Etter's Highlights

Larry EtterThe following weekly articles highlighting Blue Raider athletics are penned by Larry Etter.




OCTOBER 4, 2021 - ROLLERS DENY RAIDERS UPSET BID


Steel highAnother chapter in the old Middletown/Steelton-Highspre rivalry story unfolded on Saturday afternoon on Cottage Hill.

The fact that Steel-High won was of no real surprise to anyone in the 2021 version. The athletic Rollers, last year’s state champions, won 26-0 in Steelton-Highspire’s Homecoming Game. The real surprise, however, was that the two teams fought to an almost unbelievable 0-0 stalemate after two full quarters of play on the Rollers’ home turf.

But, after the much-needed halftime break for both squads, Steel-High finally solved the staunch Middletown defense in the second half, while the Rollers’ own defenders kept the Blue Raiders from mounting any form of a scoring threat. After averaging nearly 65 points per game in their first four contests, the Rollers and their fans were, indeed, shocked by putting up zero in the first half in their battle with the Raiders.

In reality the Middletown fans, too, were in shock and the hopes rippled through the visitors stands on the warm, sunny day up on the hill. But, as it did in the previous week’s loss at Juniata, the Middletown offense simply could not get any consistency when it had the ball. As good as the Middletown defense was, the Rollers defenders were just as good.

Unfortunately for the Blue Raiders, the Rollers came out in the second half and were able to finally crack their opponents’ defenses by scoring three times in the third quarter and once more, late in the fourth to lock up the Capital Division victory. The first score came on an 8-yard run by Dalvin Pryor with 9:22 left in the third. Another long drive by the Rollers was stopped when Kam Chisolm recovered a Steel-High fumble at the one-yard line. The second score came on an Alex Erby pass to Durrell Ceasar that covered 41 yards. The third one, an Erby-to-Jaeion Perry, also went for 41 yards, despite tight coverage by Jamar McKinney, and gave the hosts a 19-0 lead.

Held to less than 20 net yards in the first half the Blue Raiders tried to find a break in the Rollers’ armor in the second and did gain some yards. But, with Tate Leach filling in from the start at quarterback in place of the team’s regular starter, ground yards and air yards were hard to come by and the Raiders had just one somewhat scoring threat reach into Steel-High territory. On that drive Leach, with his team trailing 19-0, connected with Brandyn Davis for 13 yards and then the pair combined for a 37-yard gain to the Steel-High 25 with 9 minutes left in the game.

But, one play later, Steel-High’s two-way standout Tyrone Moore intercepted Leach to end the threat. The Rollers would later score again with 2:02 left to lock up the win.

Leach, Chisolm, Davis, Jason Stoner, Arkel Batts, McKinney, Tajae Broadie, Marquise Beasley, Asa Kochvar, Audric Bryant and Caden Paul all turned in outstanding efforts for the defense despite the loss. On offense, Leach completed 5 of 16 passes and Tito Spears collected 31 yards on 9 carries.

On a down note Bryant was injured midway through the third quarter and had to be carted off the field and transported to a local hospital. He reportedly was showing good movements in his arms and legs later.



SEPTEMBER 27, 2021 - BLUE RAIDERS STUNNED BY INDIANS


The final score read 8-7, and it was not a baseball or soccer final count. It was a football game and the result was a classic example of a frustrating finish for the Middletown Area High School football team.

Following the previous week’s 42-7 rout of Newport at home the Blue Raiders ran into a whole different team in Mifflintown last Friday night. The host Indians came out as winners in the defensive clash that left the Middletown team and its fans shocked in disbelief. An 8-7 loss? Really?

While the Middletown defense played exceptionally well, more than good enough to produce a win, the Blue Raiders’ offense was almost completely stymied by a group of determined Indian defenders that held the Middletown ground game to next to nothing. The Blue Raiders did put up decent numbers in the air, but a trio of second-half pass interceptions proved to be the difference in the outcome.

A couple of lost fumbles and a pair of errant snaps on punts also hurt in a big way. Those two miscues on punts led to all the points the Indians would need to complete the upset. The first resulted in a 2-point safety and the second one gave the Juniata offense a short field that produced the game-winning points. And the low numbers, along with Juniata’s stifling run defense, added up to the winning margin.

