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Blue Raiders football team heads to state title game, hope third time is a charm

By Larry Etter

Press & Journal Staff

Posted 12/3/18

They did it again!

For the third straight year, the Middletown Blue Raider football team is headed to the state championship game.

With a resounding 35-21 victory over a talented Scranton Prep …

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Blue Raiders football team heads to state title game, hope third time is a charm


They did it again!

For the third straight year, the Middletown Blue Raider football team is headed to the state championship game.

With a resounding 35-21 victory over a talented Scranton Prep team Friday night in Bethlehem, the Blue Raiders stretched their phenomenal season one more week with the hopes of an elusive Pennsylvania 3A title on their minds.

Jose Lopez recorded 24 carries for 224 yards and two touchdowns to lead the offensive effort.

Turned away in 2016 by Beaver Falls and in 2017 by Quaker Valley, the Raiders get another shot at realizing their dream Saturday afternoon at familiar Hersheypark Stadium.

“If anyone would have said 10 weeks ago that we would be in this position, they wouldn’t have been believed,” head coach Brett Myers following Friday’s win.

But, as he was the past two seasons, Myers was a believer and not surprised.

“These kids worked very hard to get here,” he said.

Now, the Raiders have one more major hurdle to clear. They will face western Pennsylvania power Aliquippa for the championship. The Quips ran past Sharon on Saturday to earn their ticket to the big show.

While a couple of players stood out in Friday’s state semifinal win, this was a team effort.

Just like Conwell-Egan was in the quarterfinal matchup, Scranton Prep was determined to exact revenge for their loss to Middletown in 2017. And, while the Cavaliers had their moments, the Blue Raiders rose to the occasion once again.

One defensive touchdown, three scores on the ground and one through the air, and a reliable defensive game plan added up to victory. The Blue Raiders want to do that one more time in the 2018 finale.

The Raiders started off with a bang at Bethlehem thanks to Adonis Taveras, a defensive end who had missed several games this season. He jumped on a loose ball in the Cavaliers’ end zone following a high snap that eluded punter Alec Buttner four plays into the game. Avery Williams’ PAT made it 7-0 at 10:28 of the opening quarter.

With 5:16 left in the period, following an exchange of punts, the Middletown defense stopped the Cavaliers inside the 35. Taking over at their own 20 following another Prep punt, the Raiders picked up one first down on a 14-yard pass from Scott Ash to Chris Joseph. Three plays later, Lopez darted through a big gap on the left side that was created by Morgan Billman and Ethan Miller. Getting all the room he needed, Lopez streaked 59 yards for Middletown’s second touchdown.

With one minute left in the first frame, the Raiders’ defense forced another three-and-out and the offense was back on the field at the Middletown 26. On first down, Ash connected with fullback Lamar Ventura through the air for 52 yards to the Prep 22. The big gain gave all of the appearances of the Blue Raiders padding their score with a third touchdown. But the Cavaliers’ defense held firm and a 33-yard field goal try by Williams missed the mark.

Lifted by the stop, the Cavaliers offense, led by 6-foot-7-inch quarterback Leo O’Boyle, picked up four first downs and drove to the Middletown 27. But Tucker Johnson was held to zero net yards on two carries and a fourth down pass was broken up, stopping the drive at the 28.

The Raiders, hurt by a holding call, were held in check by the Scranton Prep defenders. The Middletown defense, however, returned the favor and stuffed the Cavaliers for minus 8 yards on three plays, forcing another punt that went out of bounds at the Middletown 45 with 2:13 left in the first half.

Lopez carried twice for 10 yards and Ash connected with Richie Sykes for 22 yards right down the middle to the Prep 23. One play later, the pair hooked up on the same play with Sykes free and clear to dash into the end zone with 57 ticks left. That allowed the Blue Raiders to take a 21-0 lead into halftime.

The Raiders received the second half kickoff and, before the fans got settled into their seats with their hot chocolates, the Middletown team upped its lead to 28-0.

On second and 5 from the 40, Sykes wowed the fans with a 60-yard touchdown run that was nothing short of amazing. Breaking five tackles, several of which were aided by his teammates, and making a pair of sharp cuts, Sykes went the distance with just 46 seconds gone in the third quarter.

The 28-0 lead looked comfortable, but O’Boyle and his teammates did not roll over and die. In fact the Cavaliers put together two solid offensive drives that nearly broke their scoreless drought.

Not one but two goal-line stands by the Middletown defense thwarted those drives and left the Cavaliers with zero points to show for their efforts. The first one, aided in part by a Raider penalty on a kickoff return, was stopped at the Middletown 5 yard line when the Cavaliers tried to convert a fourth and 7. The second threatening drive started in Middletown territory following a 28-yard punt return by Michael Greco. But that promising march died at the Middletown 3 as Sykes, Trayvon Joseph, Miller, Ventura, Chris Joseph and Gage Radabaugh came up with big plays to slam the door shut.

Starting at their own 3 with 4:21 left in the third quarter, the Raiders put together a steady drive down the field and appeared to be ready to put the game away early. A pair of personal foul calls against the Cavs didn’t hurt either. But, after reaching the 16, those thoughts of piling on more points ended when Ash was sacked for a 12-yard loss by Jake Aebli, who also recovered a Middletown fumble two plays later. One play following the turnover, O’Boyle connected with Paddy Grady on a 70-yard touchdown pass that put the Cavaliers in the scoring column with 27 seconds left in the third.

Following a Middletown punt two plays into the fourth quarter, Scranton Prep manufactured a long scoring drive for the Cavs’ second touchdown. O’Boyle threw 12 straight passes, the last one covering the final 6 yards to Brendan Colleran with 7:47 left. The Cavaliers had made it a two-possession game and caused uneasiness with the Middletown crowd.

“He was making those short completions but, with our defense, we wanted to keep everything in front of us,” Myers said.

Two plays into Middletown’s ensuing possession, that uneasiness was swept away when Lopez broke free on a game-clinching 80-yard touchdown run.

Bottled up for most of the second half for just 34 yards, Lopez slipped between Joe Gusler and Cole Senior on the right side, sidestepped a Cavalier at the line and burned the Prep defense with the exciting run that pushed the Middletown lead to 35-14.

Senior’s 9-yard sack of O’Boyle and a pair of downfield plays by Taveras and Antonio Bryant stopped Prep’s next drive at the Middletown 29.

But the Cavaliers did convert a blocked punt by Jakob Kenny into their third score of the night, a pass of 8 yards by O’Boyle with just 48 seconds left. However, the clock ran out in the game and the Cavaliers’ season as the Blue Raiders moved on.

With thoughts now on this week’s championship matchup and reflections of the past two title games, Myers said: “We just have to block better and tackle better and move the ball better than we had.”

Sykes had four carries for 56 yards and a touchdown.

Ash was 5 for 13 passing for 123 yards and a touchdown.

Receiving, Sykes had two catches for 45 yards and a touchdown; Ventura had the one big catch for 52 yards; Joseph had one catch for 14 yards; and Tim Wagner added one catch for 12 yards.