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One more for the title: Blue Raiders crush Conwell-Egan, will play for state championship again

By Larry Etter

Press & Journal Staff

Posted 12/4/17

WEST CHESTER — The Blue Raiders won the coin toss and elected to take the ball first Saturday at the start of their state semifinal game.

That decision turned out to be the right one as …

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One more for the title: Blue Raiders crush Conwell-Egan, will play for state championship again


WEST CHESTER — The Blue Raiders won the coin toss and elected to take the ball first Saturday at the start of their state semifinal game.

That decision turned out to be the right one as Middletown recorded a touchdown on its opening possession, touching off a 49-7 rout over the Conwell-Egan Catholic Eagles and highly touted tailback Patrick Garwo at Rustin High School Stadium.

The Blue Raiders earned a return trip to Hersheypark Stadium at noon Saturday with the Pennsylvania Class 3A title on the line. The Raiders made it that far last year but came up short in a 30-13 loss to Beaver Falls.

This year’s opponent is Quaker Valley, a team that won its semifinal clash 43-23 over Sharon in the Western bracket at North Hills High School on Friday. Sharon previously was victorious in one of the oddest games of the PIAA playoffs this season, a 2-0 win over Aliquippa at Heinz Field on Nov. 18 when the only score was a second-quarter safety. Another oddity: The Quakers had a bye in the state quarterfinals, moving directly into the state semifinals after the Aliquippa win.

On Saturday, with many fans and observers expecting a closely played clash between Middletown and Conwell-Egan (who finished 7-7 on the season), the Blue Raiders dominated on Rustin’s artificial turf. While the consistently stellar Middletown defense shut down Garwo (59 yards rushing) and the Eagles, the Blue Raiders offense rolled up 475 yards over their shocked opponents in the “mercy clock” victory.

“This was a statement win for our program,” Middletown head coach Brett Myers said. “Most of our kids are two- and three-sport athletes and had to find the time to work for this win.”

Coming back from last year’s championship appearance after losing 23 players to graduation in June turned out to be a remarkable achievement.

“We weren’t expected to be here after all the guys we lost last year,” said senior Brady Fox, who led the offensive attack with 177 yards and four touchdowns.

Sophomore Jose Lopez, who also has enjoyed a spectacular season on the ground, did not play. He suffered an ankle injury in the Blue Raiders’ district championship win vs. Wyomissing on Nov. 16.

The Blue Raider defense has four shutouts and eight games in which their opponent has scored exactly 7 points. Only Palmyra (a 17-10 win on Oct. 6) and Trinity (a 45-34 win on Sept. 29) have been in double digits. The offense has been in the 40s every game since Palmyra except for a 35-0 win against Scranton Prep on Nov. 24.

In the game’s opening offensive possession, a well-executed screen pass from quarterback Scott Ash to Tre’ Leach went for 46 yards to the Conwell-Egan 9 yard line and set up Fox’s first touchdown. On just the fourth play of the drive Fox slipped through a gap between left guard and tackle for the touchdown just 1:40 into the contest. Donovan Brady kicked his first of seven extra points and the Blue Raiders grabbed the quick 7-0 lead.

Following the kickoff, the Eagles started at their 30. Garwo, who often ran wild in the regular season over Egan’s Philadelphia Catholic League opponents, was held to 4 yards on two carries and the Eagles were forced to punt. With 8:19 left in the opening quarter the Middletown offense was back on the field at the Raiders’ 39.

Five plays later the Raiders owned a 14-0 lead. Fox ran three times for 33 yards and the Raiders also benefited from an Eagles penalty. On first and 10 from the 13 Ash connected with fullback Lamar Ventura on a short pass that went the distance for the second tally.

The Eagles picked up a pair of first downs on their ensuing drive, one via a Middletown penalty and the other on a 26-yard run by Garwo. But the march died at the Middletown 20, thanks to four terrific plays by the Raiders defense. Brendan Douglass sacked quarterback Alex Goldby on first down, Tyreer Mills defended a pair of passes and Blake Jacoby stopped Garwo for a one-yard gain to stop the drive.

Three plays into Middletown’s following possession, Mills tossed a short pass to Leach that turned into a 21-yard gain to the Raiders’ 44.

Fox, who has always been quick to credit his blockers up front, dashed through a huge gap on the right side and outran Egan’s defensive backs to the end zone on the next play. The 56-yard touchdown sprint gave the Raiders a 21-0 lead with 3:27 still left in the first quarter.

Joey Gusler, Douglass, Morgan Billman, Ethan Miller, Cole Senior and tight end Aaron McDevitt manhandled Egan’s defensive line all day and made life easy for Fox and Ash. Gage Radabaugh, Leach and Senior made the defensive plays on the Eagles’ next possession and forced another punt. And, although the Blue Raiders did not score on the next series, it was obvious that the Middletown side was in control.

Miller, Jacoby, Radabaugh, Adonis Tavares, Leach and Devin Martin among others held the Eagles in check, with the exception of a 16-yard gain by Garwo on a fake punt, and Conwell-Egan was stopped once again inside the Middletown 30.

Taking over on downs at their own 27, the Middletown offense got a big lift when Ash hooked up with Ryan Hughes on a pass that went for 48 yards to the Eagles’ 16. But Leach lost 3 yards on first down and twisted an ankle, forcing him to miss the rest of the game. Three plays later, Brady was just wide left on a 39-yard field goal attempt.

The Blue Raiders, however, were not done scoring just yet. After forcing yet another Eagles’ punt the offense was back in business at the 31. A pair of passes from Ash to Chris Plummer that went for 18 and 40 yards set up Plummer’s third straight reception, a post pattern that covered the last 10 yards and gave the Blue Raiders a commanding 28-0 lead.

Conwell-Egan finally put some points on the board with just 28 seconds left in the first half. Catching the Middletown defense playing run all the way, Goldsby and Dajuan Harris connected for a 77-yard touchdown pass that erased the zero on Egan’s side of the board. The Blue Raiders took their 28-7 lead into the halftime break.

Martin and Antonio Gamble broke up a pair of passes by Goldsby on the first possession of the second half and the Eagles again had to give up the ball. Mills ran once and caught a 12-yard pass from Ash to start the drive and a personal foul by the Eagles helped move the ball to the Conwell-Egan 13. Fox took it from there, dashing into the end zone with 8:22 left in the third and pushed the Middletown lead to 35-7.

That score took the heart right out of the Eagles. With Garwo rarely even touching the ball in the remaining time of the second half, the Eagles could do nothing against the Middletown defense.

Later in the third period, the Blue Raiders scored again, topping off a 61-yard drive with another scoring run by Fox, this one from three yards out, with 3:10 left. Ash’s 23-yard run on a keeper and a 9-yard catch by Ventura keyed the drive.

With a 42-7 lead in hand and the mercy clock running, the Blue Raiders had their 14th victory assured. With 8:08 left in the game backup running back Chris Joseph got into the scoring act, dashing 46 yards for the Raiders’ seventh touchdown that put the exclamation point on the W for the winners. Mills summed up the character of this team at the end. “We have a lot of heart and we don’t care who is running in front of us. We’re just ready to go.”