Middlebury added a new wrinkle to its traditional grind-it-out attack ahead of its season-opener against Essex, opting for a no-huddle look that could dictate the tempo.
Junior quarterback Austin Robinson supplied the electricity to make it sizzle.
Robinson ran for two touchdowns, threw for a third and returned an interception 95 yards for a fourth as the Tigers seized a convincing 35-7 victory over the Hornets in Division I high school football action on Friday night.
“He’s a Robinson, I’ll say that much,” Middlebury coach Dennis Smith said. “After his two older brothers … you don’t teach what they do. Their bodies go every which way but they always seem to be heading north and south in the end.”
In a matchup of two semifinal teams from last fall, the Tigers grabbed the lead on their first possession and never looked back.
A 31-yard punt return from Cullen Hathaway set up Middlebury with a short field, and Robinson, who ran for 129 yards on seven carries, capped the 10-play drive with a 2-yard sneak up the middle for a 6-0 advantage.
Robinson dashed 67 yards up the left side for his second touchdown of the night on the Tigers’ next possession. Two plays into the second quarter, he faked a handoff to fullback Jakob Trautwein (12 carries, 44 yards), found a seam on the left side and burst through the secondary to hit paydirt untouched.
“We have an excellent group of leaders around me who I can rely on and can help me out a lot,” Robinson said. “It felt great. My older brother played quarterback and he’s been talking to me and it helped.”
Hathaway (six carries, 31 yards) finished the Tigers’ third drive — a five-play, 80-yard series that took just 1:43 — with an 11-yard scamper for a 21-0 edge at halftime.
Nine Middlebury ball-carriers combined to rush for 289 yards against the Hornets while Robinson finished 3-for-6 with 64 yards in the air.
Essex, meanwhile, struggled to gain a foothold against a sturdy Tigers’ defense that didn’t allow a whiff of the red zone until the third quarter and held the Hornets’ spread attack to 191 total yards.
Quarterbacks Brendan Gleason (14 carries, 67 yards) and Joey Robertson (12 carries, 55 yards) led Essex on offense.
“We prepared for a passing team and they came out running so we had to make some adjustments defensively on the fly and I think the kids adjusted real well,” Smith said.
Middlebury then proceeded to slow the tempo down with a 13-play, 76-yard yard scoring drive to start the second half. Robinson connected with Hathaway on a 25-yard strike to push the lead to 28-0.
The 6-plus minute possession drained two quarters of football into a quarter and a half for a potential Essex rally.
“That’s been part of their game plan for decades here,” said Essex coach Charlie Burnett. “They play defense with their offense when they can control the clock. They’ll evaporate a game on you just like that.”
Robinson’s interception return with 43 seconds left in the third quarter sealed the victory.
Essex got on the scoreboard with 8:16 left in the contest as Robertson (3-for-4, 37 yards passing) hit Jeremy LeClair on a 17-yard crossing pattern.
“I was proud of my kids for fighting through most situations but we too often had an assignment breakdown or a missed block or another breakdown that unfortunately great teams are going to expose,” Burnett said. “And that’s what Middlebury did.”