MIDDLETOWN >> The play is called “248 Buck Sweep.”
And there wasn’t a more appropriate way for the Middletown High School football team to start their 2013 campaign than running a play from the Blue Dragons’ glory years.
One month after legendary football coach John Skubel lost a courageous battle with cancer, junior quarterback Dario Highsmith stepped up to the line of scrimmage, surveyed the East Lyme defense and barked out the signals for one of Skubel’s favorite plays.
“It seemed like it was his bread-and butter play and we’d open up every game with it,” said Middletown coach Sal Morello. “I just thought it would be a good idea to open our season with that and we let the kids know what it was about. I’ll tell you what, the kids took that to heart and took a lot of pride in that play.”
Skubel won three state titles at Middletown and Morello was a Blue Dragons sophomore for the first one, a 35-12 victory against Ledyard in the Class M finals.
“Obviously, he meant a lot as a coach but also when I got to coach with him he really opened my eyes to a lot of things,” Morello said. “He had a great influence on me as a young man for sure.”
Skubel also guided Middletown to Class M championships in 1987 and 1992. The Blue Dragons ’92 squad, which was ranked No. 4 in the state after defeating Berlin 38-18 in the finals, was the last one to raise a banner. But that could all change soon.
After going 8-3 and reaching the Class L quarterfinals a year ago, Middletown has opened this season with impressive wins against East Lyme, Wethersfield, Bristol Eastern and Fermi, and is ranked No. 3 in the New Haven Register Top 10 poll.
It is Middletown’s highest ranking in 21 seasons.
“I take it as my job to keep them humble and keep them working and keep them wanting more,” said Morello. “I think we said it to them once when we did mention this (poll) to them, we said, ‘It’s how you finish.’ And we have to finish this strong. Who knows where it’s going to be at the end but the main goal is to just get better every week.”
The Blue Dragons will face a big test tonight when Hartford Public invades Rosek-Skubel Stadium. The Owls (2-2) gave No. 9 Windsor everything they could handle last week in a 21-14 defeat and will be looking to ruin Middletown’s homecoming night.
“Hartford Public is a terrific team,” said Morello. “In my four years here the three games we’ve had with them have been buckle your chin straps and put your mouthpieces in. It’s one of the most physical games we’ve had every year. So I expect tomorrow night is going to be no different.”
Middletown’s November slate of Farmington (Nov. 1), at New London (Nov. 8), at Simsbury (Nov. 15) and at Windsor (Nov. 27) is also daunting.
But the Blue Dragons defense has been a pleasant surprise and with their big offensive line showing signs that it’s ready to jell, Middletown is poised to validate their high ranking.
As for Skubel’s 248 Buck Sweep?
The Blue Dragons only practiced the play for a couple of days. But that was only a minor inconvenience. Highsmith took the snap, sliced through the line, and outraced the East Lyme defenders 71 yards for a touchdown.
“That was just great to see,” said Morello. “Maybe I should keep it in the playbook. We ran it a couple of times in that game and haven’t run it since but we didn’t throw it away either. There are some things we can do off of that.”
The Glory Days are back.