In the beginning, however, it appeared as if the Blue Raiders were off to a good, successful start. After defensive tackle Marquis Beasley recovered a Juniata fumble on the Indians’ first possession, the Raiders struck quickly. And, although the Middletown offense lost a net of 3 yards on their first three plays, the Raiders converted on third and 13 when Tajae Broadie outjumped Juniata’s Zach Harr in the right front corner of the endzone, hauling in Bamm Appleby’s pass for the touchdown with 8:40 left in the first quarter. Tyson Leach’s PAT gave the Blue Raiders a crowd-pleasing 7-0 lead. Little did they know at the time that those 7 points would be all the Raiders would score.

The Indians followed with a good drive but were turned away when Tate Leach broke up a fourth down pass after the home team had reached the Middletown 25. Four plays later, however, disaster struck for the Raiders when punter Tyson Leach had to run down a high snap in the endzone that resulted in the 2-point safety for the Indians.

That 7-2 Middletown lead held up through the first half and all the way into the closing seconds of the third quarter. Both defenses stood tall throughout that long span, with neither team giving much ground. With their running game completely shut down by the Juniata defense the Raiders tried to get things done through the air. But after finding some success in the passing game, a lost fumble and a couple costly penalties kept the Raiders from scoring. Late in the third quarter the second high snap on a punting situation led to the winning points for the hosts.

Taking over at the Middletown 14 following the mistake, the Indians still were nearly kept out of the endzone. After reaching the 4 in two plays and a Middletown penalty, the Indians were flagged twice and were back at the 14. Two passes fell incomplete, but on third down Aaron Kanagy hit Yaneil Ortiz for the go-ahead points with 43 seconds left in the third. A two-point attempt failed but the hosts led 8-7 with a full quarter to play, plenty of time for the Blue Raiders to work with.

And it appeared as if the Raiders were on their way to reversing their fortunes. A pair of Appleby to Arkel Batts pass completions and a catch by Jamar McKinney gave the Raiders a first down at the Juniata 17. Appleby’s keeper gained 6 yards to the 11, but on the next play Juniata intercepted his throw in the endzone to kill the threat. And that turnover seemed to have an adverse mental effect on the Middletown side.

On their second possession of the fourth quarter the Raiders lost a fumble and, on their third, another pass was intercepted by the Indians. But the defense, led by Jason Stoner, Caden Paul Brandyn Davis, Asa Kochvar, Beasley and Tate Leach held and gave their team another chance. Taking over at their own 12 following a Juniata punt the Blue Raiders had just over three minutes to work with.

The drive started out well with a catch by Audric Bryant and another one by McKinney three plays later that reached the 42. But the drive died when Appleby was sacked for an 11-yard loss on third and 10 and a fourth down toss was just out of reach by Tate Leach, who possibly could have scored if the connection had been made. Instead, the ball was turned over on downs and the Indians ran out the final 56 seconds to lock up the victory.



SEPTEMBER 20, 2021 - BLUE RAIDERS CORRAL BUFFALOES 42-7


Junior running back Audric Bryant returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown to start the game and the visiting Newport Buffaloes put up little resistance after that as the Blue Raiders routed their visitors 42-7 on Friday night.

The game turned out to be a huge success for the team and the large partisan crowd on hand, the fans nearly filling the home stands after being denied in-person attendance last fall due to the pandemic restrictions. On the warm, comfortable night at War Memorial Stadium those fans were treated to a convincing victory by the Blue Raiders and new head coach Scott Acri.

Tate LeachIn all fairness to Newport, the Buffaloes came into the game with just one win and suffered a pair of big losses that exposed their struggles in the new season. They also had to play without their best athlete who had been injured in their previous game. But his presence would have made little difference as the Raiders dominated the contest throughout, especially at the line of scrimmage.

Besides Bryant, the team was led by many others on both sides of the ball as the Middletown squad improved its overall record to 2-1. Five other players added yards on the ground and five caught passes from Bamm Appleby, who finished 6 of 9 for 116 yards. After jumping out to a 42-0 lead at halftime most of the first-team players saw little action in the second half as the “mercy clock” ran right from the start of the third quarter.

The Middletown defense pitched a shutout through three full quarters, holding Newport scoreless until just 40 seconds remained in the Mid Penn crossover game. That score came against the Middletown reserves.

