MIDDLETOWN — Middletown High coach Sal Morello called it his team’s best game of the season.
Dario Highsmith ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more as the No. 3 ranked Blue Dragons blasted Hartford Public 41-7 in a Central Connecticut Conference matchup front of a Homecoming Night crowd of 1,100 at Rosek-Skubel Stadium to improve to 5-0 and leave Public coach Harry Bellucci impressed.
“They pushed us back on both sides of the ball,” said Bellucci. “When a team controls the line of scrimmage like Middletown does, you can’t do very much. They are big, tough, disciplined and very well-coached. And they have Highsmith, who is an exceptional talent.”
Highsmith scored on touchdown runs of 69, 32 and 86 yards in running for 251 yards on 13 carries. He threw for two more touchdowns, both to Jacob Homar for 23 and 41 yards.
Meanwhile the MHS defense held Public (2-3) to 15 yards on the ground and 127 yards overall.
“We played well,” said Morello. “The kids rose to the challenge. I have a lot of respect for Hartford Public [which scared undefeated Windsor last week before losing 21-14], but we played very well as a team. Like I said, our best game of the year.”
Middletown took command of the game immediately
After forcing a three-and out, Highsmith ran 69 yards down the far sideline on the Dragons’ second play from scrimmage. The Owls went nowhere on their next series and the Blue Dragons blocked Jordan Russell’s punt, giving themselves a first down at the Public 29-yard line.
A holding penalty set MHS back to the 38-yard line, but Highsmith hit Yaamal Jackson for 15-yards, and five running plays later Isaiah Thompkins rumbled in from the 1-yard line. Although Van Uk had his only miss of the night, MHS led 13-0 after one.
Middletown marched 62 yards on six plays on its next possession with Highsmith hitting Homar, who was wide open, in the far right corner of the end zone for a 20-0 MHS lead.
After another HPHS three-and-out, MHS zipped 76 yards in four plays with Highsmith scoring on a 32-yard run.
Public got its only score on its next possession, moving 52 yards in six plays, a drive aided by a 15-yard face mask call against Middletown to score. Tyrryq Rodriguez scored from the 1-yard line after Richard Jernigan hit Jordan Spruielle on a 24-yard pass on third and five from the 25-yard line.
That cut the lead to 27-7, but Middletown answered instantly.
Homar returned the kickoff 49 yards to the Hartford Public 41, and from there Highsmith hit Homar for the touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and Middletown had this one tucked away 34-7 at the half.
With much of the second half played in running time and with Morello substituting liberally, Middletown picked up its final score when Highsmith, who ran the ball once and threw one pass in the second half, made the most of his one carry by going 86 yards for a touchdown with 7:35 left in the third.
Middletown finished with 405 yards total offense. The Dragons ran the ball 32 times for 328 yards and passed the ball for 77 more. Highsmith was 3-for-4 passing and accounted for all the passing yards.
Hartford Public had 127 yards offense, 59 in the first half and 68 in the second.
Morello pointed out that Middletown was hit with three holding calls, a personal foul call that set up the only HPHS touchdown and a pass interference call.
“We still have things to work on,” said Morello. “We still have to improve. There’s a lot of football to go; we’re not even halfway through the season.”
Middletown plays Bristol Central at Muzzy Field in Bristol Friday at 7 p.m.