MIDDLETOWN — For the first time this fall, the No. 10-ranked Middletown High football team faced adversity.
To say the Blue Dragons responded would be to understate. Leading by just three points late in the first half, the Dragons hit Bristol Central with two touchdowns in the final 25 seconds, then stopped the Rams cold in the second half to win 56-26 in front of 1,000 at Rosek-Skubel Stadium.
“Bristol Central is a good team and our kids responded very well,” said Middletown coach Sal Morello. “We made a mistake and got down early by a touchdown, but the kids didn’t hang their heads, stayed with the game plan and played very well.”
The teams traded touchdowns for most of the first half and Middletown led 21-18 with 3:32 left. That’s when the Dragons marched 54 yards in eight plays with Zxavier Reyes (18 carries, 131 yards) scoring from 1 yard out to give Middletown a 28-18 lead with 25.3 seconds left in the half.
Rather than take a knee, Central opted to try for a big play from their own 16-yard line. But Middletown forced quarterback Dathan Hickey out of the pocket. He threw on the run and linebacker Gage Davis picked it off at the 25-yard line and returned it for a pick-six with 4.7 seconds left and suddenly MHS led 35-18 at the break.
“Those two scores were key,” said Morello. “Then our defense did the job we expect it to do in the second half. Coach (Josh) Rosek made some adjustments and we shut them down.”
Central managed just 17 yards while Middletown was scoring three touchdowns to take a 56-18 lead.
Reyes scored on a one-yard run on fourth down with 1:23 left in the third, and Tyreece Lumpkin scored twice, one on a 3-yard run and another on a 41-yard lightning strike with 7:42 to go.
Central got a cosmetic 5-yard TD from Darrell Payton with 36 seconds left.
Central took a 6-0 lead early when Middletown fumbled a punt at its 34-yard line. Hickey (10-for-30, 3 interceptions, 114 yards) hit Ryan Rodriguez from 5 yards out.
MHS (5-0) immediately answered with a 69-yard kickoff return by Nico Cavaliere and with Mike Aresco’s kick, Middletown led 7-6.
Central (2-3) came right back on a 22-yard run by Hickey to take a 12-7 lead, but again the Dragons answered, this time on a 28-yard TD run by quarterback Stone Belzo, who ran for 76 yards and passed for 35 more (4-for-5).
MHS added to the 13-12 lead on a second quarter TD run of 48 yards by Reyes, and this time Central answered with a 23-yard TD pass from Hickey to Nigel West. That made it 21-18, but then came those two quick TDs and the game was over.
“They were having success on first downs in the first half, but we fixed that in the second half,” said Morello. “I thought we’d be able to run, and we were. We didn’t pass much, but we were efficient and I’m not going to do something just to do it.
“We also played very well up front on offense on the right side of our line, namely Chris White and Michael Foster, who played very well in place of two injured and sick starters. I was very pleased with how they played.”
Middletown has a bye this week and hosts E.O. Smith in two weeks.