MIDDLETOWN >> No question Middletown was ready for this one.
In early November, New London upset the Blue Dragons and in the process, ruined an undefeated season. Middletown very much wanted a second chance at the Whalers and Tuesday night in the quarterfinal round of the Class L state championship playoffs, the Blue Dragons got their wish.
They made the most of it.
Behind an offense that piled up more than 400 yards, Middletown crushed New London 49-14 in front of a crowd of 2,000 at Rosek-Skubel Stadium to advance to a semifinal round game Saturday at Pomperaug High School (2 p.m.) against No. 1 Darien. (11-1). The Blue Wave defeated Hand, 31-29.
In the other Class L semifinal, New Canaan, which beat Farmington 46–0, will play North Haven, which beat Platt 35-0.
“This was the most important win in my three years at Middletown High,” said quarterback Dario Highsmith, who ran for 206 yards on 29 carries, scored three touchdowns and threw for another. “This was a chance to get revenge and to get to within two games of a state championship.”
Isaiah Thompkins, who is a star on defense, saw more action at running back this night than in any game this season. He carried the ball 12 times for 78 yards and scored the Dragons’ first touchdown.
“I had to prepare all week to carry the ball,” said Thompkins. “I took a lot of reps. This was was amazing. I remember the feeling when we lost to them and to have a great win like this is everything.”
MIddletown took it to No. 5 New London (9-3) from the beginning. After Hunter Belzo returned the opening kickoff 34 yards to the 50-yard line, MHS drove the required 50 yards in 12 plays with Thompkins capping the drive by scoring from the 1-yard line with 8:06 left in the first. With Van Uk’s kick – he was seven-for-seven – MHS led 7-0.
The Blue Dragons (11-1) took a 14-0 lead with 1:50 to go in the first when Highsmith capped a six-play, 60-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run. MHS took a 21-0 halftime lead on Highsmith’s second touchdown – he later had a 71-yard TD called back on a holding call – when he ran 23 yards for a score with 5:45 left in the half.
“(Highsmith)should be on the top level of any all-state team,” said New London coach Daune Maranda. “Whatever they ask him to do, he does and does it perfectly. He is hard to tackle, he’s slippery and I don’t care if they have to put four quarterbacks on the all-state team, he has to be there.”
That TD was set up by a 48-run by Thompkins to the New London 30.
New London scored on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Danny Maranda to Troy Gray with 6:59 to go in the third quarter to cut the lead to 21-7.
Then the Blue Dragons staged a drive that sealed the deal.
“That drive won the game,” said Middletown coach Sal Morello. “We put together a six-minute drive to take a 28-7 lead and that won the game. They got some momentum with their touchdown, but our kids responded.”
The drive was smash-mouth football and was a drive in which Middletown overcame a 10-yard holding penalty. MHS ran the ball 12 times on the 65-yard drive with Highsmith scoring from the 6-yard line with 1:07 left in the third.
“We were feeling pretty good about ourselves after we scored,” said Maranda. “But we couldn’t stop them. They blew us off the ball all night long. In the second half, it seemed like we didn’t have the ball at all.”
Immediately after that touchdown, Middletown got a fumble recovery – MHS won the turnover battle 4-0 – on the kickoff return and on first down, Highsmith hit Cody Carrillo for a 33-yard touchdown and with 49 seconds left in the third, MHS had this one on ice, 35-7.
The Dragons got a 32-yard TD from Sal Fazzino (5 carries, 55 yards) with 8:16 to go, and a 13-yard TD run by sub-quarterback Austin Meeker with 6:53 left to take a 49-7 lead.
New London got a cosmetic touchdown with 1:38 remaining on a 49-yard run by Jose Garcia.
“I thought we played very well,” said Morello. “Our offensive line did a great, great job opening up holes all night long. I thought we might have a game like this because I saw the focus in our kids the last four or five days.”
It is the first home playoff win in school history. In the Blue Dragons’ three state championship years, no team played home games. It is also only the third time in school history an MHS team has won 11 games.
MHS had 375 yards rushing on 55 carries and Highsmith threw for 38 more on a 3-for-6 performance. New London had 289 yards offense, but only 102 on the ground and just 15 yards on the ground in the second half until that late 49-yard run. Maranda was 12-for-28 for 187 yards. He was intercepted twice.