WINDSOR >> 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