Middlebury High School senior Cortland Fischer is chased by Rutland Raiders’ fierce defense during Saturday’s state championship game. The Raiders ended the Tigers’ 32-game winning streak.
Raiders’ passing game, defense were key to their victory
By Andy Kirkaldy
RUTLAND — Playing on home turf Saturday night, the top-seeded Rutland High School football team used an aerial attack and tough defense to dash No. 2 Middlebury Union High School’s dreams of a third-straight perfect season and Division I title. The Raiders won a decisive 35-7.
Rutland quarterback Andy Kenosh completed 16 of 21 passes for 263 yards and, critically, touchdowns on three of the Raiders’ first four possessions as they took a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
Two of those drives, the first and third, covered 63 and 66 yards, respectively. The middle march was shorter, 54 yards, and it came after Kenosh killed the most promising MUHS first-half possession by picking off a pass at the Raider 36 and returning the interception 20 yards.
The Tigers did hold up well against the Raider ground game, limiting top back Caleb White to 91 yards on 24 carries, or just 3.8 yards per attempt, while Kenosh picked up 85 yards on 11 carries. In all, the Raiders outgained the Tigers, 424-217 yards.
“We stopped their run pretty well, but they had a hot quarterback who threw the ball all over the place, and we couldn’t stop that part of their game,” said Tiger coach Dennis Smith.
The first Raider score came on a 35-yard Kenosh toss to Jimmy Mee with 8:46 left of the first quarter, with Kenosh adding the first of his five extra points.
The Tigers then picked up two first downs on their second possession with strong runs from Cortland Fischer and Jerry Niemo.
But Kenosh made his fingertip grab of Tiger QB Andrew Gleason’s deep ball intended for Sawyer Ryan, and then he went right back to work on offense. Four plays later, Raider receiver Cam Slade made a leaping grab of a 40-yard jump-ball pass in the end-zone, and it was 14-0, Raiders, with 3:58 left of the first quarter.
The next Tiger possession typified their offensive problems. After Gleason ran for six yards on first down, a pitch to a tailback lost three yards on second down, and they went three-and-out.
Smith gave the Raiders credit defensively.
“Their ends played tough,” he said. “They didn’t really have to do too much adjusting to what we were doing, and they were giving us enough different looks that we were missing the reads on the option, and not giving the ball to the right person. And all of a sudden a two-yard loss, and now it’s third-and-eight, and that’s a bad situation for us.”
The Tigers then stopped the Raiders, but could gain only one first down on their next possession. Kenosh sparked the next Raider drive by running five times for 41 yards, and ended it by hitting Mee from five yards out to cap the first-half scoring.
The Tigers held the Raiders on the first possession of the second half, thanks in part to a Nick Beauchamp sack of Kenosh. But again they could not move the ball, with a fumble on a second-and-five and a dropped pass proving costly. The Raiders’ Slade dropped the punt, but pounced on it in a crowd of Tigers, one of several of their own fumbles that Rutland recovered.
A 40-yard pass to Slade soon gave the Raiders a first-and-goal, and White punched it in from the 3 to make it 28-0 with 4:32 left in the third.
Lightning then struck for MUHS: Gleason — playing because senior starter Oakley Gordon was injured early in the Tigers’ 21-0 semifinal win over Hartford — hit Chase Messner in full stride with a slant pass, and Messner burst between two defenders and broke the play for a 73-yard touchdown. That made it 28-7 at 3:37 of the third once Doug DeLorenzo, also filling in for Gordon, tacked on the extra point.
But the Raiders responded with a 59-yard march in which Kenosh completed four passes and that White capped with a 1-yard run early in the fourth.
The Tigers ran just 15 plays in the second half as the Raiders controlled the ball on the way to their first title since 2006. Rutland finished with a 10-1 record that included a loss only to a New Hampshire team.
The Tigers also finished 10-1 as they saw the program’s remarkable 32-game winning streak come to an end.
Andy Kirkaldy is a reporter for The Addison Independent, a sister publication to The Mountain Times, email@example.com.
Photo by Trent Campbell, Addison Independent