MIDDLETOWN — Coach Sal Morello clung to the fact Wednesday night that Middletown High’s football season did not end with a 7-0 loss to Windsor at Rosek-Skubel Stadium.
And yet, even with a Class L playoff berth pretty much assured two weeks ago, the cold reality of the present was that the Blue Dragons were – his word — “outplayed.” It was Middletown’s first shutout loss since 2014 and sixth loss in eight regular-season meetings with Windsor.
“We had a great week of practice, I thought our preparation was excellent,” he said. “But give Windsor all the credit in the world. We were outplayed today. They came out and played well. They dominated the line of scrimmage, something we’ve been saying all year that we’re pretty good at. They beat us at our own game.
“Now we know how it feels to be on the other side.”
Middletown’s best chance to score came during a frenetic drive that began with 1:31 remaining, after Windsor quarterback Courtenay Jackson fumbled the ball on the 5-yard line.
The Blue Dragons’ drive featured three first downs, including a conversion on fourth-and-1 inside 30 seconds to go, but flamed out at the Windsor 25 when Jonta’e Dempsey-Brown’s pass on the final play of the game went through Kenny Fountain’s hands at the pylon.
Middletown (9-1) had the comfort of knowing beforehand that it would host a Class L quarterfinal game on Tuesday. Middletown is currently the No. 3 seed and could make the jump to No. 2 in the standings if current No. 2 Naugatuck loses to Ansonia on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Windsor (8-2), the CCC’s Division II East champion, not only clinched a playoff berth, its fifth straight in Class L, it secured the No. 4 seed and a home quarterfinal as well.
And, finally, WINDSOR is in.
The Warriors staved off Middletown, 7-0, to end the Dragons’ unbeaten season and punched their Class L playoff tickets for the 7th time in 8 years AND earned a home quarterfinal game #cthsfb pic.twitter.com/WsM3aQgXoD
— GameTimeCT (@GameTimeCT) November 22, 2018
The Warriors showed a sense of urgency throughout and their defense stuffed Middletown’s ground game at every turn. The Blue Dragons were held to 92 total yards and only five first downs. They also could not capitalize on three Warriors turnovers.
“It’s weird, every week we’ve been having a different lineup (because of injuries),” Windsor coach Rob Fleeting said. “I’m just so proud of the kids, they just keep showing up for me. They‘re trying hard and they believe in themselves.”
In the first half, Middletown could not establish its running attack against Windsor’s front and never had the benefit of good field position. Its best start for its six possessions was its own 36-yard line. The drives ended in a punt five times (one was blocked) and an interception.
The Warriors, who outgained Middletown 99-40 in the first 24 minutes and 266-92 for the game, also were unable to establish long drives, but used a big pass play on third down just before halftime to grab the lead.
On third-and-2 and his 47, Jackson went for it all and found Gabriel Bryan, who had beaten defender Fountain down the right sideline, for a 53-yard score and 7-0 lead.
“They made one play on us,” Morello said. “They made one more play that we did tonight.”
Middletown, which had only 40 total yards in the first half, could not get untracked in the third quarter. It only possessed the ball twice, and with both of the drives it went three and out.
After Windsor drove from its 20 to Middletown’s 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter, the Warriors turned it over on downs. Middletown gave the ball right back when Xzavier Reyes was stripped, but the Dragons’ defense held the Warriors on third-and goal at the 4. Boden Gapko was short on a 21-yard field goal try that could have given the Warriors a 10-point cushion.
After holding Middletown on downs on its next possession, Jackson led another Windsor drive to inside the 5, but he fumbled at the 2 and Middletown’s Devin Ballkishun recovered.
“We were down in the red zone the whole night and we struggled to get it in there,” Fleeting said. “Those are areas we’ll get better at.”
Middletown had the ball for less than 17 minutes and every drive began deep in its own territory. The Dragons also faced many third-and-long situations and couldn’t make a big play that would have sustained some drives.
“Windsor dominated the line of scrimmage – something we are good at. They beat us at our own game,” Morello said. “We got into a situation tonight where we were third-and-short only once. We couldn’t get into manageable third downs, and a credit to them.”
“They executed their game plan to perfection,” he added. “Again, I give them all the credit in the world. I’ve been saying all year a strength of our team is up front and we got beat up front today. And that’s the bottom line today. It’s nobody’s fault. There’s nobody to blame. They just outplayed us.”
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Windsor QB Courtenay Jackson: 16 of 24 passing for 205 yards; and Gabriel Bryan, 5 catches for 116 yards and one TD.
WINDSOR 7, MIDDLETOWN 0
WINDSOR 0 7 0 0 — 7
MIDDLETOWN 0 0 0 0 — 0
W — Gabriel Bryan 53-yard pass from Courtenay Jackson (Boden Gapko kick)