MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School football team put a rain-soaked exclamation point on its regular season on Friday, when the Tigers dominated visiting Champlain Valley, 35-7, to enter the Division I playoffs with a 5-3 record and — according to several sources — the No. 5 seed.
The Tigers are expected to play at No. 4 Rutland (5-3) on Friday, with the winner of that game facing either undefeated No. 1 Hartford or No. 8 South Burlington (4-4) the following weekend.
CVU dropped to 5-3 and the probable No. 7 seed, and is expected to travel to No. 2 BFA-St. Albans. Next weekend’s final matchup should pit No. 6 Colchester (5-3) at No. 3 Essex (6-2).
The Tigers will enter the playoffs after consecutive strong wins, 14-0 at Colchester on Oct. 12 and Friday’s thumping of CVU.
Senior tri-captain Derek Bagley, who along with the rest of the Tiger linemen ruled the line of scrimmage vs. the Redhawks, said the team would be confident moving forward.
“Hopefully we can keep up the good momentum,” Bagley said. “Hopefully we can stay up on top.”
Coach Dennis Smith praised his team’s progress since a loss to BFA-St. Albans two weeks before after which he said the Tigers made too many mistakes.
“I do feel good,” Smith said. “There’s always things to improve on, but … I’m feeling much better about what we’re doing as a coaching staff and the way the kids are executing.”
One area of improvement is defense. The Tigers followed up their shutout at Colchester by allowing only a meaningless score as time expired against CVU. The Redhawks managed 1 yard in the first quarter, 65 in the second, and then lost a yard in the third quarter. They finished with 133 yards, 75 coming on that final drive.
The Tigers also scored a defensive touchdown on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Nick Felkl picked off a Bennett Cazayoux pass and returned it 38 yards to paydirt. The first of five Josh Stearns kicks made it 7-0 with seven seconds gone.
In all, the Tigers held two CVU quarterbacks, Cazayoux and Steele Dubrul, to seven of 30 through the air for 73 net yards, and CVU gained 60 yards in 21 rushing attempts.
Smith said all the Tigers are “doing their jobs right now,” and also doing their homework and learning their opponents.
“During the practices we do a lot of adjustments against teams based on what (opponents) do. And the kids are really looking at the scouting report and getting more out of it as the season goes on,” he said. “It’s like a test, and it gives them the answers for the test on Friday night, and the kids are really responding now.”
On the other side of the ball, the Tiger line of Bagley and Taylor Patterson at guard, Sam Messenger at center, tackles Jonas Hastings and Gabe Laberge at tackle, and Stearns and Grover Usilton at tight end kept opening up holes for the Tiger backs, who rolled up 419 yards on 47 carries despite the sloppy conditions.
“You slipped and slided a lot,” Bagley said. “You couldn’t cut at all. A couple times when I was pulling I tried to cut up but I ended up on my butt. So I kind of just blocked straight and went at it.”
Smith joked about his team’s ability to play well in the mud, and noted although the Tigers bobbled a few snaps they did not give the ball away near their goal line.
“These clowns love playing in this stuff, and they find a way to not fall down. And everybody was going to fumble tonight, but we didn’t make the big mistakes,” Smith said.
Occasionally, CVU’s defensive gambles paid off, but the Tigers more often found holes and converted several third-and-longs.
“They do a lot of stunting up inside,” Smith said. “They try to beat you in the inside gaps and try to penetrate, and we were able to seal everything and get some good lanes for the guys.”
The Tigers also scored on their first offensive possession, driving 65 yards in nine plays to make it 14-0 at 6:27 of the first. Fullback Jakob Trautwein (8 carries, 51 yards) capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down.
The Tigers fumbled at their own 45 to open the second quarter, giving CVU some hope. The Redhawks, thanks largely to DuBrul’s 13-yard run on a fake punt and Patrick Shea’s 13-yard ramble on a draw play, reached the Tiger 12.
But the Tigers pushed CVU back to the 15 and took over there. On third and 10, they ran their bread-and-butter counter to the left, and Felkl (16 carries, 158 yards) broke a tackle and bolted down the left sideline for an 85-yard score that made it 21-0 at 7:20 of the second.
The Tigers controlled the third quarter, but did not score, and then tacked on two more touchdowns in the fourth. With seven seconds gone in the period, Mitchell Clarke (7 carries, 64 yards) went over the right side from 17 yards out to make it 28-0.
On their final possession, the Tigers ran five straight plays over the right side, with backs Darren Desabrais (5 carries, 39 yards), Nathan Herrmann and Cullen Hathaway gaining at least 13 yards on every play in a 77-yard march that capped the scoring. Hathaway covered the final 15 yards.
Quarterback Tyler Provencher completed only one of six attempts in the driving rain, a 14-yarder to Trautwein, but got in on the fun with a 54-yard second-quarter run.
Ultimately, though, Friday’s win belonged to the guys in the trenches opening the holes despite the mud.
“They came out and they established the line of scrimmage for us,” Smith said. “It’s been two weeks now, and I’m really liking it.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]