Wethersfield's Louie Montalvo stiff arms Middletown's Chace Petgrave during the Blue Dragons 16-13 win on Nov. 12. Photo: Jo-Ann Campbell (instagram: grafx.eagle)
After losing five straight games to start the season, Middletown football has rebounded with four consecutive wins. The latest was an impressive 16-13 road win at Wethersfield last Friday night (Nov. 13).
“It’s a quality win, that good football team we beat tonight. I’m so proud of them,” Middletown head coach Sal Morello said of his players, “At 0-5 these kids could have rode out the season, but we challenged them to just take one game at a time. We’re playing much better than we did the first half of the season and all the credit goes to these kids.”
The Blue Dragons scored on their opening possession, a five-yard touchdown run from Shaun Gaskins, and never looked back.
Following a Wethersfield fumble, Griffin Ladd connected on a 20-yard field goal with 6:59 to play in the half, putting the road team up 9-0.
Wethersfield head coach Matt McKinnon thought the second quarter sequence was a critical moment in the game.
“Things didn’t go well early. It came down to special teams and a few plays on defense,” said McKinnon, who added. “Our younger guys got to experience a little adversity tonight. I knew [Middletown] would figure it out after 0-5. Coach [Morello] does a great job over there.”
Following Ladd’s field goal, McKinnon’s team countered with a Wil Bankowski to Mathyas Nieves 12-yard scoring strike. It was one of a handful of noteworthy plays from Nieves, who also intercepted a pass and had a 37-yard kick return to set up his touchdown reception.
On the opening possession of the second half, Middletown drove 64 yards in six plays, capped by another Gaskins rushing touchdown. Quarterback Colin Skene found Chace Petgrave down the left sidelines for a 38-yard connection, setting up Gaskins’ second score.
Wethersfield again countered when freshman backup quarterback Cam Righi and Louie Montalvo hooked up on a 12-yard touchdown midway through the third, but the Blue Dragons defense held the Eagles offense at bay the rest of the night and Gaskins grinded out back to back first downs late in regulation.
Gaskins finished with a season-high 141 rushing yards.
“We were going to ride Shaun,” Morello said of the fourth quarter strategy. “He had a knee injury earlier in the year and now he’s healthy. We were going to trust our seniors at that point in the game. He had great leg churn, had two hands on the ball, and had yards after contact. He was phenomenal tonight.”
Morello’s squad will look to make it five straight wins when they host Windsor (8-1) in their annual rivalry on Wednesday, Nov. 24 at Middletown High School. Kickoff on the regular season finale is 6:30 p.m.
Morello said it will be another tough test, “[Windsor] is going to be in the playoffs and they are a great football team and well coached, but we just have to come out and fight. We’ll see what happens.”
On the same night, Wethersfield will travel to Newington for their annual Thanksgiving-eve battle with the Nor’easter. Both teams were eliminated from postseason contention with losses last week, but bordering-bragging rights will again be on the line.
Newington leads the all-time series 23-20. In the last meeting, Wethersfield won 35-0 thanks to a rushing touchdown and two passing touchdowns from Matt Silver (both to Connor Pace) and a fumble return for a touchdown by defensive disruptor Nick Thompson at Cottone Field on Nov. 27, 2019.
This season Newington has been carried by an explosive offense that can score from anywhere on the field. Quarterback Paddy Brown has thrown for 29 touchdowns, leading a unit that is averaging over 38 points per game. All-world wide out Austyn Howe has found paydirt 18 times (13 receiving and 5 rushing) and has thrown three touchdowns. Josiah Ross has chipped in 11 touchdown receptions.
Wethersfield’s confident cornerback tandem of Tanner Healy and Ben Caulfield will be tasked with stopping Newington’s productive receiving duo, while senior defensive captain Cooper Moreau will lead a unit that is allowing only 15 points per game. Bankowski, who threw a career-high four touchdown passes in the win over Manchester on Nov. 5, will look to get the offense back in rhythm following the loss to Middletown.
The 45th meeting between the rival schools will kickoff at 6:00 p.m. at Alumni Field at Newington High School.
Rocky Hill (5-3) will host Cromwell/Portland (8-0) in the sixth annual Shunpike Showdown.
Rocky Hill leads the all-time series 3-2 with Cromwell/Portland winning the previous two contests. In the last meeting, the Panthers were victorious 20-14 behind three touchdown passes from freshman quarterback Cole Brisson at Pierson Park on Nov. 27, 2019.
The undefeated Panthers have a home game this Friday (Nov. 19) against Stafford/East Windsor/Somers and have outscored their previous eight opponents by a combined score of 347-37. They have yet to allow an opposing team to score more than eight points this season thanks to a defense led by linebacker extraordinaires/captains Owen Brunk, Teddy Williams, and Ryan Rozich. Williams, who also stars at receiver, has been a touchdown machine this fall, scoring 18 touchdowns between offense, defense, and special teams. Brisson is now an experienced junior and has thrown 22 touchdowns compared to only three interceptions this season.
Rocky Hill could play a make-up game against Avon on Nov. 18th before hosting the Cromwell/Portland. The Terriers are led by multi-talented quarterback Tyreice Dominque who has rushed for over 700 yards and 11 scores, and thrown for four more. Dominque, who also starts at defensive back, also leads the team with five interceptions on defense, creating havoc with defensive standouts Brody Troiano (44 tackles and six sacks) and Alex Peruta.
Kickoff for the Shunpike Showdown will be 6:00 p.m. at RHHS on Nov. 24.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin