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Blue Raiders outlast Milton Hershey in tough Capital Division clash

By Larry Etter

Press & Journal Staff

717-944-4628
Posted 10/5/18

We’ve all heard the old saying that goes, “It’s not how you start, but how you finish.”

In a rare Thursday night game, the Middletown Blue Raiders were good at the start …

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Blue Raiders outlast Milton Hershey in tough Capital Division clash

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We’ve all heard the old saying that goes, “It’s not how you start, but how you finish.”

In a rare Thursday night game, the Middletown Blue Raiders were good at the start and the finish in a tough, 32-21 victory over Milton Hershey at Henry Hershey Field on the sprawling campus of the private school.

The victory kept the Raiders (6-1) tied with Palmyra in first place of the Mid-Penn Conference Capital Division. The two teams will meet on the final weekend of the regular season to likely decide the winner.

Their next game is Oct. 13, the Homecoming game against Trinity.

The Raiders jumped out to an early 13-0 lead against Milton Hershey and gave the appearance of a potential runaway win. But in the middle, the Spartans, who came into the key Capital Division clash with an unbeaten 6-0 record, shook off the deficit and by the end of the first quarter had taken the lead at 14-13.

From that point on, it became a tough battle between two very good teams.

With 49 seconds left in the first half, the Blue Raiders took advantage of a big mistake by the Spartans to go back in front 20-14 at the break.

And, despite opportunities for both teams, that score remained intact throughout the third quarter. The Spartans again took the lead 21-20 early in the fourth and set up an exciting “grind-it-out” finish that showed the strengths and guts of the Middletown side.

This major clash started off really well for the Blue Raiders when Cole Senior recovered a Spartan fumble on the game’s second play from scrimmage. Taking over at the Milton Hershey 37, the Raiders needed just three plays to take the lead.

Jose Lopez carried three straight times, capping the short drive with a 3-yard run with 10:17 left in the opening period. Anthony LaVia’s kick made it 7-0.

The Spartans started off their second possession with a 22-yard run by Na’eem Cross but went nowhere after that as Odell Greene, Ethan Miller, Quincy Reinnegal and Senior made big defensive plays, forcing a punt.

Starting at their own 20, the Raiders picked up 16 yards on a first-down throw from Scott Ash to Jarrod Pugh. On the next play, Richie Sykes slipped through a small gap on the right side, angled towards the sideline and outran everyone to the end zone for an electrifying 64-yard touchdown run. The extra point try was blocked, however, by Milton Hershey’s Clemente Ojinnaka.

That 13-0 lead lasted less than two minutes as the Spartans went 69 yards in just three plays for their first score of the game. Dion Bryant raced 45 yards for the touchdown at 6:21.

The Milton Hershey defense stopped the Raiders’ next drive after the Middletown offense started out at midfield following a good kickoff return by Sykes. On fourth and 4, Lopez was stopped for no gain at the 26.

The Spartans followed with an eight-play march that was keyed by the running of Cross, Bryant and Chiago Anyanwu and finished off with a 14-yard touchdown catch by Josh Parra. Parra’s PAT was good and gave the hosts a 14-13 edge with 1:35 left in the first quarter.

In the drive, Middletown lost linebacker Lamar Ventura to injury and, early in the second, Tajae Broadie also was hurt.

Neither team could break the other during the defensive powered second stanza. But the Raiders finally got a big break with just over two minutes left in the first half when a center snap sailed over the hands of Parra in punt formation. Parra was run down at the M.H. 20 with 2:07 left. Ash passed to Sykes for 13 yards on first down, Sykes ran to the one following a short gain by Lopez and Ash followed center Collin Heffner in from a yard out for the go-ahead score with 49 ticks left. LaVia’s kick was good and the Raiders took a 20-14 lead into the halftime break.

The first 30 seconds of the second half produced a pair of turnovers, one for each side. Parra’s kickoff to start the third bounced off a Middletown player and Courage Moore recovered for the home team. But, on first down, the Spartans lost the ball on a fumbled exchange and Trayvon Joseph recovered the miscue at the Milton Hershey 46.

The Raiders followed with a promising drive but the march, hurt by a pair of penalties, ran out of steam at the 31, forcing a punt. Avery Williams, who was consistent with his kicking all game, came up with a big punt that was downed at the Milton Hershey 1 yard line, pinning the Spartans deep.

But the Spartans escaped and drove all the way to the Middletown 34 before the Raider defense put the clamps on the drive.

Gage Radabaugh held Chris Farnsworth to four yards on first and 10 at the 34, Greene broke up a second down pass and Joseph and Miller teamed for sack Tigere Mavesere for a 4-yard loss on third down to stop the drive.

Hurt by another penalty, the Raiders went nowhere on their ensuing possession and, again, were forced to punt. Adonis Tavaris was involved in two big defensive plays to stop the Spartans and the score stayed at 20-14 heading into the fourth quarter. 

But, early in the period, the Spartans finally broke the scoreless drought with a 43-yard touchdown run by Anyanwu with 10:19 left in the game. With the point-after, the Spartans went ahead 21-20 and put the pressure back on the Middletown offense.

That’s when the endurance and strength of the Blue Raiders’ offensive line came into play. Staying with their strong running game, the Raiders pushed and bullied their way down the field. Lopez carried five times and Sykes twice, including a slick 10-yard blast for the go-ahead touchdown with 6:47 left in the game. A two-point pass attempt failed, but the Blue Raiders had the upper hand at 26-21.

Joseph made two key defensive stops on first and second down, but the Spartans nearly got the lift they needed on third and 8 on a long pass completion that moved the ball to the Middletown 35. However, an illegal man downfield wiped out the long gain and a third-down completion netted just four yards, forcing yet another Spartan punt. Another high snap was caught by Parra but his short kick under pressure put the ball in Middletown’s hands at the 36, setting the stage for the insurance touchdown the Raiders needed.

With 4:15 left, the Middletown offensive line flexed its collective muscles and pushed ahead. With Miller, Heffner, Morgan Billman, Joey Gusler, Senior and tight end Brock Welsh leading the way, Lopez got the call six straight times and punched his way into the end zone with 1:40 on the clock. The last three plays came during a sudden downpour that sent unprepared fans scurrying for cover. With the PAT, the 32-21 lead loomed large.

The game was iced on Milton Hershey’s next offensive play when Cross lost the ball and Senior recovered for the Blue Raiders to lock up the win. Ash ran a keeper 11 yards on first down and took a knee twice to run out the remaining time.

Lopez finished his workhorse night with 154 yards on 27 carries and Sykes added 102 on 10 runs. Ash completed 6 of 13 passes for 71 yards in the victory. Anyanwu picked up 100 yards for the Spartans.