Middletown toughs out victory over Windsor, clinches state playoff berth

Windsor MiddletownWINDSOR >> Middletown clinched a Class L playoff spot – and likely a home game in the quarterfinal round of the CIAC playoffs – with a dramatic 13-6 win over Windsor at Windsor High School Tuesday evening.

It was old-time, smash-mouth football played in the rain and on real grass and real dirt.

“We had a solid ground game, we played great defense and got solid special teams play,” said Middletown coach Sal Morello as his team officially clinched in Class L and its grip on the No. 3 spot. “That’s a good combination.

The Blue Dragons combined two touchdown runs from quarterback Dario Highsmith (31 carries, 172 yards), a goal-line stand in the first quarter when MHS stopped the Warriors on third and fourth down from the 2-yard line, and a game-long strong defensive effort to earn their 10th win of the season.

Middletown is mere points away from securing a home quarterfinal. It will know its playoff positioning after games Wednesday night and Thanksgiving.

Windsor (6-4) was in the game until the last play. After Middletown took a 13-0 halftime lead, Windsor got on the board on the first play of the fourth quarter, capping an eight-play, 66-yard drive with a 1-yard TD plunge by Matthew Walthall. It was a drive that was aided in no small measure by two, back-to-back pass interference calls against Middletown.

Neither team could do much on each of their next possessions, and Middletown got the ball with three and a half minutes left and attempted to run out the clock from its own 12-yard line.

Highsmith picked up two first downs, but the Blue Dragons had to punt the ball with 25 seconds to go. John Nolan threw three incomplete passes before connecting with Tynique Woods Culver on an 11-yard pass with eight seconds to go.

But Middletown played a prevent defense on the next play and while the same two hooked up again for a 23-yard gain to the MHS 26, the Middletown defenders kept the play in front of them and the clock ran out as Culver was tackled, touching off a wild celebration by the Blue Dragons.

“We fought the whole game,” said Morello. “All a coach can ask is for a great work ethic and we’ve had that all season.”

Middletown (10-1) took a 6-0 lead on its third play from scrimmage when Highsmith ran 67 yards for a touchdown with 10:48 remaining in the first quarter. Van Uk’s kick was blocked and the score remained 6-0 until late in the second quarter.

MHS began a drive from its own 24-yard line and moved to the 37 from where Highsmith connected on a third down pass with Julian Carraway for a 31-yard pickup to the Windsor 32-yard line. Two plays later Highsmith scored on a 23-yard run and with Uk’s kick, MHS led 13-0 at the break.

“That pass was huge,” said Highsmith, who was 3-for-6 for 42 yards. “That took away their momentum on third and long. This was a tough, physical game. Windsor is as physical a team as we’ve seen all year.”

Windsor went to the Class L final game last year, losing to Hand of Madison.

“I can’t ask any more for my kids,” said Windsor coach Robert Fleeting. “This was a good football game and I’m proud of the way my kids came to play. We didn’t fold. Middletown is a very good football team. Highsmith gets a lot of publicity, and he’s a great player, but they have a lot of very good players.

“Defensively they played very well and played with a lot of fire.”

Middletown had 216 yards offense in this defensive struggle and Windsor had 213. Middletown held Windsor to 115 yards on the ground on 33 carries. Two Windsor quarterbacks, Nolan and Tyler Coyle, were a combined 7-for-27 for 98 yards. MHS defensive back Hunter Belzo intercepted a Nolan pass and the Blue Dragons also recovered a fumble to hold a 2-0 turnover edge.

“Were not pretty on offense sometimes,” said Morello. “But I saw our offensive line throw some great blocks tonight. And Dario was great, but that’s with the help of the offensive line.”

Besides accounting for 214 of Middletown’s 216 yards, Highsmith also broke up a long pass in the second half that stopped a Windsor drive.

“I’m proud of my team,” said Morello. “We won 10 games, with one hiccup along the way, but I think we learned from that. I’m pretty sure we’re gong to have a home playoff game. Now let’s see what we do with it, but regardless, we know our next game is gong to be against a very good football team.”

Middletown also won the Central Connecticut Conference Division II West with the victory. The final CIAC point standings and parings will be determined by the results of today’s and tomorrow’s games.

MIDDLETOWN 6 7 0 0 — 13
WINDSOR 0 0 0 7 — 7

M–Dario Highsmith 66 run (kick failed)
M–Highsmith 23 run (Van Uk kick)
W–Matthew Whitehall 1 run (Westley Jackson kick)
Team records: Middletown 10-1, Windsor 6-4


  1. Tony Milardo says

    Sal sorry I could not make the game because of a prior commitment . Good Luck in the playoffs. You have a wonderful team lead by a great Dario Highsmith. Hopefully you can eliminate some of those flags that can sometimes come and bite you. See You at the Game. GO MIDDLETOWN!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • bgarf says

        Watched game on CPTV last nite, too, and agree 100%, Ray Brown….Highsmith is great and I really liked #11 on D but that’s it, rest of team played as undisciplined as I’ve seen in a long time – and offensive line played incredibly soft. I was wrong, they have zero chance of winning L and I’d be surprised if they even won their quarterfinal game.

