MIDDLEBURY – Doc Collins Field is never more than a few decorations away from being ready for Halloween, its black-orange-and-white color scheme tailor-made for the festivities. But on the last day of October the top-seeded Middlebury Tigers weren’t about to change a thing.
With a spot in the Division I state final on the line, the defending champions were too busy being themselves — the same relentless, balanced crew that hadn’t lost in 20 games.
“Same show, different kids, a little different identity, but we’re still playing Middlebury football and we’re still getting it done,” quarterback Austin Robinson said.
Preying on miscues, pouncing when given a short field and allowing nothing in return, the Tigers built a three-touchdown lead at the break and rolled to a 42-0 victory against No. 5 Colchester in the D-I semifinals Friday night.
Robinson ran for one TD, tossed another and collected a pair of interceptions, Cullen Hathaway gashed his way for a trio of scores and Middlebury (10-0) stretched its winning streak to 21 games. Adding to the occasion: The performance was the hometown curtain call for the core group that has fueled the Tigers’ two-year run.
“I’m a little scared to walk off the field just because it’s going to be the last time,” said Robinson, who added 66 yards through the air on 3-for-3 passing. “But if there’s a way we wanted to go out, this was it right here.”
“This one’s great,” Middlebury senior Justin Stone said. “I really like playing with my team; I’ve played with them ever since I was young, playing flag football and stuff.
“It hurts that this is our last game on this field. I guess it’s bittersweet because we won tonight and we’re going on to the championship and hopefully we can do good things.”
The Tigers must wait a day to find out their opponent in next Saturday’s title game at Rutland High School. No. 3 Essex (7-2) travels to face second-seeded St. Johnsbury (9-0), the only other undefeated team in the division, for the other semifinal today at 1 p.m.
Colchester (7-3), which had won five straight games to reach the semifinals, did well to keep Middlebury from unleashing one of its signature big-yardage plays. But the Lakers but still found themselves trailing 21-0 at intermission after Cortland Fischer (11-yard run) struck paydirt in the first quarter and Hathaway scored on runs of 11 and 17 yards in the second.
“Even at halftime with it 21-0, we had done a lot of the things we wanted to do, we just hadn’t been able to finish,” Lakers coach Tom Perry said. “The second half was a little different story.”
But a Middlebury defense that allowed the Lakers to gain 100 yards of offense in the first half yielded just 16 after the break, aided in part by the 35-0 lead that forced the final quarter to be played with running time.
Another week of halftime tweaks to the defense yielded the Tigers’ fourth shutout in five games, a stretch in which they have outscored foes 232-6.
“I don’t really think it’s a secret. It’s more of hard work in practice, knowing what we’ve got to do when it happens, knowing the formations of the other team and making adjustments,” Stone said.
The Tigers churned out 373 yards of offense, including 297 on the ground in a by-committee effort. Fischer rushed for a team-high 97 yards on 13 carries, while Stone added 61 yards on five carries and Bobby Ritter picked up 55 yards with nine totes.
Backup quarterback Oakley Gordon lofted a 10-yard TD pass to Ali Abdul-Sater with 7:30 to play, the final stage of a 13-play drive, for the game’s final score.
Grant Cummings led Colchester with a dozen carries for 64 yards.
Middlebury’s second win against the Lakers this year — the Tigers won 34-0 in Week 3 — also served to prepare them in a way that several prior routs had not.
“For my starters that’s the first time they’ve gone for the whole three quarters for a while so I always worry about that, conditioning-wise, but I think what we do at practice keeps us in good condition,” Smith said.
“They were just bright-eyed and ready to go tonight.”
Middlebury’s combined margin of victory in its last five games, including Friday’s 42-0 win over Colchester.