On the exciting opening seconds of the game Bryant fielded Gage Wirth’s kickoff at the 11-yard line and took off. Starting on the left side Bryant made a few cuts across the field behind his blockers and hit the right sideline in full stride. The play took all of 17 seconds and the home team had a 6-0 lead. Tyson Leach’s PAT just missed, but he was perfect the rest of the way. On Newport’s first possession senior defensive end Tajae Broadie had back-to-back sacks of Buffalo quarterback Mason Messick forcing a punt.

The Blue Raiders took over at the Newport 45. Following a 6-yard run by Brandyn Davis on first down, the Middletown offense was set back with three consecutive penalties that pushed the Raiders back to their own 40. On 2nd and 24 Appleby connected with Tate Leach for 10 yards and, following a 9-yard run by Davis, the junior quarterback hooked up with Bryant for 31 yards to the 10. Two plays later Bryant dashed into the endzone from two yards out and the Raiders grabbed a 13-0 lead. Big defensive plays by Tate Leach and Marquis Beasley forced a Newport punt that led to another Middletown score.

Although the possession started off with a run for no gain and a pair of incomplete passes the Blue Raiders converted a fourth and 10 into their third touchdown. Appleby threw a strike that Jamar McKinney caught in stride at the 19 and took it to the house for a 46-yard TD connection and a 20-0 lead. On the final play of the first quarter Tate Leach intercepted a pass that was tipped by linebacker Jason Stoner that eventually led to the Raiders’ fourth score.

On the second play of the second quarter following a Middletown penalty Tito Spears ran for 22 yards to the Newport 33. Arkel Batts caught a 12-yard pass to the 21, but the Raiders were again flagged for a penalty a play later. But that did not stop the Middletown drive. A reception by Davis and a 13-yard run by Bryant set up Bryant’s 7-yard scoring run with 9;19 left in the first half. Later in the period Bryant returned a punt for an apparent touchdown but the score was wiped out by yet another infraction. Appleby’s hurried throw as intercepted by Wirth one play later to turn back the threat.

Tito SpearsBut the Middletown defense pinned the Buffaloes back on their own 1-yard line on a sack by Davis and the Raiders were back on offense at the Newport 18. And it took just one play, and 18-yard run by Spears, to pad the Middletown lead. On the run Spears made a great juke move at the five past the Newport safety to reach the south endzone. Down 35-0 at that point the visitors tried desperately to get something going on offense. But the Middletown defense would have none of that.

Disaster hit the Buffaloes four plays later when punter Reuben Moreno tried to field a low snap on fourth down. His knee touched at the 22 and the Raiders struck again with Bryant going the distance on first down to make it a 42-0 score in the final seconds of the first half. The Blue Raiders, who went almost exclusively with their back up players in the second half, would not score again.

The Buffaloes took advantage of that in the third quarter and put together a good drive with the clock running. But the 14-play drive ran out of steam at the Middletown 21 as the Raider reserves held. The visitors, however, were able to convert their efforts with another long drive in the final frame. Aided by a personal foul penalty against the Middletown defense on fourth and 15 on the seventh play of the drive the Buffaloes broke up the shutout on a one-yard keeper by Messick with just 40 seconds left. A fumble recovery by Newport on the ensuing kickoff gave the Buffaloes one more chance but a Spears interception on first down closed off the win for the home team.





SEPTEMBER 13, 2021 - MIDDLETOWN GRIDDERS ROLL OVER LINE MOUNTAIN

Following a season opening loss, the Middletown varsity football team rebounded nicely with a 28-6 victory over host Line Mountain last Friday evening. The lengthy road trip to Herndon in Northumberland County turned out to be a successful venture for the Blue Raiders, who secured their first win for new coach Scott Acri.
And, although the team had some rough moments at times in the contest, Acri was more than pleased with the victory. “Any time you get a win it’s good,” he said. And, while there were still a couple players not suited up, Acri was optimistic about their return in a couple weeks. Meanwhile, those that did play turned in a solid effort against the host Eagles.

The Middletown defense was solid throughout and limited the Eagles to a net total of 110 yards in the game. On the other side of the ball the Blue Raiders racked up over 370 total yards with a good mix of run and pass. Bamm Appleby completed 5 of 12 passes for 141 yards in the win. The running game produced over 230 yards on the ground in the balanced attack.

