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Turnovers key in 1st home loss since 2015 for MAHS; Raiders fall to Milton Hershey

By Larry Etter

Press & Journal Staff

717-944-4628
Posted 10/8/19

The Middletown football team had stung itself at times during the first six games of the 2019 season.

The Blue Raiders were able to overcome most of those miscues while running off to a 6-0 …

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Turnovers key in 1st home loss since 2015 for MAHS; Raiders fall to Milton Hershey

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The Middletown football team had stung itself at times during the first six games of the 2019 season.

The Blue Raiders were able to overcome most of those miscues while running off to a 6-0 record.

Against a very good Milton Hershey team on Friday night, however, the errors and penalties came back to bite them in a big way.

The Spartans took full advantage of a number of turnovers and breakdowns by Middletown in a key Mid-Penn Conference Capital Division contest on their way to a 33-21 win at War Memorial Field, handing the Blue Raiders their first loss of the season.

The setback also marked the first loss on their home turf since 2015, disappointing themselves and the home crowd on a chilly evening.

“We obviously were not very clean tonight, and that’s on me,” head coach Brett Myers said following the loss.

Despite the loss, the Raiders remain No. 2 in the PIAA District 3 AAA power rankings, behind undefeated Wyomissing. Middletown travels west across the Susquehanna River on Friday to take on Trinity. The Shamrocks (5-2) are No. 3 in the AA power rankings.

Against Milton Hershey, penalties — which the team had dealt with through the first six weeks — were one thing. Turnovers, however, were something entirely different.

“We’re not used to that,” Myers said.

The turnovers, in particular a pair of key fumbles lost, really hurt. A pair of defensive breakdowns proved to be damaging as well.

Still, despite their problems and facing a 20-7 deficit at halftime, the Blue Raiders played a strong second half and were in position to pull off a comeback after scoring twice following intermission.

They scored with 4:09 left in the game to close within six points and then made a defensive stop. But the Spartans recovered a muffed punt return, nailing down the win with a touchdown with 1:21 left.

Early, both teams had turnovers. Milton Hershey’s Thomas Horan intercepted a Tony Powell pass three plays into the game, but Jose Lopez scooped up a Spartan fumble two plays later, returning the ball to the Milton Hershey 2 yard line to set up the game’s first touchdown.

Following a loss on first down on a sack, Powell corrected the setback by flipping a short pass in the flat to Tajae Broadie on the right side. Not to be denied, Broadie broke several tackles and burst into the end zone. Nolan Sessa’s kick gave the Raiders a 7-0 lead with 9:15 left in the opening quarter.

After stopping Milton Hershey’s next drive and forcing a punt, the Raiders took over at their own 20. But Tim Wagner was separated from the ball after gaining 12 yards on a short pass and the Spartans were on offense at the Middletown 33.

The Spartans needed just one play, a pass from Tigere Mavesere to Josh Parra, to put points on the board. The PAT try failed, leaving the Raiders with a 7-6 lead at 6:39.

The Spartans went ahead 12-7, however, with just 8 seconds left in the first period. The scoring opportunity came following a disastrous offensive possession by the Raiders after the Middletown defense had stopped the Spartans at the Middletown 11.

Lopez went for 8 yards on first down, but three straight penalties, the first of which wiped out an exciting 81-yard catch-and-run by Chris Joseph, did major damage. That erasure was followed by two more crushing penalties, along with two more following a 9-yard run by Tymir Jackson, and totally wrecked the Middletown offense’s series.

To make matters worse, a shanked punt gave the Spartans possession at the Middletown 30. Mavesere’s pass on third and 5 to Avohn Cross made the score 12-7. Joseph blocked the extra point try.

The Raiders drove to the Milton Hershey 25 on the opening possession of the second stanza, but the march died there. Two more drives ended without points, the second one resulting in another punt with 45 seconds left in the first half. Two plays later, Milton Hershey speedster Dion Bryant gave the Spartans an 18-7 lead as he burned the Middletown defense on an 84-yard touchdown run. A two point pass from Mavesere to Cross pushed the visitors’ lead to 20-7.

A short onsides kickoff was recovered by the Spartans, keeping the Middletown offense off the field. Linebacker Arthur Dash recovered a Spartan fumble two plays later, however.

The Spartans had the ball to start the second half. The Middletown defense, keyed by Broadie and Dash, held. But a face mask penalty against the Raiders on the return forced the Middletown offense to start from its own 9. A determined run game, however, keyed a solid drive that steadily moved out of danger and into Milton Hershey territory.

Lopez carried five straight times, Jackson ran four times and the Raiders had a first and 10 at the Milton Hershey 30. Three plays later, Lopez capped the drive with an 8-yard power run up the middle. With 4:35 left in the third and Sessa’s kick, the home team was now down by just six, 20-14, and the home crowd felt a collective sense of relief.

It did not last long.

Bryant fielded Dagan Hughes’ bouncing kickoff in full stride and raced past the Raider defenders for a spirit-damaging 75-yard return for a touchdown that put the visitors up 27-14. But the Raiders responded with another promising drive that reached the Milton Hershey 5 before ending on a lost fumble.

That turnover alone could have totally crushed the Raiders’ hopes, but they kept on playing hard. With 7:01 left in the game, the Blue Raiders put together another good run that gave them a golden opportunity to come all the way back.

With teammates Nick Newton, Amir Potter, Troy Walcko, Brock Welsh, Quincy Reinnegal and tight end Jeremy Wells leading the way, Lopez had his hands on the ball eight straight times, the last one a scoring dash from three yards out that closed the gap to 27-20 with 4:09 left. Sessa’s kick made it a 6-point game and had the Middletown fans cheering the Raiders on.

The defense then got caught up in the excitement with Broadie recording back-to-back sacks of Mavesere on first and second downs. On third and long, Jules Nester outjumped the 6-foot-4-inch Cross to knock down a pass and force a Milton Hershey punt.

The Raiders had trouble handling Parra’s punts all game, but this time the opportunity to cleanly field his kick was there. The chance that could have given the Raiders good field position near midfield. However, it eluded the Middletown squad when the ball bounced off the return man’s hands and the Spartans recovered with 3:01 left.

The Spartans struck quickly on a 32-yard run by Bryant to lock up the win. Another mishandled ball on the kickoff was also recovered by the Spartans to end it.

“There’s no such thing as a good loss,” Myers said. “We have to get up off the ground and be ready to go next week with whoever’s on the schedule.”