The Middlebury Union High School football team saw its hopes for state title dashed by a potent Rice Memorial High 11 38-20 in Division II Championship game played at Castleton State College's Spartan Stadium Saturday afternoon.
For nine weeks of the regular season the Tigers used an efficient, and at times explosive offense, along with a stingy defense to roll to a 9-0 mark. They survived a semifinal played on a sloppy Doc Collins Field in beating a tough Fair Haven Union High Slaters ball club 9-6 on cold Friday night, Nov 5. But on an Indian Summer Saturday Nov. 13, the Tigers ran into a buzz saw in the form of the Rice Memorial Green Knights.
For its part Rice came into this game with just one hiccup (a tough loss to Champlain Valley Union High) keeping the Green Knights from carrying a perfect record of their own into the title match.
Senior quarterback Christian McCormick came in rated by many as the best signal caller in the state this season and he proved why in this one.
McCormick was an impressive 21 of 33 for 303 yards and four touchdowns. He had a bevy of receivers to throw to including Austin Robinson who caught scoring strikes of 20 and 16 yards. He also hooked up with Casey Tipson on a 15-yard touchdown pass and Nick Elderton on from 29-yards out.
While they never really got their vaunted running game going in this one, the Tigers still hung tough in this one for a half. In fact, a Brendan Burrell three-yard toss to Marshall Hastings with seven seconds left in the half kept them very much in the contest trailing 16-14 at the half.
But the Green Knights stopped the Tiger offense at the start at the second half.
McCormick led Rice on a lightning quick three-play, 53-yard drive capped with the 20-yard toss to Robinson that pushed the lead to 24-14. That would spark a run of 22 straight points that allowed Rice to put this one out of reach.
The Tigers showed their refusal to quit with Burrell (8 of 18 two scores) hooking up with Bryan Ashley-Selleck on a 18-yard touchdown with less then two minutes left. But it was to little to late as the Tigers fell for the first time this season.
While, the title game didn't go as local fans would have liked, it in no way diminished a fabulous season. Led by a solid core of seniors that included Burrell, Ashley-Selleck, Patrick Fifield, Alex Bowdish, Jerry Hoffman, Mitchell Delancey, Kyle Kerr, Jarrod Ashley, Kalob Gagnon, Nick Masterson, Will McCartney, Tony Doria, Carl Leduc and Ben Cook, this was a hard working group that was easy for local fans to cheer for.
A talented group of juniors led by the likes of Marshall Hastings, Dillon Robinson and Steel White are sure to look to have the Tigers in the running for another run at the Division II title in 2011.