MIDDLETOWN – Middletown High’s big-play capability seemed to be bubbling just below the surface Friday night.
The Blue Dragons ran the ball methodically behind an offensive line that controlled the line of scrimmage for four quarters against Wethersfield. Yet, a couple of breakaway runs in the second half ultimately helped the Blue Dragons put away the Eagles 38-20 in their season opener at Rosek-Skubel Stadium.
Senior running back Xzavier Reyes rushed for 102 yards and three touchdowns and the Blue Dragons intercepted Wethersfield quarterback Craig Elliott three times in the CCC interdivision game. It was Middletown’s sixth victory over Wethersfield in eight meetings this decade.
“I believe in this team, and at the end of the day I knew we would get it done,” said Reyes, a 1,000-yard back as a junior. “And we won the game in the trenches. Our coaches have preached that when we do that, that will win games.’”
Middletown built a 14-10 lead in the first half behind a line that sprung Reyes, DaJuan Lomotey, Tyreece Lumpkin and quarterback Jonta’e Dempsey-Brown for big chunks of yardage at a time. Reyes scored both touchdowns on runs of 1 and 2 yards.
In the second half, Middletown’s defense held Wethersfield to a field goal after a long opening drive, which proved to be a turning point.
“When it go to 14-13, I thought our conditioning took over,” Blue Dragons coach Sal Morello said, “and you could see it. We knew they could throw the ball well, but our offensive line turned them into a one-dimensional team.”
Middletown took over on its 20 after nearly fumbling away the kickoff. Once again, Lumpkin, Reyes and Dempsey-Brown moved the ball downfield with their legs. In the middle of the drive, Reyes left the field with cramps, so Morello moved Lumpkin back to running back.
After no gain on first down at Wethersfield’s 35, Lumpkin took the handoff, spun out a defender’s grasp at the line of scrimmage and sped 35 yards down the right side for the score. Matthew Aresco extra point gave the Dragons a 21-13 lead.
“We were able to take a deep breath after that play,” Morello said. “Tyreece never quits. What a run.”
On Wethersfield’s next possession, Dempsey-Brown stepped in front of Elliott’s pass and returned it 27 yards to the 12-yard line. The offense stalled, but Aresco’s 25-yard field goal gave Middletown an 11-point cushion.
On Wethersfield’s next drive, Elliott again was picked off, this time by Reyes, near midfield. Four plays later, Reyes curled off the line to the right side and outran Wethersfield defenders along the sideline for a 34-yard touchdown that put the game out of reach.
Lomotey scored on an 11-yard run midway through the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.
Wethersfield returned seven starters each on both sides of the ball after a four-win season in 2017. The Eagles had size on the line, experience and big receivers, but their offense was erratic in trying to sustain drives. Unable to move the ball on the ground in the second, they had to chuck it – and didn’t succeed.
“We prepared for this game all offseason,” senior two-way lineman Osbourne Richards said. “We knew we had to come out strong. I think our defense played very well. We’ve had injuries this week and some second- and third-stringers stepped up and really did a nice job.”
Dempsey-Brown, a senior, and Chris Danas, a junior, were competing to be the starter at quarterback entering the week. The former, who also had two interceptions Friday, provided the Dragons another weapon out of the backfield.
“Jonta’e’s experience on varsity – this was his second or third start at quarterback – and his legs were the difference,” Morello said.
Matthew Aresco, who succeeded his graduated brother, Michael, as kicker, made good on all five of hits PATs and also kicked a 25-yard field goal.
“Winning the first one is always nice,” Morello said. “It’s never easy and you never what to expect, plus Wethersfield plays hard. I thought when things got tough for us at the start of the second half, the kids really came together.”
Prior to the opening kickoff, a moment of silence was held in memory of Jim Bransfield, the longtime public-address announcer for Blue Dragons football games. Bransfield died last winter at 72.
Middletown 38, Wethersfield 20
Wethersfield 0 10 3 7 — 20
Middletown 7 7 10 14 – 38
M – Xzavier Reyes 1-yard run (Matthew Aresco kick)
M – Xzavier Reyes 2-yard run (Matthew Aresco kick)
W – Luke Kelleher 63-yard pass from Craig Elliott (Michael Messina kick)
W – Michael Messina 27-yard field goal
W – Michael Messina 26-yard field goal
M – Tyreece Lumpkin 35-yard run (Matthew Aresco kick)
M – Matthew Aresco 25-yard field goal
M – Xzavier Reyes 34-yard run (Matthew Aresco kick)
M – DaJuan Lomotey 11-yard run (Matthew Aresco kick)
W – Conner Pace 8-yard run (Michael Messina kick)
Records: Middletown 1-0, Wethersfield 0-1