By Paul Augeri, Editor-In-Chief
For teams operating on two different levels, Middletown unleashed what you might have expected Friday night – a dominant performance in its 38-16 victory over Hartford Public.
Coach Sal Morello was quick to flip the caution switch, however. The degree of difficulty in the Central Connecticut Conference is going to grow, and fast, starting with next weekend’s game at Farmington, while October will bring Bristol Central and E.O. Smith at home and Newington on the road.
For a little while, at least, Morello can savor what was an efficient and effective game from his Blue Dragons, who are 3-0. They played big, fast and physical and cut down on the mistakes that were all too prevalent in last week’s shutout win over Bristol Eastern.
Winless Hartford Public, with a small lineup to begin with, could not contain Middletown’s ground game and was unable to move the ball in falling behind by four touchdowns in the first half.
“Of the three games we’ve played, this was our best game,” Morello said. “It’s nice to be 3-0, but we have a lot of work in front of us.”
The first half was the story Friday.
Middletown scored on five of its six possessions in the half, three of which were touchdowns by junior Xzavier Reyes. Reyes, Tyreece Lumpkin and quarterback Stone Belzo made for a three-headed rushing monster that kept eating up yardage and kept Hartford Public’s defense guessing which one would get the ball. Reyes rushed for 156 yards in the half.
“Reyes is getting better because he’s one of our best practice players,” Morello said. “That’s how he practices and how he plays. I’m happy for the kid. He’s working really hard. He did a really nice job finishing his runs. He’s getting tough to take down.”
Morello also praised Lumpkin, who scored Middletown’s final touchdown on a 17-yard run late in the third quarter.
“We’re just trying to distribute the ball and make it hard for teams to defense us,” the coach said.
DeAaron Lawrence’s 7-yard touchdown reception from Belzo and Michael Aresco’s 22-yard field goal accounted for Middletown’s other scores.
Meanwhile, Middletown’s defense allowed only three first downs and forced Hartford Public to punt on five of its six first-half possessions. The one time the Owls did not punt, they were held on downs on a fourth-and-1 run near midfield in the first quarter.
“Our defense was pretty solid again,” Morello said. “We executed up front and our tackling was much better. We practice it three days a week. It’s good to see that it’s getting better and the kids are getting to the football.”
Throw out a questionable personal foul on the Blue Dragons early in the first quarter and Middletown committed only one penalty in the first 24 minutes – a false start. The Blue Dragons also limited their turnovers after committing six combined in their first two games.
“These first three weeks we have cut down on the penalties. The first two games I was upset with the turnovers more than anything,” Morello said. “A point of emphasis was to clean up some of our sloppy play. Ball security has been a focus and will be for the rest of the year.”