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Blue Raiders ready to kick off football season, repeat success of last three seasons

By Larry Etter

Press & Journal Staff

717-944-4628
Posted 8/21/19

In the fall of 2016, the Middletown varsity football team swept through the regular season, winning the Mid-Penn Conference Capital Division championship.

As the Blue Raiders rolled into the …

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Blue Raiders ready to kick off football season, repeat success of last three seasons

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In the fall of 2016, the Middletown varsity football team swept through the regular season, winning the Mid-Penn Conference Capital Division championship.

As the Blue Raiders rolled into the District 3 playoffs, no one could stop them and they added a AAA championship trophy to their laurels. The only loss the team suffered was in the state championship game to Beaver Falls at Hersheypark Stadium in December. 

History repeated itself in 2017 as Middletown duplicated that feat, again going undefeated in the regular season and playoffs, picking up another pair of trophies for their efforts. But, again the Blue Raiders were denied a state title after suffering a setback to Quaker Valley in December in the state finale.

Entering the 2018 season, questions arose about how the team could be successful for the third year in a row. After winning their first two games of the season, the Raiders suffered their first regular-season loss since 2015 at the hands of perennial power Bishop McDevitt. But the determined Blue Raider gridders rebounded from that loss by running off seven straight victories while claiming their third straight Mid-Penn Conference Capital Division title, and followed that up with another sprint to their third consecutive District III-AAA championship.

Victories against Bermudian Springs and Conwell-Egan again landed the team in the state final. But, yet another loss, this time to powerful Aliquippa, left the Blue Raiders still without a Pennsylvania state championship trophy.

The three-year stretch produced a remarkable record of 41 wins and just 4 losses.

Now, the Middletown program is heading into the 2019 season with as many questions as there are answers. How can the Blue Raiders ever hope to keep their unbelievable success going? Which team is going to be the one to knock the Raiders off their lofty league and district perch?

Legitimate questions for sure. Head coach Brett Myers and his staff and athletes are all aware that they will be the targets of teams looking to make their marks as new champions. And the 2019 team has a short time to prepare for the season’s start on Aug. 23. Lower Dauphin, with Rob Klock back as head coach, will be looking to retake the Iron Spike Trophy that the Blue Raiders have owned for three straight years. 

But Myers, now in his seventh season and owner of a 59-18-1 record at Middletown, has been working hard to keep that success rolling. He has a few key veteran players returning from last year and a group of younger athletes that is coming off a very successful junior varsity season from 2018. While there are just 10 seniors listed on this year’s roster, the upperclassmen will all be contributors in some capacity. And, there is more good news among the underclassmen.

“We are stronger as a group than we were the past two years,” strength and conditioning coach Bob Pelletier noted back in the early summer, a characteristic that was echoed by Myers. And that is a good thing.

While the coaches have their own questions to answer, local fans have theirs as well. Who’s back? Who are the players that will step up to take the spots of their predecessors? Which young players are going to make an impression? All understandable questions as Middletown’s faithful followers look ahead to the new season.

As assistant coach J.J. Ortiz said during the first official day of practice: “We have a young group out there and we have to coach them up.” To get ideas and some answers to those questions, a look at each group by grade is a good approach.

Seniors

Of course the starting point has to be Jose Lopez, the talented senior running back who already holds the school career rushing record with 4,453 yards. Lopez, at 5 feet 10 inches and 195 pounds, ran for more than 2,300 yards on 285 carries last year while scoring 28 touchdowns.

He accomplished that, however, behind a senior-dominated offensive line, and his continued success will depend greatly on which players step in to the vacated spots in 2019. Collin Heffner (6 feet 1 inch, 240 pounds) is the lone returnee. He started at center last fall. Arthur Dash (6 feet, 215 pounds), missed all of his junior season after tearing up a knee in the scrimmage against Hershey and will add a lot to the team at guard and at linebacker on defense. Quincy Reinnegal (5 feet 10 inches, 230 pounds) brings a lot of experience on offense and defense in the trenches.

