MIDDLETOWN >> Jerry Woodard returned a Tyshaun James fumble 90 yards with 5:41 remaining to wipe out a Middletown lead and Windsor held on 21-17, stopping James at the 3-yard line with 35 seconds left, in front of more than 2,000 at Roesk-Skubel Stadium Wednesday evening.
Leading 17-15, Middletown (8-2) was driving for what might have been a game-clinching score when James was stripped at the 10-yard line. Woodard picked it up and outran his pursuers down the far sideline to give the Warriors a 4-point lead.
Middletown immediately drove from its own 35 to the Windsor 6-yard line where it faced fourth and goal. After both teams called times out and with the crowd standing, James went back to pass, saw no one open and ran through a hole that closed at the 3-yard line.
“We had two kids open in the right side of the end zone, but he didn’t see them,” said Middletown coach Sal Morello. “It was supposed to be a pass play, but have no problem with what he did. There was a hole, he has done that for us many times. It’s just that a good team closes those holes quick.”
Windsor coach Rob Fleeting said that he worried more about James running than throwing.
“We put two guys on him on that play, a linebacker (Jomal Mills] and a safety [Bryce Watts ] to spy on him,” said Fleeting. “Our defense bent, but didn’t break in the second half.”
Windsor’s defense spent most of the second half on the field as Middletown ran 37 plays to Windsor’s 14. But MHS couldn’t score. And the Dragons turned the ball over three times on fumbles, the last one a killer.
“It was the play of the game,” said Fleeting. “Woodard works so hard and plays both sides of the ball.”
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Windsor’s other touchdown of the second half came after a Middletown mistake. Leading 17-9 early in the third quarter, MHS went three-and-out on its first possession.
Mike Aresco was punting from his own 21-yard line, but the snap sailed over his head into the end zone. Aresco retrieved it and made a good play to get the punt off, but it was downed at the MHS 39-yard line.
Windsor immediately struck for a touchdown run, but a holding call negated the score. Made no difference.
On the next play, quarterback Jahkari Grant (12-for-21, 146 yards) hit Marquis Wilson from 42 yards out to pull Windsor to within two points, 17-15.
Middletown had three chances to score in the second half. After that touchdown, the Blue Dragons drove to the Windsor 14-yard line, but penalties pushed the ball back to the 22-yard line and Aresco missed a 39-yard field goal.
The other two opportunities ended with the fumble at the 10-yard line, and on the last play of the game where James came up three yards short.
“Three fumbles equaled 21 points,” Morello said, although the three fumbles actually equaled 15 points. “You can’t turn the ball over against a good team. They’ll make you pay. But I have no argument with our effort. Our kids played their hearts out and our defense was excellent.”
Middletown held Windsor (10-0) to 210 yards, just 64 yards on the ground. Middletown had 363 yards offense, 299 yards coming on the ground. Justin McMillian (10-for-90) and Ibn Lombardo (14-for-59) were the contributors behind James. The Blue Dragons also ran 58 plays from scrimmage to Windsor’s 43.
“We wanted to control the ball, keep it on the ground and shorten the game,” said Morello. “We did that, but we fumbled three times. You have to execute.”
Windsor took a 3-0 first quarter lead on a 22-yard field goal by Eric Foster. but MHS answered with a 1-yard run by James that capped a 7-play, 73-yard drive. Middletown recovered the ensuing onside kick, but fumbled it away three plays later. Windsor turned that into a go-ahead touchdown eight plays later when Grant scored from two yards out.
The PAT was missed, but Windsor led 9-7.
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MHS answered on its next possession when James ran for a 42-yard touchdown with 3:25 left in the half and the Dragons built the lead to 17-9 at the half when Aresco kicked a 47-yard field goal with 49 seconds showing.
“We told our kids coming in that we were probably going to be behind in this game, but we had to keep fighting,” said Fleeting. “When you play Middletown you’re playing against quality coaches and a quality program. Our teams have so much in common. We benefited from turnovers tonight, no question.”
Middletown, even with the loss, may host a Class L playoff game Tuesday. The only team that could possibly catch Middletown is Platt, if it beats Maloney today. Even then, the math indicates that Middletown apparently could hold on to clinch a home game.
That will not be official until the CIAC certifies the point standings after Thursday’s games.