Middletown Earns Return Trip To Hershey For State Finals After Resounding 49-14 Victory Over Notre Dame
During the high school football regular season, the Lower Dauphin Falcons and Hershey Trojans are the two tenants that call Hersheypark Stadium home. Better make way for an unofficial third team, at least for this year. By virtue of their dominant 49-14 victory over Notre Dame Green Pond on Friday night in Hershey, the Middletown Blue Raiders clinched their spot in the PIAA 3A Championship game next week back inside what has become their unofficial home away from home.
In total, it will be Middletown’s fourth game inside the friendly confines this season, the second of which will have hardware on the line. In their previous trip that was on a championship stage, the Blue Raiders dispatched Wyomissing 48-20 to win the District 3 3A title. Needless to say, it doesn’t appear that the bright lights of Pennsylvania high school football’s biggest stage appear to affect this bunch from neighboring Middletown.
As far as Friday night’s contest was concerned, the Blue Raiders wasted little time in jumping on the opposing Crusaders. After the Middletown defense forced Notre Dame into a three and out to start, the Blue Raiders took over just 44 yards away from the goal line. It didn’t take them long to reach their destination, two plays to be exact, all from senior running back Jaelen Thompson. On the Blue Raider’s first play from scrimmage, Thompson took the jet sweep 41 yards to the Crusader three-yard line and promptly punched it in from there to give Middletown the early 7-0 lead with 10:11 still left to play in the first quarter.
After both teams exchanged punts, Notre Dame would get the ball back looking to avoid the same fate as their previous two drives which resulted in three and outs. Luckily for the Crusaders, senior running back Mitch Daniel was able to put an end to that stat and move the chains after his 12-yard run on the first play of the drive for ND. Even with the their first first down of the ballgame, this drive would also end with Notre Dame punting it away after a third & six attempt was stopped short.
With the ball back, Middletown was looking to put even more of a dent in the scoreboard. It looked promising to start the drive as junior running back Brady Fox picked up seven on the ground and was able to convert a third & three later in the drive with an eight-yard run out to the Middletown 41 for a fresh set of downs. Fox would again have the honors on a third down after Notre Dame’s Matt Deberardinis stuffed the play at the line of scrimmage to set up a third & five which Fox ran down into Notre Dame territory to the 44-yard line. After ND’s Mikey Degaetano made a nice tackle to set up a third & 11 later in the series, Middletown went to the air to pick it up, however the Crusaders’ Austin Kaulius wasn’t buying what the Blue Raiders were selling as he knocked it away forcing Middletown to punt.
With the ball resting at their own 24 yard line following the Middletown punt, the Crusaders tried to use the Middletown D’s aggressiveness against them as Notre Dame dialed up the perfect screen call when sophomore quarterback Cole Defranco hit Timmy Costantino for the big gainer to the ND 49-yard line. The momentum that was picked up on the screen pass seemed to be washed away when a long decision on whether to keep it or give it up on the zone read resulted in a fumble for ND that was recovered by the Crusaders, which ultimately led up to a third & 17 play for ND. Any desires to pick up the lengthy third down were put to rest by Middletown’s Tyreer Mills who was there to knock it away forcing Notre Dame to punt yet again.
After the Crusaders stuffed two consecutive plays on the ensuing Middletown drive defensively, the Blue Raiders were met with a third & 10 opportunity from their own 45-yard line. It would prove to be a golden opportunity as senior quarterback Chase Snavely hit junior Tre Leach on the 55-yard screen pass to add to Middletown’s lead 14-0 to close the first quarter scoring.
After another Notre Dame punt to begin the second quarter, the Middletown offense started to really get in a groove. After Jaelen Thompson opened the drive up with an 8 yard burst, Brady Fox picked up 10 more yards on the ground to get Middletown down to the ND 35 yard line. From there Jaelen Thompson would do all the heavy lifting, or hard running if you will, as his big run that followed Fox’s effort got M-Town all the way down to the Crusader 14-yard line. After two runs from Thompson got Middletown to the four, Thompson finished it off with a four-yard run to give Middletown the 21-0 advantage with 7:48 left in the half.
Another Middletown drive, another Middletown touchdown. This next one came by way of Brady Fox who ran it in from 32 yards away up the gut to increase the Blue Raider lead to 28-0 with 5:23 remaining in the half.
With their season hanging in the balance, Notre Dame GP needed to find points and fast. Luckily for the group from Easton, their ensuing series would lead to their first points of the night. After a late hit was whistled against Middletown that moved the ball to the Raider 38 yard line, Cole Defranco scrambled for an additional 12 yards to the Middletown 26. It wasn’t of the 26-yard variety, but Mitch Daniel broke would-be tacklers and found himself in the endzone 22 yards later to get Notre Dame on the board to cut the Middletown lead to 28-7 with 3:35 left in the half.
After both teams traded punts the next two possessions, Middletown found themselves with the ball back setting up shop at their own 32 with just 1:32 left in the half. Middletown kept their collective foot on the gas and they were rewarded for their efforts with a defensive pass interference call against ND that moved it to the Crusader 43 yard line.
The Blue Raiders found more success via the passing game after the penalty as Snavely found Tre Leach yet again for the big chunk play down to the ND 14-yard line. Not even back to back flags would keep Middletown out of the endzone before the half was done. This was realized when Chase Snavely kept it in the air and found Jaelen Thompson for the 32-yard TD reception to make it 35-7 with just 32 seconds left in the first 24 minutes of action.
It appeared for a brief moment that Notre Dame would be able to answer Middletown’s late score when Defranco’s screen pass to senior wideout Jalen Simpson went from the Crusaders’ own 38 yard line down to the Middletown nine-yard line with just two seconds left showing on the clock. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, their field goal try just before the half was blocked sending Middletown into the dressing room with a commanding 35-7 lead.
Even though Middletown started the second half with possession, the Blue Raiders weren’t able to maintain control of it for very long as Notre Dame’s Austin Kaulius stepped in front of the Middletown pass and picked it off to set Notre Dame GP up at their own 38-yard line. The task to keep the drive alive was hindered when Middletown’s Bob Graham got loose and earned himself a sack to put Notre Dame in a hole with third & 14 which could not be converted giving the ball back to Middletown at their own 29 yard line.
Notre Dame GP was hit with a personal foul call that moved the ball into ND territory to the 42-yard line. Middletown’s Brady Fox was there to make the Crusaders pay as he rumbled down to the 25-yard line, showing off a beautiful stiff arm in the process. Jaelen Thompson would take Middletown down closer to the pylons with a run down to the 12 yard line before the drive was ultimately capped off with Snavely’s 13-yard connection to fellow senior Malik Noon in the face of third & 11 to now make it a 42-7 Middletown lead, which was the score after three quarters of action.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Middletown’s Justin Mayersky got in on the action as his three-yard dive pushed the Blue Raider lead to 49-7 to make good on Jonah McCoy’s interception that he tallied on Notre Dame’s most recent encounter with the football.
Notre Dame GP would end up having the final say as far as the scoreboard was concerned as the Crusaders answered Middletown’s score with a drive of their own. The drive was ignited when a pass interference call went against the Blue Raiders that moved the ball to midfield. From there, Cole Defranco scrambled for 11 yards down to the 39-yard line. With the offense clicking, Defranco went to the air for the next big Crusader play as he hooked up with Mitch Daniel to the 21. Following the pass to Daniel, Defranco found Gerald Grube on the screen pass to get ND down to the 13 yard line. Defranco would later prove to be the one to get Notre Dame GP into the endzone as his four yard run on third & goal closed out the scoring and sent Middletown to the state title game in 49-14 fashion.
It was quite obvious over the course of the game, that the Notre Dame offense had their hands full and then some dealing with the Middletown defense. While some may have assumed that Notre Dame would enjoy the same success they have had this season offensively, Middletown head man Brett Myers was not surprised in the least that his defense was up to the task on Friday night. “Probably the part that shocked everybody was how well our defense played, but our defense is only giving up ten points a game all season so to people within the program it’s not very shocking.”
NEXT UP: Middletown will look to have one more complete game next week in the state title game as they match up with historic Beaver Falls next Saturday afternoon at Hersheypark Stadium for a 3:30 kick off. The Tigers will enter the game as the WPIAL 3A champions as they defeated Aliquippa 35-22 at Heinz Field a few weeks ago before taking care of Central High School of Martinsburg this weekend 14-7 to punch their ticket to Hershey.
Notre Dame Green Pond closes their season with a record of 12-3 that was highlighted with a 7-0 start. After the Crusaders dropped two in a row following their impressive start, they bounced back with a big 55-19 triumph over rival Wilson to springboard into the playoffs. Once in the playoffs, Notre Dame GP ran off four straight W’s, including a 28-7 win over Pen Argyl for the District 11 3A title before bowing out to Middletown this weekend.
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