Tiger football grounds Essex Hornets


JUNIOR RUNNING BACK/defensive back Gabe Dunn (No. 24), returned a punt 37 yards to set up a touchdown, rushed six times for 44 yards, and defended a couple of passes in the Tigers’ 27-9 victory over Essex at home on Friday as they improved to 5-0. Photo by Jill Dunn

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School football team simply ground down visiting Essex on Friday night in a 27-9 Division I victory.

The 5-0 Tigers, even with a patchwork offensive line, rushed 40 times for 373 yards while completing only one pass for four yards. They also allowed the Hornet offense only 208 yards, 58 on the ground.

Essex had no answers for the Tiger’s rushing attack. It didn’t matter who carried the ball, although quarterback Tim Goettelmann (10 carries, 108 yards, three touchdowns) and halfback Tyler Buxton (eight attempts, 129 yards, one TD) did most of the damage.

After Goettelmann and Buxton, halfbacks Ian Ploof added 46 yards on nine attempts; Gabe Dunn, 44 yards on six carries; and CJ Bryant, 37 yards on three attempts. Fullback Thatcher Trudeau contributed 14 yards on four carries.

Coach Dennis Smith said he felt it took him a while to call the right plays and credited his running backs.

“Athletes make us all look good,” Smith said. “I’ve got four guys who are really running hard in terms of halfbacks.”

The line was missing starting tackle Sam Warren, who should return within a couple weeks, according to Smith, and center Andrew Hinman went down with what could be a serious injury in the second quarter. Rielly Wright-Quesnel started at tackle and moved to center, and Drew Gill stepped in for him. The Tigers kept ticking behind them, tackle Trysten Quesnel, guards Jack Rizzo and Colin Bradford, and tight end Bode Rubright.

Goettelmann said the backs found the same holes before and after the changes.

“We didn’t even notice. There was no penetration,” he said.

Smith praised the subs’ preparation.

“You never know when it’s your turn, and they were ready,” he said. “They did a good job on both sides of the ball.”

The game did not begin well. The Tigers went three-and-out and Essex moved behind the passing of QB Sam Bowen, who finished 16 of 27 for 167 yards, but was also sacked by Rubright and Quesnel for 17 yards of losses.

Bowen led the Hornets 52 yards down the field to a first-and-goal at the Tiger 8. Then came arguably the play of the game. The Hornets called Bowen’s number for a sweep, and Tiger nose tackle Nikolai Luksch shot through and blew up the play for a 10-yard loss. The Hornets settled for a 29-yard Cory Giannelli field goal at 5:12 of the first, but the game had shifted.

“Holding them to a field goal, that was huge. We didn’t let them score on the first drive, and then we turned around and put up points,” Goettelmann said.

Specifically, the Tigers moved 75 yards on six plays to make it 7-3. Three of those plays were Buxton runs totaling 29 yards, and the last was a Goettelmann sweep wide left on which he raced untouched to the end zone at 2:25 of the first.

A Rubright sack killed the next Hornet possession, and Gabe Dunn returned their punt 37 yards, tip-toeing down the left sideline to the Essex 11.

After a Buxton run moved the ball to the eight, Goettelmann went wide right on the first play of the second quarter, again scoring untouched when Buxton wiped out the last tackler, and it was 14-3.

The score remained that way at the half thanks to defensive plays by both sides. Essex linebacker Chris Davis made a leaping one-handed interception of a Goettelmann pass at the Essex 11 at 8:25, and Tiger safety Mason Kaufmann recovered to knock away a deep pass down the right sideline on fourth-and-eight from the Tiger 35.

The Tigers salted the game away with touchdowns on their first two possessions of the second half. At 8:48 of the third Buxton swept left and bolted home from 49 yards out, followed by a rare Luksch miss on an extra point. Three minutes later Goettelmann went wide right again from four yards away, capping an 89-yard drive. That march included a 52-yard Buxton run that was extended 15 yards by an Essex penalty.

Smith said the Hornets had successfully taken away off-tackle runs, but the Tigers were eventually able to establish runs up the middle as well as sweeps and keep Essex off balance.

“We had to make a few adjustments,” he said. “They were stopping the off-tackle, and we started hitting it up inside, and all of a sudden it became a guessing game for them.”

Essex broke through for a score at 2:44 on the third, when Bowen (13 carries for 36 yards) ran in from the Tiger 2 to cap a short drive. Bowen also hit Anthony Decarvalho for 18 yards on the 32-yard march, which was set up by Luke Meunier’s 40-yard kickoff return after the final Tiger TD.

 Other than that and the opening drive the Hornets struggled to find move the ball against the Tigers, who also got a late interception from Buxton as well as the two sacks and big plays from Luksch and Kaufmann.

“Our defense has been playing great all season. We’ve given up some things here and there, but there’s always somebody to make a play,” Smith said. 

The Tigers are one of three undefeated teams in D-I, with St. Johnsbury ahead on points and the Tigers tied for second with Burr & Burton.

Smith just hopes for good health with the team already tapping its list of substitutes.

“Except for our depth I think we can play with anybody,” he said.

Goettelmann said the Tigers are confident, but will keep their heads down and keep working.

“We’re feeling great,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep repping in practice, keep getting prepared for the games.”

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