Middlebury perfect with D-I title
By Chuck Clarino
CORRESPONDENT | November 10,2013
Perfection wore black and orange Saturday as the Middlebury Tigers culminated an 11-0 season with a 26-6 victory over South Burlington and claimed their first Division I football title since 2002 at Alumni Field.
Junior quarterback Austin Robinson was the driving wheel for the Tigers, running for 150 yards and a trio of touchdowns, while throwing for another as top-seeded Middlebury fashioned a romp over the No. 2 Rebels.
“This was the perfect season for us; 11-0 ... it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Robinson, who scored on touchdown runs of 55, 8 and 13 yards, while completing a 2-yard TD pass to Cullen Hathaway. “It’s so great to make them (the fans) proud. We’ve had some disappointing seasons in the past and they support us so much. There were signs up all the way down to Rutland, people gathered out on the roadside to cheer us on and to bring a championship back to Middlebury makes us all so proud.”
The final score does not indicate what kind of a battle it was for the Tigers early on. Middlebury’s offense could do little against a fired-up Rebel defense, while South Burlington quarterback Hunter Riehle completed 6 of his first 7 passes and staked the Rebel to a 6-0 lead with an 11-yard TD pass to Jeremy Clements.
But the game turned on two events: South Burlington’s 2,000-yard rusher Tanner Contois was mysteriously missing from the offense and could not be spotted on the sidelines after the second series, and Robinson gave the Tigers the lead for keeps with a 55-yard TD run on Middlebury’s first play from scrimmage in the second quarter.
“That play gave us a lot of momentum,” said Robinson. “It just took our offense a couple of plays to start clicking to get the reads down and get the jitters out – you know, we’re kids.”
While Robinson and his band of Tigers went on to roll up an impressive 356 rushing yards and leave the Rebels in the dust with four unanswered touchdowns, South Burlington was lost without its biggest offensive weapon: Contois.
As it turned out, Contois returned to the sidelines from the locker room but spent the rest of the game with his ankle elevated, packed in ice.
“He’s a hell of a runner,” Middlebury coach Dennis Smith said. “But with him gone it made it easier for us because we can play man to man (on the receivers) and put pressure on the quarterback. But if he’s in there and you’re playing man to man and he breaks one up the middle, he’s gone – it forces you to pick your poison.”
Still, it was a bit of a struggle for the Tigers against a Rebel defense spearheaded by inside linebacker Sasha Kapriyelov, who was blowing up Tiger plays all evening.
The Tigers finally mounted a sustained drive late in the second period as Robinson and fullback Jakob Trautwein took turns hitting the holes and piling up yards. But with the clock ticking down on the march and with eight second remaining in the half, Smith called a timeout and amazingly called a pass.
The 2-yard toss from Robinson to Hathaway was the only pass Middlebury completed all evening but it came exactly at the right time and added a much-needed touchdown to the Tiger lead just before halftime.
“Right before halftime, we put that one in and it put momentum back on our side,” Smith said. “That was huge because it put us up a score and we’re getting the ball to start the second half. I felt the momentum had shifted and we pretty much held serve from there on.”
The Tigers capitalized on a Rebel turnover in the third period. Middlebury took possession on the Rebel 18 and four plays later Robinson skirted left end and danced into the end zone to build the lead to 19-6.
Middlebury added an insurance score at 10:33 of the fourth period as Robinson blasted the final 13 yards to paydirt, capping a seven-play, 54-yard drive and bumping the lead to 26-6.
Meanwhile, South Burlington was up against it. Without the presence of a running game – South Burlington ran only five rushing plays for a total of 7 yards – the pressure was on the passing game. Middlebury was able to basically disregard the run and put everything into the pass rush and coverage. Riehle completed 12 of 16 in the second half with an interception for 88 yards but was unable to find the end zone again.
Riehle finished 21 of 29 for 176 yards with a touchdown and two picks.
Trautwien complemented Robinson with 17 carries for 88 yards, while seven other Tiger backs carried the ball.
When the horn sounded to end the game, the Tigers swarmed the field and celebrated widly. Smithhad been to the title game twice before finally got his first title in six years of coaching. But this was a special win as he was able to celebrate with his son Samuel running out of the backfield and his dad on the sidelines.
“This says a lot about our team,” said Middlebury captain and lineman Samuel Usilton. “We just had to play good old Middlebury football: get down to business and play hard and don’t give up.”