Troy Walko (6 feet 1 inch, 180 pounds) will be looking to step in on offense as well. Tight end senior candidates are Evan Grogan (6 feet 1 inch, 220 pounds) and Damion Williams (6 feet 3 inches, 210 pounds), and both could see time on defense, too. The wide receiver group is headed by Chris Joseph, who also started as a defensive back in 2018, along with Jarrod Pugh (6 feet 2 inches) and Ryan Goff, both of whom are being looked on at safety and cornerback on defense. 

Juniors

T.J. Daniels (5 feet 11 inches, 190 pounds) and Tim Wagner (6 feet, 185 pounds) are the two leading candidates to compliment Lopez in the offensive backfield, along with fullbacks Dylon Zettlemoyer, a converted quarterback who piloted the junior varsity team last year, Tymir Jackson (5 feet 11 inches, 210 pounds) and Aiden Miller, who was an offensive guard last fall.

Julian Nester (6 feet, 150 pounds) moved from quarterback to wide receiver. Jaydon Wotring, Collin Shaffer and Troy Stein have been working at tight end, while newcomer Julio Rodriguez (6 feet 1 inch, 150 pounds) is on the quarterback depth chart. Up front, Jeremy Wells (5 feet 10 inches, 215 pounds) and Brock Welsh (6 feet 3 inches, 260 pounds) both saw extensive playing time last year. Welsh is also the long snapper on extra points and field goals.

Nick Newton (6 feet 1 inch, 220 pounds) and Amir Potter (5 feet 10 inches, 330 pounds) each earned some varsity time the past season. Also in the mix are Matt Mitchell (5 feet 11 inches, 190 pounds) and Anthony Glory (6 feet 3 inches, 235 pounds), who returned to Middletown this year. They will get graded on defense as well.

Sophomores

A couple of sophomores will be players to keep an eye on as the season starts.

One is Tajae Broadie, a 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound fullback/defensive end, who saw extensive playing time last fall as a freshman.

Quarterbacks Tony Powell (6 feet 3 inches, 195 pounds) and Anthony Stains (5 feet 9 inches, 160 pounds) are both getting long looks at taking over as the leader of the offense. The pair both quarterbacked the freshman team last fall.

Running back/safety Tate Leach could see playing time with the varsity in 2019. Sophomore linemen include Jayson Stoner, Matt Monroe, David Ordonez, Aiden Cannon, Chase Vandergrift, Sam Fluke, Isiah Schreck and Deonte Davis.

Backs and receivers include Audric Bryant, Jay Smith, Carter Headley, Caden Paul, Kaleb Stein, Brandyn Davis, Vincent Corradi, Perry Henry-Kane and Ny’Zier Arango. Nolan Sessa, a freshman, will be booting the kicks.

The Blue Raiders scrimmaged Hershey on Saturday at the end of the first full week of regular practice sessions, following the heat acclimatization, non-contact week.

And, as most scrimmages go, the strengths and shortcomings of the team were exposed. The run defense looked exceptional, while the pass defense had some holes. Offensively, the Middletown team struggled a bit at times with the running game while the air game looked pretty good.

The coaches agree that rebuilding the offensive line is a major priority, and the new starting group will need to come together right away for the team to be successful.

Lopez is counting on that to happen in his drive to add to his already impressive numbers, as will be his backfield mates.

The early development of a new starting quarterback will also be a big plus. Powell, Rodriguez and Stains each had encouraging moments in the scrimmage.

“Our players have improved every day during camp,” Myers said. “They are working very hard and looking forward to the season starting.”

And, so, it starts this Friday night at War Memorial Field against Lower Dauphin and continues through the 10-game regular season.

The Middletown-Lower Dauphin rivalry dates all the way back to 1960.

The challenge is there for the new version of Blue Raiders football to build on the success and rich tradition of Middletown Area High School.  

2019 football schedule

Aug. 17 Hershey (scrimmage) H 10 a.m.

Aug. 23 Lower Dauphin H 7 p.m.

Aug. 30 Northern H 7 p.m.

Sept. 6 Bishop McDevitt A 7 p.m.

Sept. 13 Camp Hill A 7 p.m.

Sept. 20 Steel-Highspire H 7 p.m.

Sept. 27 Boiling Springs A 7 p.m.

Oct. 4 Milton Hershey H 7 p.m.

Oct. 11 Trinity A 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 East Pennsboro* H 2 p.m.

Oct. 25 Palmyra A 7 p.m.

* Homecoming