecutive passes to Tassilo Luksch, the second for 27 yards to the CVU 8. From there Luksch punched it in, and Tucker Morter hit the extra point.
A Tim Whitney sack on CVU’s next possession forced a third and 33 from midfield, and Jackson Gillette picked off Cheer’s long heave at the Tiger four. The Tigers soon had to punt, and the Redhawks got the ball back at midfield again.
From there they marched to take a 21-7 lead. Cheer completed three passes on the drive, the last one a 5-yard TD strike to Armstrong at 2:48.
After that score the Tigers had heartbreak on the kickoff return. Avery Carl received, faked a handoff to Gillette and raced past the defense down the left side about 80 yards to paydirt. But a holding penalty in the Tiger end put the Tigers back on their own 24, and their possession stalled on the CVU 30 as time expired in the first half.
In the second half the Tiger defense stiffened and forced CVU to punt on its first four possessions, allowing only three first downs.
The Tigers moved the ball on their first possession, with Luksch, Carl and Gavin McNulty finding running room. But on fourth and two on the CVU 28, Redhawk Orion Yates blew up a Tiger reverse for a loss to stop the march. An Anderson McEenaney sack and a delay penalty stalled the Tigers’ second possession, and Dylan Frere picked off Kemp on the CVU 18 on the third.
The Tigers cashed in on the fourth, when a bad snap on a CVU punt attempt gave the Tigers the ball on the Redhawk 17. Two plays later. Kemp found Gillette on the CVU 4, and on the next play Carl cruised into the end zone. It was 21-14 with 3:36 left in the game.
The Tiger onside kick failed, and CVU took over at midfield. The Tigers repeatedly stuffed the CVU running game, but Cheer converted a third-and-8 pass from the 48 to Dylan Terriciano for 22 yards. Then on fourth and 4 from the 20 with less than a minute to go Cheer found Terriciano for 16 yards to nail down the victory.
For CVU, Jacob Bose finished with 10 carries for 38 yards, and Walpole five for 38 yards.
The Tigers rushed 34 times for 172 yards, led by McNulty (eight carries for 49 yards), Luksch (nine carries for 58) Carl (eight for 32) and Kemp (four for 31). Kemp completed four of eight passes for 58 yards.
Malcolm said despite those numbers there remains room for improvement in the running game, something he said the coaching staff would take responsibility for.
“Offensively on the line we just weren’t communicating as much as we need to,” he said. “That’s on us as coaches, on me as a coach, that I’ve got to do a better job next week or we’re not going to get over the hump. So I’m going to take the heat on this one, I think. We played a pretty even game, and we’ve got to be better, and we will be next week.”
Malcolm remains confident in the Tigers, and said it will be important for them to believe in themselves.
“We can play with anybody. It’s very evident,” he said. “The key for me and the coaching staff is to keep the guys up and believing.”
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