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Another shutout for Middletown as the Blue Raiders advance to the state semifinals

By Larry Etter

Press & Journal Staff

717-944-4628
Posted 11/27/17

With Jose Lopez sidelined with a knee injury, Middletown coach Brett Myers had to look for someone else to fill the void in the offensive backfield.

But it is a characteristic of this 2017 …

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Another shutout for Middletown as the Blue Raiders advance to the state semifinals

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With Jose Lopez sidelined with a knee injury, Middletown coach Brett Myers had to look for someone else to fill the void in the offensive backfield.

But it is a characteristic of this 2017 Middletown football team that someone steps up when needed. This time, Myers found not one, but two, players to help Brady Fox in the Blue Raiders’ state quarterfinal rematch with Scranton Prep in Bethlehem on Friday night. That spurred Middletown to a 35-0 victory over the Cavaliers, who came into the game with a 13-0 record and a District 2 championship.

The state semifinals await at 1 p.m. Saturday at West Chester Rustin High School. The Blue Raiders (13-0) will face Conwell-Egan Catholic, a 34-17 winner over Palisades in the other eastern quarterfinal. Egan, which comes from the Philadelphia Catholic League, is 8-6 on the season.

Win on Saturday and the Blue Raiders will return to Hersheypark Stadium on Dec. 9 to play for the state title vs. the winner of Quaker Valley and Sharon. Those teams play at 7 p.m. Friday at North Hills High School.

Middletown lost last year’s state title game to Beaver Falls, 30-13, the only blemish on their record in the last two seasons.

On Friday, in the absence of the sophomore Lopez, it was the senior Fox (24 carries, 114 yards, three touchdowns) who was there to carry much of the load in the Raiders’ run-oriented offense. But Tyreer Mills and Tre’ Leach both added greatly to the running game, combining for more than 150 yards.

“We have a lot of good football players on this team,” Myers said.

Mills, usually a wide receiver, set up at times in the wildcat formation and other times as the motion man on his runs. Leach, who has been a stalwart defender and has been used sparingly on offense during the season, ran 14 times and caught three passes.

“Our offensive line shows up every week and I can’t thank them enough for what they do for people like us that run the ball,” Fox said after adding more yards to his school rushing record.

Throw into the mix a solid passing game by junior Scott Ash (6 of 10 for 135 yards) and it all added up to Middletown’s 13th win of the year. And, throughout the game, the Middletown defense turned in yet another superb effort against the Cavaliers, who had averaged over 40 points a game this season. It was the Blue Raiders’ fourth shutout on the season, and second in a row after beating Wyomissing 49-0.

“It was all about preparation at practices,” linebacker Blake Jacoby said following the win. “That’s a good football team over there and we played our hearts out.”

Myers also credited the defensive coaches with putting together a good game plan and making adjustments along the way.

“Our defense did an amazing job tonight,” he said. 

Other than a 45-34 win against Trinity on Sept. 29, the team has not given up more than 10 points in a game this season. Palmyra scored exactly 10 on Oct. 6. In the other 11 games, the Blue Raiders have four shutouts and seven games in which they held their opponents to exactly 7 points.

In last year’s playoff game vs. Scranton Prep at the same site, the Blue Raiders walked away with a 42-13 win and Middletown fans wondered if this one would turn out the same way. The difference, however, was that Scranton Prep, as its record indicated, appeared to be a better team in 2016.

A good start by the Cavaliers gave an indication that it might turn out differently this year. On the second play of the game, Matt Gilmartin broke off a 36-yard run to the Middletown 39. But on second and 7, Trayvon Joseph stopped Gilmartin for a one-yard gain and on the next play Lamar Ventura and Adonis Taveras sacked quarterback Leo O’Boyle for a 10-yard loss to stop the early threat.

The Raiders put together a steady drive on the ground and appeared to be heading for a score. But the drive died at the 8 yard line on a lost fumble.

Jacoby made a pair of key stops on Prep’s ensuing drive and a third down pass fell incomplete, bringing up a punt. Mills fielded the kick at midfield but went nowhere on the return when Prep’s Michael Greco made a good play. But Mills carried twice and gave the Raiders a first down at the Scranton Prep 39. Ash’s pass to Leach went for 22 yards and gave the Middletown offense another fresh set of downs at the 17. Another run of 16 yards by Mills set up Fox’s one-yard touchdown with just 2 seconds left in the first quarter. Donovan Brady’s kick gave the Raiders a 7-0 lead.

On the second play of the second quarter, Leach intercepted O’Boyle’s pass and the Middletown offense was back on the field at the Scranton Prep 42. Fox ran three times for 25 yards, Mills picked up 5 and Fox made it to the 4 on his next run. Leach capped the drive by powering his way right through the middle of the Cavaliers’ defense at 9:58 and, with the kick, Middletown led 14-0.

Following an exchange of punts, Scranton Prep was on the move again and reached the Middletown 32 with time winding down in the first half. On second and three, O’Boyle connected with Lucas Stage but Kyle Truesdale and Ryan Hughes dropped the receiver for a three-yard loss. Taveras batted down O’Boyle’s next attempt and the Cavaliers were forced to punt.

With just 1:16 on the clock, the Raiders were forced to start from their own 9 yard line following an effective rolling kick by the Cavaliers. Leach picked up 17 yards on a pair of runs to the 26. On the next play, Ash hit Hughes down the middle on a post pattern, good for 52 yards to the Scranton Prep 22. Another Ash completion, this one to Chris Plummer, set up the Raiders at the Cavaliers’ 1 yard line with 19 seconds left.

Fox punched it in from there and gave the Blue Raiders a 21-0 cushion at halftime.

Getting the ball first to start the second half, the Blue Raiders used little time in padding their lead to 28-0. On first down from the 36 following Leach’s kickoff return, Fox broke free on a 40-yard run to the Prep 24. On second and 9, Ash and Leach connected for 14 yards. A pair of short runs by Fox and Leach set up Fox’s 2-yard power touchdown just 2:47 into the third quarter.

Several times in the second half, the Cavaliers appeared to be making progress with the ball. But each time, the Middletown defense shut the door to keep Scranton Prep out of the end zone. Truesdale, Antonio Gamble, Hughes, Cole Senior, Jacoby, Gage Radabaugh, Devin Martin, Leach and others continued to make plays that turned the Cavaliers away.

Mills intercepted an O’Boyle pass midway through the third and appeared to totally deflate Prep’s offense.

Early in the fourth quarter, Brady came up short on a 47-yard field goal. But with 7:04 left following yet another defensive stop, the Blue Raiders were back on offense at their own 40. Runs by Mills, Leach and Fox kept the ball and the clock moving. A pair of major penalties against the frustrated Cavaliers helped as well.

The Blue Raiders iced the game with 17 seconds left on a scoring pass from Mills to Leach from 10 yards out and punched their ticket to the semifinals this week. 

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