Keyed by the work up front from Jason Stoner, Chase Vandegrift, Marquis Beasley, Sebastian Dash and Chase Eberly, junior Audric Bryant, who had to sit out the opening game due to a health issue, led the way with 111 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. Senior Brandyn Davis ran 7 times for 82 yards (all in the first half) and Tajae Broadie scored twice on short runs in limited carries. Bryant and Tate Leach were on the receiving end of Appleby’s throws.

On their second offensive possession of the game the Blue Raiders marched 92 yards in just 7 plays for the game’s first score. Key plays of the drive were a 10-yard run by Davis and an Appleby-Bryant connection of 49 yards. Broadie capped it with a 2-yard dive between right guard and tackle with 6:24 left in the first quarter. Tyson Leach, who ended up perfect on extra points in the game, added the PAT. Leach was also consistent with deep kickoffs and long punts. The defense did its job from that point on and pitched a shutout until the Eagles finally found the endzone with just 4:01 left in the game.

In the second quarter the Raiders made it a 14-0 game with a quick-strike drive that took just three plays. On second and 4, Davis broke off a 49-yard run to the Line Mountain 23. Bryant took it from there and went the distance with 8:38 left in the first half.

Although the Raiders threatened twice more in the second stanza and twice more in the third, that 14-0 score held firm until the later minutes of the third quarter. After the defense forced an Eagle punt from deep in Line Mountain’s end of the field that Bryant returned to the 36, it took just one play for the Blue Raiders to pad their lead. On the play Tate Leach grabbed Appleby’s swing pass to the left and outran the Eagles’ defense to the endzone with 4:20 left. The Eagles followed with their best offensive drive of the game. But, after reaching the Middletown 8-yard line Beau Keim fumbled and Tate Leach was there to claim the turnover. The Raiders, however, went three and out and a good punt return set up the host team in Raider territory to start the fourth period.

The Eagles scored on the sixth play of the final quarter on a pass play to make it a 21-6 game with just under 10 minutes on the clock. The Raiders went nowhere on the ensuing possession as the Line Mountain defense held. But the Eagles gambled and lost four plays later when they tried to convert on fourth and 11. On the play Caden Paul and Tito Spears sacked Eagle quarterback Nick Snyder for a 13-yard loss that gave the ball back to the Middletown side at the L.M. 23.

Four plays, and a holding call later, Broadie ran over two Eagles on his way to a 6-yard touchdown that literally locked up the win for the Raiders. The defense held the Eagles on two more possessions and the victors ran out the last two minutes to end it.



SEPTEMBER 8, 2021 - FOOTBALL TEAM SUFFERS SEASON-OPENING LOSS

Host Bishop McDevitt scored on the game’s opening possession for the early lead and, following a pair of pass interceptions by the Crusaders’ defense, the Blue Raiders fell into a hole they were never able to climb out of last Friday night. Before the first quarter ended the Middletown team was down 21-0 and things simply did not get any better in what turned out to be a humbling 55-7 loss.

The Blue Raiders, who had their first game postponed the prior week, came into the contest at a distinct disadvantage against the perennially powerful Bishop McDevitt team. The Crusaders had the advantage right from the start, having played the previous week (a 21-0 loss to LaSalle), and playing on their home turf. They also had the advantage in numbers, experience and depth against a somewhat depleted Middletown squad.

And it all added up to an impressive win for the host team that is deep and talented on both sides of the ball. It may have helped a bit if the Blue Raiders had been able to play in the scheduled opener against Lower Dauphin in the season’s first weekend, but that is pure speculation at this point. The Raiders will hope to be back at full strength this week for their road trip to Line Mountain Friday.

The Crusaders got off to the quick start with an 8-play scoring drive following the kickoff. Overcoming three penalties the drive was capped by a 31-yard pass from Stone Saunders to Jahil Terry. On Middletown’s first play from scrimmage Bamm Appleby’s pass was intercepted, leading to an 8-play scoring drive of 48 yards, capped by a TD reception by Mario Easterly. The struggles continued for the Raiders as Appleby was intercepted again on first down. Marquese Williams, who ran around and through the Middletown defense throughout the game’s first half, capped the drive with a 12-yard run. And, just that quickly, the Middletown side was down 21-0.

