A well-prepared Middlebury team defeated Mount Mansfield, 28-6, on a warm, muggy night in the season-opener for both schools Friday.
The host Tigers used a stingy defense and strong special teams play to build a 16-point first-half advantage and never let their guests back in the game. On offense, quarterback Tyler Provencher passed for 84 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Nick Felkl churned out 53 hard-earned yards and two touchdowns to power Middlebury against a stubborn MMU defense that also played well.
“We live on our defense and special teams,” Middlebury Coach Dennis Smith said. “First and foremost, we play tough defense year-in and year-out, and we spend as much time on our special teams as we do on offense and defense.”
The Tigers got on the board first when a bad snap on an MMU punt attempt deep in its own territory sailed out of the end zone for a safety. Then after forcing a third MMU three-and-out in as many possessions, Middlebury’s Austin Robinson took a punt return 54 yards to the Cougars’ 7-yard line to set up the team’s first touchdown. Provencher threw a deft touch pass to Robinson on the first play of the second quarter for a 9-0 lead.
Later in the quarter after another strong defensive stand, Middlebury traveled 43 yards on seven rushing plays, capped off by a 13-yard touchdown scamper by Felkl to put the Tigers up 16 midway through the second. The stifling Middlebury defense held MMU to just 28 yards in the first half. MMU played solid first half defense as well, yielding just 78 yards, but its offensive and special teams struggles were too much to overcome.
Quarterback Mosca Marcello ran for 49 yards and MMU’s only points, while engineering a Cougars offense that played much better in the second half, amassing 179 yards after halftime.
But a 16-yard touchdown run by Felkl in the third quarter, and a beautiful 38-yard touchdown pass from Provencher to Samuel Usilton in the fourth quarter, put the game out of reach.
With the temperature in the low 80s around kickoff, and the humidity relatively high, several players started to cramp up in the third and fourth quarters.
“We got off to a slow start offensively with some new kids who didn’t have much experience, so we just had to settle in and not make any mistakes,” Smith said. “But I could see on the kids faces before the game that they were ready to play.”