  2. Beatx says

    Eliminate the penailites and Middletown is a top 3 team in the state. Good running game, very good defense……. Need to get Homar a few more touches in the passing game and this team will go far. Go Blue Dragons!!!

  3. Jesse Hunter says

    Jesse Hunter

    Congrats to MHS for clinching a spot in the Class L Playoffs. Hopefully the team can minimize some of those penalties next Tuesday. Toughed out a good win last night though. I’m proud of you Coach Morello!! What you’ve done in the last couple seasons is remarkable. Knew back in the 90’s when you were our offensive coordinator that you had the ability to be a head coach. I’ve been reading a lot of what some people have written on these comment blocks about the team. Yes they have a lot of penalties and yes they don’t throw the ball that much, but the last time I knew, if you have a lead you don’t need to throw the ball. Maybe it catches up to them and maybe it doesn’t, but so far no one has stopped the running game. Even in the loss they had they almost had 400 yards rushing. People will always find something to talk about. Not sure who wants to play this team though if they can correct those small mistakes. GO BLUE DRAGONS!!

  4. JR says

    OLine was soft? Could you not see on TV that the Windsor field was a mud bowl and the kids were slipping around out there on both sides? How about being consistent with the calls? Windsor was holding, hitting kids in the face and not one penalty. I was at the game and I am curious to see how it looks on TV. I want to see how much was cut out from play. You are wrong my friend, Middletown is going to surprise some folks when they back on the turf in the playoffs.

    • bgarf says

      I could definitely be wrong and I actually predicted Middletown would make L competitive…just calling it like I saw it last night. I know Windsor had two unmovable guys in #51 and #72 but the field held up well till 4th quarter. The o-line was getting knocked back on almost every snap and, again, Middletown played an undisciplined, mistake-prone game (far from the first time this year). I hope I’m wrong but I really don’t see them as a threat to anyone in L after watching, let alone New Canaan who they have absolutely no chance against.

      • JR says

        I was there, the field was a an absolute mess starting in the 2nd Quarter. It was raining so hard that the Windsor band left on Senior night and they had no halftime. I agree it’s tough for an OLine of 6 to block 10 guys from Windsor. We def need to have more balance on offense. For the record Baldwin 72 was washed down many times by the left side of the line. Like I said can’t wait to see the replay on Sunday to see the game. I watched the game on Hudl with my son and there was def some cooking with the refs. As far as MHS being no match for NC, I totally disagree. Middletown matches up extremely well with them. Keep in mind that MHS has the number defense in the state but no one mentions that. In PA the next team is 30+ points higher. I respect your opinion but I think it is somewhat skewed.

        • bgarf says

          Good info, JR, and you’re prolly right about field conditions as you were there. I’m going to withhold judgement till I see Mtown on turf.

          As for refs, I’ve noticed biases like this too. Ran into an ex-coach just last month and came out and asked him about it – a really great man I hadn’t seen for years – and he smiled and said it’s a CIAC matter…in any every sport from girl’s softball to hockey to football he said the CIAC’s goal is to give athletes who also succeed in the classroom the best possible experience.

          Also answered that when two similar schools are playing the bias will then be to make a future opponent look better. Sounds absurd but he said it matter-of-factly and that it’s been this way for decades. Interesting.

  5. JR says

    The town of Windsor needs to look into upgrading the facilities. The visitor stands were unsafe & dangerous and the field is a mess. I think Windsor has earned the right to play on a safe, respectable field.

  6. D Money says

    D Money

    I have been to most of Middletown’s games this year, and agree penalties are the reason they are not undefeated. Penalties may cost them against a quality playoff team.

    However, they have the best defense in the state. They shut-out a good Bristol Eastern team and would have probably shut out Farmington and Windsor if not for multilpe defensive penalties on the lone scoring drives for each of these teams. Middletown also played a quality schedule the second half of the season which will pay dividends in the playoffs.

    Finally, Middletown has a one dimensional running attack offense. Everyone knows it is coming, but no one (including New London) has been able to stop the Middletown running game.

    On those cold December nights, a strong defense and running attack can take you a long way. However penalties are the X-Factor for Middletown.

  7. JR says

    Totally on point, need to eliminate the penalties and MHS will surprise many people. Defense is deep in depth, plays hard and has size & speed. This team was 8-2 last year and 10-1 this year and MHS gets no respect from the naysayers.

  8. JR says

    For the record, I don’t know what a few refs have against Middletown and we know who they are but be consistent with the calls. Let the kids play, I can’t tell you how many times last night that the Windsor OLine was rocking and moving early and no calls…… The Middletown parents that were there last night will attest how bad it was…….

    • Jesse Hunter says

      I was there too. I saw a lot of the same. Not to mention that horrible pass interference call. I’m talking about the second one from the consecutive calls. If it wasn’t for that phantom call then Windsor still has a good 20 yards to go instead of being put on the 2 yard line. Funny thing is it happened right in front of me and friends and when we groaned about the call the ref actually snapped back at us. Guess was paying more attention to the crowd then the game.

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