JERICHO – The Essex Hornets unleashed an unstoppable offense in the first half, piling up all their points in a 40-6 Division I high school football victory over Mount Mansfield on Saturday.
Brendan Gleason and Joey Robertson accounted for 187 yards rushing and five touchdowns in the first two quarters and Cody Green returned an MMU punt for 60 yards and a TD against the Cougars.
Mount Mansfield responded to Essex’s first touchdown with its own scoring drive, but couldn’t keep pace thereafter as the Hornets hammer MMU with its run-based attack.
“Defensively, we played a lot more lock-down defense. We stopped their pass game and took that out of their playbook,” Robertson said of the Hornets’ ability to smother the Cougars after MMU’s first drive.
Trying to rebound from an overtime loss to Rutland, Essex (4-2) received the game-opening kickoff, Robertson’s 16-yard return putting the Hornets on their 41. In five plays, Essex scored, Robertson covering the final five for the 7-0 lead.
“Our line had some good blocking up front. We just marched down the field the first drive, we pounded it in and we took the game from there,” said Robertson, who finished with 84 yards on 15 carries.
The Cougars promptly retaliated with the running of Ray Wilson, who ran six times for 37 yards in an 85-yard drive, and the passing of Dominic Mosca, who completed three passes for 19 yards. Wilson scored from the 1 but MMU missed the extra point.
“The kids are always a little excited at first and it takes a little while to settle into things and get a feel for the other team,” Essex coach Charlie Burnett said of the Hornets’ inability to halt MMU early. “Mount Mansfield was doing a good executing at first and we had a hard time stopping the run game up in the box. They were able to do a good job at first and we were able to settle in.”
Essex turned the ball over on downs at the MMU 7 on the next series, but Jeremy LeClair’s interception and return of a Mosca pass put the Hornets at the Cougars’ 3. After an Essex penalty, Robertson bolted in from the 8 for a 14-6 lead.
Dropped passes and turnovers plagued MMU in the first half and Essex took advantage. Gleason (14 carries, 127 yards) scored the first of his three touchdowns on a 26-yard dash at 11:40 of the second. Greene pushed the lead to 27-6 with his 60-yard punt return at 9:59 and Gleason added touchdown runs of 15 yards at 3:04 and 1 yard with 11.9 seconds remaining in the half.
Gleason had a 73-yard touchdown run negated by a penalty in the second half and teammate Jeremy Jarvis lost a 13-yard TD run to an infraction as the score remained unchanged in the final two quarters.
“You’re just trying to keep them focused. They’re teenage boys and it’s so easy for them to be distracted by the rain and the score and any other distractions,” Burnett said he told the Hornets at halftime. “Do your job, fill your assignments, play all the way to the whistle. Whether you’re a starter or a backup, you’ve got to play this game the right way.”
Essex quarterback Eli DiGrande was sidelined for the second straight game with sophomore Otis Crock calling signals.
“Otis is handling it really nicely. He’s young but he’s a smart kid, a tough kid, and he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He doesn’t need to be anybody besides himself, just get out there, do your job, manage the whole system and so far he’s done great with that,” Burnett said.
Wilson finished with 56 yards on 20 carries for the 2-4 Cougars. Mosca gained 91 yards on 13 carries and completed 10 of 22 passes for 76 yards plus an interception.