Mt. Hope gridders rally back to tie Middletown 8-8

Jesse Raiola scampers around the end for a a large gain setting up a Huskies touchdown. Jesse Raiola scampers around the end for a a large gain setting up a Huskies touchdown.

Jesse Raiola scampers around the end for a a large gain setting up a Huskies touchdown.

The Mt. Hope and Middletown high school football teams put forth consistent efforts in a surprisingly well-played contest considering it was the first dress rehearsal of the season, when the squads played to an 8-8 draw in the annual Injury Fund game at Portsmouth High Thursday.Middletown scored in the second quarter of the 24-minute game and added a two-point conversion. But the Huskies followed suit on their next possession and tied the score in a game between seemingly similar, even-matched teams.

“I thought it was good,” Mt. Hope first-year head coach Brian Cote said. “It was a nice test of character for us. We got down 8-0 and we were able to come back. That shows some good character as a team.”

Both squads relied on the ground game and took turns pushing each other off the ball. Mt. Hope’s Jesse Raiola was the game’s leading rusher with 12 carries for 71 yards. Teammate Nick Murgo carried five times and gained 60 yards and scored his team’s lone touchdown.

Middletown also featured a two-pronged running attack with Randy Butler gaining 59 yards on seven carries and Connor Russ finishing with 33 yards on six runs and a touchdown. The Huskies totaled 150 yards from scrimmage on 27 plays while the Islanders had 104 yards on 19 plays. Mt. Hope had seven first downs in its four series while Middletown had five first downs in its three offensive possessions.

After the opening kickoff went out of bounds the Huskies started at their own 35 and drove the ball downfield. Quarterback Kyle Valenzuela, Murgo and Raiola combined to gain 27 yards on four runs before Valenzuela went to the air and found Josh Hunt for a 10-yard gain.

Raiola gained four yards the next play to push the ball to the Middletown 23. Then the coach heeded his players’ wishes and let Valenzuela throw again. This time it was a quick lateral sideline pass which rolled out of bounds for a six-yard loss. Two plays later the Huskies turned the ball over on downs at the Middletown 26.

“We had a nice first drive going,” Cote said. “I listened to the kids. They wanted to call a pass play. If I had just run the ball I think we could have scored on the first drive. We needed to execute that pass play and we didn’t do it.”

Middletown followed with a similar drive before it stalled and the Islanders punted. The Huskies managed to earn a first down the ensuing drive before they too had to punt from deep in their own territory. Middletown took over on the Mt. Hope 47 but it wasn’t there long.

Russ gained 19 yards, Shemar Vincent ran for five and Butler banged for 17 setting up a first-and-goal at the six. Three plays later Russ ran up the gut from two yards out for six points. He then caught a two-point conversion pass from Justin Sellar for an 8-0 Islander advantage.

The Huskies quickly responded after the kickoff when Murgo broke a pair of tackles and plowed for a 26-yard gain to the Islanders’ 39. Raiola advanced nine yards in two plays before he followed Murgo and ripped off a 20-yard gain to the 10-yard line.

Raiola went for two more yards before Murgo veered through the right side from eight yards out for the score. Valenzuela then hooked up with Ryan Bartel in the left, front corner of the end zone for the two-point conversion which knotted the score.

The Islanders had to punt their next series and the Huskies got as far as the Middletown 40 before time expired.

“I’m impressed with the way they stuck with it and didn’t get down when they got behind,” said Cote. “I really liked what I saw here tonight.”

The Huskies travel to play a 7 p.m. non-leaguer against Tolman Friday, Sept. 7, at Pariseau Field in the shadows of McCoy Stadium. They open league play at Johnston the following Friday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m.

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