MIDDLEBURY — Friday was another day at the office for the Middlebury Union High School football team’s offensive line, fullback Jordan Connor and tailback Marshall Hastings.
With the linemen and Connor paving the way, Hastings bolted for 161 of the Tigers 257 rushing yards as MUHS bulldozed visiting Mount Anthony, 33-12, and improved to 3-0 in their return to Division I.
Hastings rushed for two touchdowns and returned a fumble 73 yards for another, while quarterback Tyler Provencher snuck in for one more and tossed a TD pass to tailback Mitchell Clarke.
But the ground game was once again the story, a week after Hastings ran for 222 yards on 29 carries vs. Essex.
Senior tackle and co-captain Austin Quesnel said the linemen — Joey Zeno, Gabe LaBerge, Ramsey Bronson and Dylan Lanpher have seen the bulk of the time — enjoy looking up and seeing Hastings, Clarke or Provencher picking up big yardage.
“It’s pretty good when the whole line clicks together and gives it their all, and the guy’s down the field,” Quesnel said.
The backs have done their share, too. Hastings on Friday thanked sophomore halfback Sam Smith for a big block on his second scoring run. But Coach Dennis Smith said Connor, a senior three-year veteran, has done the most consistent damage clearing Hastings’s path.
“He’s only about a buck-60, but he hits like a train,” Coach Smith said. “He’s done a great job giving Marshall some great holes to run through.”
On Friday, the defense also stoned the 0-3 Patriots in the first quarter, holding them to five yards in three possessions. Meanwhile, the Tigers scored twice in three tries to lead, 13-0.
MUHS marched 51 yards on five plays for its first score, a Hastings sweep right from the eight. Four runs to the left, including a 22-yard burst by Clarke, set up the TD. Sophomore Josh Stearns missed the point after for the first time this season, and it was 6-0.
On the Tigers’ third possession, they moved 47 yards in seven plays to make it 13-0. On third and nine from the MAU 14, Provencher hit Clarke in the right flat, and he spun into the end zone as the period expired.
The Patriots adjusted in the second quarter, and began to gash the Tiger defense with back Alex Cross (27 carries, 112 yards), who ran for 65 yards in the period.
But after the Patriots reached the Tiger 27, quarterback Chris Redding tried to scramble on a broken play, and Clarke, at linebacker, punched the ball loose. It bounced to Hastings, and he had an open 73-yard field ahead of him. The Tigers faked the kick, and Provencher hit Clarke to make it 21-0 at 9:46.
The Patriots responded with a 37-yard kick return by Redding and putting in Juan Restrepo at QB. They marched 53 yards to make it 21-6. Cross ran five times for 34 yards on the drive, including a 1-yard TD run at 5:27.
The Tigers came right back with a 73-yard march in which Hastings broke loose for runs of 22 and 23 yards on sweeps. Provencher snuck in at 1:05, and after the kick missed it was 27-6. Connor intercepted a Restrepo pass as time expired, and that score stood at the break.
The Tigers adjusted after the half to slow Cross: Smith said they were over-pursuing in the second quarter and told his defenders to “stay in their gaps.” Overall, he is pleased with his defense.
“We’re going to bend, but we don’t want to break. We don’t want to give up the long play. If they’re going to score, they’re going to earn it,” he said. “We’re going to keep adjusting and making little changes to take away what seems to be working for them.”
MAU reached Tiger territory in the third period, but the drive stalled when linebacker Jesse Otis and Zeno combined to drop Cross for a loss. The Tigers had a chance when the Patriots fumbled a punt and Smith recovered at the MAU 17, but the Patriots sacked Provencher, and MUHS lost the ball on downs.
MAU mounted a drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters, with Restrepo twice running for first down yardage on fourth and long. But the second time he fumbled, and Otis recovered on the Tiger 36. Runs of 19 yards by Hastings and 13 by Otis moved the ball into MAU territory, and then Hastings broke a 33-yarder at 6:53 to make it 33-6 and end any suspense.
MAU added a late score on a Cross 4-yard run playing against mostly the Tiger second-string. Seth Hobbs broke up the two-point conversion.
That late drive pushed MAU’s final total offense to 219 yards; Restrepo went 7-for-19 for 57 yards. The Tigers finished with 268 yards of offense.
Quesnel said the Tigers are feeling good because of a combination of factors: their record, the fact that players will soon be returning from suspension and injury, and the strong performance of those who have played in their absence.
“We’re pretty confident right now,” he said. “We’re getting some players back, but we’ve definitely got some backups who are stepping up, too.”
Coach Smith said halfback/safety Patrick Foley and lineman Tyler Dunton will almost certainly return from injury next week, when MUHS must travel to face D-I power Rutland (2-1).
“Next week’s a great challenge against Rutland,” Smith said. “It’s been a while since we’ve played them, so we’re really looking forward to going back down there.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]