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Raiders keep rolling; Lower Dauphin is no match for Middletown in Iron Spike Bowl

By Larry Etter

Press & Journal Staff

Posted 8/29/18

Lower Dauphin showed some offensive and defensive muscle at the start of Friday’s season opener against Middletown at Hersheypark Stadium, jumping out to a 7-0 lead halfway through the first …

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Raiders keep rolling; Lower Dauphin is no match for Middletown in Iron Spike Bowl


Lower Dauphin showed some offensive and defensive muscle at the start of Friday’s season opener against Middletown at Hersheypark Stadium, jumping out to a 7-0 lead halfway through the first quarter.

The Falcons also scored the last touchdown of the game in the Iron Spike Bowl in front of an enthusiastic season-opening crowd.


Blue Raiders fans enjoy the game.
Blue Raiders fans enjoy the game.

But, in between those two scores, the Blue Raiders found the end zone six straight times in what turned out to be an impressive romp for the Middletown side.

The Blue Raiders have not lost a regular season game since Oct. 30, 2015, when they fell at Steel-High, 19-18, and are coming off back-to-back seasons in which they went 14-1, losing in the state championship game both years. It’s their third straight win vs. the Falcons.

While things started a bit slow for the Raiders, everything changed once the defending District III-AAA champs found their footing.

Middletown head coach Brett Myers, with a somewhat relieved smile on his face at the end, summed up the effort of his team in a short sentence.

“We have good kids,” he said.

As to the slow start, Myers said: “Not having that second scrimmage showed early.”

Heading into the game a bit shorthanded against longstanding rival Lower Dauphin, Myers was a bit concerned and unsure how his team would play.

“We have some young players in key positions so we will have to see how they do,” he said.

As it turned out, they did very well.

Junior standout Jose Lopez had 167 yards on 18 carries, and Richie Sykes, a senior who played previously at Red Land, had 156 yards on 11 carries.

Those gaudy statistics came even though the Falcons obviously were geared defensively to stop Middletown’s run game, keying most of their game plan to stop Lopez. That plan worked early as the Falcons forced a punt when the Raiders went three-and-out on the opening drive of the game.

Taking over at the Middletown 46 following the kick, the Falcons bullied their way to the game’s first score, a 25-yard sweep by Isaac Buck with 5:47 left in the first quarter.

On the Raiders’ second possession, senior quarterback Scott Ash connected on a pair of short passes to Sykes and Chris Joseph and another covering 19 yards to Sykes to move the offense. But the drive stalled at the 22 when Nicholas Bennett batted down a fourth down throw. A holding penalty three plays earlier hurt the drive.

But the Middletown defense, led by Gage Radabaugh, gave up nothing and forced the Falcons to kick from deep in their end of the field.

Because of the earlier success throwing the ball, the Middletown offense showed some diversity and took the Falcons’ defense out of its comfort zone. Starting at the midfield stripe, the Raiders moved on runs by Lopez and Sykes, plus another reception by Sykes, and earned a first down at the Falcons’ 25.

One play later, the Blue Raiders tied the score on a crisp pass right down the middle from Ash to Joseph. Anthony LaVia’s kick, his first of six straight, knotted the score at 7 with 8:41 left in the first half and jump-started the Middletown team to 42 straight points.

With Joey Gusler and Cole Senior leading the way up front, the Middletown defense took away nearly everything the Falcons had to offer from that point on.

Following a Falcon punt, the Raiders were at their 39 and started off another scoring drive with a 20-yard pass connection from Ash to freshman Tajae Broadie.

Three plays later, Lopez broke free on a 31-yard touchdown sprint. Gusler, Senior, Morgan Billman, Ethan Miller and Matt Lugo gave Lopez the opening he needed. The Raiders led 14-7 with 4:19 left in the second quarter.

Lower Dauphin’s return game was solid all night and Damien Pettito gave his team good field position at the Falcon 36. Blake Keller ran for 17 yards on first down, Ryan Kutz connected with Will Bowen for 9 yards three plays later and the Falcons were on the move. But, on second and 6, Senior sacked Kutz for a 12-yard loss and took the steam out of the promising drive. Kutz made up some of the lost yards with an 11-yard pass to Bennett but his next throw fell incomplete and the Blue Raiders took over at the 32 with just 33 seconds left in the half.

What happened next was sure to become highlight reel fodder.

Taking Ash’s handoff, Lopez appeared to be stopped in the backfield, but the shifty running back had other ideas. Breaking free from an attempted tackler’s grasp, Lopez changed directions twice and then found a small gap created by his mates up front. Darting through, Lopez broke free and ran past the shocked Lower Dauphin defense and never stopped until he reached the north end zone 68 yards away. When he got there, no blue-clad defenders were within 15 yards of him. The Raiders led 21-7, taking their two-touchdown lead into halftime.

The first 5 ½ minutes of the second half turned into a stalemate and the score remained unchanged until the Blue Raiders broke the ice on their second possession of the half. Starting at their own 30, the offense went the distance in eight plays, the drive keyed by a 17-yard pass connection from Ash to Lopez, a 16-yard run by Sykes and a 37-yard sprint by Lopez that set up his own scoring dash from two yards out at 2:43.

While Lower Dauphin’s offense had trouble moving the ball, the Falcons got a bit of a lift with time winding down when they had the Raiders pinned deep at the 5 yard line following a punt and Middletown penalty.

But the Falcons’ bubble really burst when Sykes showed what he could do with the ball in his hands. As the Raiders caught the Falcons defense jamming the line, Sykes got past that line of defense on the left side and outran everyone — 95 yards in about 10 seconds — to push the Blue Raiders to a commanding 35-7 lead.

Two minutes into the fourth quarter, O’Dell Greene intercepted a Kutz pass that set up Middletown’s last touchdown. The 31-yard drive was capped by an Ash-to-Sykes scoring pass for 15 yards with 6:55 left in the game.

Down 42-7, the Falcons kept fighting. Kutz engineered a scoring drive against Middletown’s second-team defense. He hit Bowen from 13 yards out  with 2:43 left. But that was all they would get as the Raiders ran out the clock.

Ash completed 9 of 15 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns.