Jaelen Thompson (number 7, left), and Griffen Radabaugh (number 58, right), were just two Blue Raiders seniors recently honored in their final year of school.
To see more photos by Bill Darrah of other Middletown Blue Raider seniors who were similarly honored, check out our print edition or click here for our E-edition
Last Updated on Thursday, 17 November 2016 11:45
Written by Larry Etter
The Middletown football team was not at its best in a District III playoff contest with visiting Littlestown on Friday night at War Memorial Field. But what they had was still more than the Thunderbolts could handle as the Blue Raiders shook off several miscues on their way to an overwhelming 49-14 victory.
With the win, the Raiders earned the right to play for the district title at 7 p.m. Thursday at Hersheypark Stadium against Wyomissing, a winner over Bermudian Springs in the other semifinal matchup. The game will mark the first shot at the crown for the Middletown program since the 2009 season.
At the end of the first quarter of Friday’s game, the Blue Raiders found themselves in unfamiliar territory — behind on the scoreboard. But the team pulled a reversal in the second quarter by scoring three touchdowns on its way to a commanding 28-8 halftime lead. Two more scores in the third and one in the fourth put the game out of reach for the visitors and propelled the home team to the championship showdown at Hershey.
While 13 penalties could have spelled disaster for a lesser team, this squad is different. And the Raiders simply fought through the mistakes and forged ahead for the win.
“Yes, we had some problems, but these kids overcame them,” coach Brett Myers said.
When reminded of similar issues with the Palmyra game Oct. 7, Myers smiled.
“Yeah, I was thinking about that and I found myself telling the team the same things I told them back then,” he said. “It’s such a credit to the hard work these kids put in that they are able to win a game like that.”
Littlestown brought a big, physical team to the game Friday along with a solid 8-2 record and gave the Raiders a good fight in the early going. The Thunderbolts’ defense stopped Middletown’s opening drive at the 39 when the Raiders gambled on fourth-and-6. But the visitors went nowhere with the ball and were forced to punt.
After a good return by Tyreer Mills was negated by a penalty, the Middletown offense was set up at its own 38. On first down, Brady Fox lit up the home crowd with a 62-yard touchdown run that got the Raiders on the scoreboard first. To top that off, Fox went over the 1,000 yard mark for the season on the run.
Fox went left on a sweep, got a key block from Mills in the flat and used a mini-hurdle over a Littlestown defender at the 40 as he went the distance. Donovan Brady’s kick gave the Raiders a 7-0 lead at the 8:13 mark of the opening period. The ’Bolts, however, shook off that quick Raider score and put together an impressive drive that used up most of the balance of the quarter and resulted in a go-ahead score.
Quarterback Tanner Noble connected on five straight passes while mixing in runs from four different ball carriers as the Thunderbolts drove to the Middletown 10. Andrew Matthews capped it with 59 seconds left. Following an offsides penalty against the Raiders, the ’Bolts converted a two-point try into an 8-7 lead. That, along with another failed fourth down attempt by the Raiders early in the second quarter, had the Middletown fans a bit edgy.
But, three plays into Littlestown’s possession, Griffen Radabuagh’s pressure forced a hurried throw by Noble and linebacker Blake Jacoby’s interception put the Middletown offense back on the field at the 49. A pair of runs by Jaelen Thompson and a 14-yard pass from Chase Snavely to Mills moved the ball to the 25. Five plays later, Snavely scored on a 1-yard sneak to put the Raiders back into the lead at 14-8. With the Middletown defense shutting down everything Littlestown had to offer from that point on, the Thunderbolts would not score again until late in the third quarter.
When Laron Woody stopped Littlestown’s Wesley Storey for a two-yard loss on fourth and two, the Middletown offense took over with 4:12 left in the first half. Keyed by a 16-yard run by Fox and a 15-yard catch and run by Thompson, the Raiders were able to brush off a pair of major penalties and kept the drive alive. An interference call against the ’Bolts gave the Raiders a first and goal at the nine. Fox took it in from there, running right through the middle of the visitors’ defense with 1:17 left. With Brady’s kick the Raiders now had some breathing room at 21-8.
But the Raiders were not ready to sit on the 13-point lead. Using a pair of timeouts and another three-and-out by the defense the Middletown offense was back on the field at the Littlestown 47 following a short punt. On first down, Snavely hooked up with Tre Leach for 28 yards to the 19. A holding call on the next play moved the ball back to the 29, but proved to be just a minor setback. One play later, tight end Malik Noon broke open downfield and pulled in Snavely’s throw for another Raider touchdown with 22 seconds left. That 28-8 lead loomed very large for the Middletown side.
And there certainly was no letup after the halftime break. The Thunderbolts went three-and-out on the opening possession and the Blue Raiders chalked up another score on their ensuing drive. The Middletown offense again offset a pair of holding calls in the drive, the second of which had the Raiders facing a fourth and 15 at the 38. Snavely’s pass to Leach went for 21 yards and another connection for the pair also went for 21 and a touchdown at 6:31.
Trailing 35-8, the Thunderbolts responded with their second scoring drive of the game. Keyed by a 45-yard run by Storey, the visitors needed just seven plays to record the touchdown with 2:58 left in the third. The extra point try failed as did an attempted onsides kickoff following the score. The Blue Raiders took possession at the Littlestown 48 and made the ’Bolts pay for the error.
Thompson ran for 18 yards on first down and Leach caught another Snavely throw, this one good for 27 yards to the Littletown 3 yard line. Snavely’s took it in again on a sneak behind center Ethan Newton and the Middletown lead grew to 42-14 with time still left in the third quarter.
Littlestown tried to convert a fourth-and-one on the first play of the fourth period but came up short and the Raiders had the ball at the Thunderbolts’ 29. Fox ran for 20 yards on first down and Thompson popped in from the four following a Littlestown penalty that set the mercy clock in motion with 11:39 left in the game.
Following another Littlestown punt with nine minutes left, the Raider reserves ran 3:42 off the clock. The Thunderbolts had one last chance to put more points up but ran out of time just inside the Middletown 30 as their season came to an end.
Fox now has 1,104 yards rushing for the season. Snavely’s 184 yards passing increased his season total to 1,619 yards.
Wyomissing sports 8-3 record
The Middletown football team will put its unbeaten 11-0 record on the line at 7 p.m. Thursday at Hersheypark Stadium in a game that will decide the District III-3A championship.
The Blue Raiders will take on Wyomissing, a 24-7 winner over Bermudian Springs in the other semifinal game Friday. The Spartans carry an 8-3 record into the contest. Wyomissing plays in the Berks Inter County 2 Conference. The Spartans finished second in the league standings behind Berks Catholic.
Wyomissing started the season by playing five non-league games and went 3-2. After starting off with a pair of losses to Pottsville and Garden Spot, the Spartans won three straight against Muhlenberg, Blue Mountain and Valley Forge Military Academy.
In league play, Wyomissing beat Twin Valley, Schuylkill Valley, Kutztown and Hamburg before losing to Berks Catholic in a contest that decided the division title.
Wyomissing is no stranger to postseason play and has been victorious in 7 District III title games — 2001, 2006, 2012 and 2014 in class AA, and 1990, 1991 and 1993 in class A.
Last Updated on Thursday, 17 November 2016 11:19