BRISTOL >> The bursts of speed that Dario Highsmith displayed a year ago en route to winning the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award returned Friday night in Bristol.
It was a thrilling sight, indeed, for the Middletown High football team.
One week after getting shut out at Wethersfield, the Blue Dragons responded with a 34-7 Central Connecticut Conference victory over Bristol Eastern.
“I’m happy with the way the kids bounced back,” said Middletown coach Sal Morello. “They had a great week of practice. I’m very proud of them for that. And we found a way to get better. It’s a process and this is a good start.”
Highsmith, who missed some training time this summer with an injury, was held to less than a 100 yards rushing a week ago. But that seemed like ancient history after the Blue Dragons senior scored four touchdowns and gained 220 yards in the first half against the Lancers as Middletown built a 27-0 advantage.
“It felt really good,” said Highsmith. “I’m just getting my conditioning back. I’ve been doing a lot of running after practice and stuff like that. It definitely helped. But I still have some work to do.”
Highsmith scored on an 8-yard run late in the first quarter, capping a short drive after a Lancers fumble. On the first play of the second quarter, he broke through the line and raced 74 yards for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
Highsmith then added a pair of 53 yard scoring runs late in the second quarter.
“He’s getting back,” said Morello. “And I thought the guys did a great job blocking up front and got him those creases that he needed. It’s good to see that burst again.”
Middletown (2-1) added another score on its first possession of the second half when Hunter Belzo ran 54 yards for a touchdown.
Bristol Eastern (1-2) had a chance to close the gap late in the second quarter. Trailing 13-0, the Lancers marched 63 yards to the Middletown three-yard line. But after a fumble moved the ball back to the 10, Blue Dragons sophomore Kejoun West intercepted a Tommy Curtin pass at the goal line.
Middletown’s defense also recovered two fumbles.
“You can’t fumble the ball that many times and give a team opportunities to win the game,” said Bristol Eastern coach Mike Archangelo. “We shot ourselves continually in the foot. We let up the big play and after you get down to a team like that we don’t have the type of offense to come back from a big deficit.”
Junior quarterback Alex Hunter scrambled into the end zone from nine yards out with less than a minute to play, while Gerry Ouellette gained 82 yards on 24 carries for Bristol Eastern.
“Our defense did a great job,” said Morello. “They moved the ball a little bit and we kept our composure and we made some plays when we had too. That’s the sign of a good team.”
Highsmith finished with 272 yards on 16 carries. Senior linebacker Josh Broome led the Blue Dragons with nine tackles.
“Coach said he was proud of us for bouncing back the way we did and I agree,” said Highsmith. “We weren’t even thinking about who we were playing. We just knew that we had to get better and that no matter who we were playing we were going to play hard.”