The Blue Raiders finally broke their drought early in the second quarter when Tajae Broadie scored from the three at 9:55. The drive, aided by a personal foul against the Crusaders (one of several) and Appleby’s 41-yard run, gave the Middletown side a much-needed lift. But it did not last long.

Following a designed short kickoff by Tyson Leach a 48-yard run on second down set up McDevitt’s fourth touchdown. Again, overcoming a pair of penalties, the home team cashed in with Williams’ 19-yard scoring run to make it a 28-7 game with 8:13 left in the first half. That advantage turned into 35-7 when the Crusaders again found the endzone with just 29 seconds left in the first half. Broadie’s 29-yard run on the final play of the half proved to be one of the few highlights for the Blue Raiders. Unfortunately, Broadie sat out the second half with a minor injury.

Early in the third quarter the Crusaders got the mercy clock running following a dazzling 53-yard touchdown down run by Williams, that ended his big night for the winners. But the Crusaders were not finished just yet as they punched in two more scores in the fourth quarter despite the efforts of the Middletown defense to stop the bleeding. To add to their woes, several players suffered cramps, including two-way standouts Tate Leach, Jason Stoner and Chace Vandegrift. On their final possession of the game Jose Sanchez ran the ball 7 straight times as reserves from both sides finished up. Broadie led the team with 37 rushing yards, but the Blue Raiders ended up with less than 100 yards of offense in the game.



SEPTEMBER 1, 2021 - 2021 BLUE RAIDERS FOOTBALL PREVIEW

Changes took place within the Middletown Area High School football program during the off-season and, with the hiring of Scott Acri to run the show, a new era starts this season. Acri, a 30-year old with several years of experience, last coached at Susquenita High School and was more than eager to apply for the head coaching position at Middletown, citing tradition, success, history and strong community as the factors that attracted him here.

Acri and his staff have been working to keep that tradition alive and well as the new season is here. Rob Brodish and Mike Osayi, a pair of Middletown grads stayed on as assistant coaches to help out. Acri brought Spencer Gay, Joe Crocenzi and Aaron Blanding with him to fill the coaching ranks.

The overall number of players is down this year, but Acri is encouraged by the work of several returning players and the showing the team had with a pre-season scrimmage at Northern York at the end of the first week of practice.

“The outlook for 2021 is to compete every day. We have a slogan for this year “Answer The Bell,” he said, referring to a boxing match in that when the bell rings the team must respond and be ready to go toe to toe with opponents. “We talk daily about work ethic, commitment, energy and love. We will strive to play at a high level each day and develop great young men. We have a tremendous returning core (of players) and a lot of newcomers that have joined the scene,” he said.

Offense
“We will be running a multiple spread offense. We will look to be a balanced team that will utilize our run concepts to open up our passing game. You can expect multiple sprint outs, screens, quick game and RPO schemes. We will also look to change tempos often, as well as personnel, shifts and motions.”

Defense
“Our defense will be a primary event with a cover 2 shell. We will look to mirror our blitz packages with different coverages and movements. We will also utilize and odd front (3-4) in certain passing situations. We plan to put our best athletes on the field and allow them to play fast and physical.

Players
As noted, the numbers are down hovering at or slightly above 30. And that means that everyone has to contribute. Senior leadership will be important along with returning underclassmen who played in the shortened 2020 season. Leading the senior class will be: WR/DB/QB Tate Leach, TE/DE Tajae Broadie 6’4, 240), WR/DB Caden Paul, RB/LB Brandyn Davis, OL/LB Jason Stoner (5’11, 215), OL/DL Chase Vandegrift (6”, 260).

Representing the junior class are: RB/DB Audric Bryant, RB/DB Arkel Batts, FB/LB Canden Brown, WR/DB DeShawn Patterson, QB Bamm Appleby (the projected starter), WR/DB Amari Betha, FB/LB Jackson Grimland, WR/DB Manny Rodriguez, RB/LB Tito Spears. WR/DB Benaiah Harrel, OL/DL Antuan Metz (5’8, 260), OL/DL Sebastian Dash (5’8, 230), OL/DL Marquis Beasley (5’10, 240), K/P Nolan Sessa and TE/DE Asa Kochvar (6’4, 200).

The sophomore group includes WR/DB Jamar McKinney, WR/DB Jose Sanchez, WR/LB Isaiah Crosson, WR/LB Tally Keating, WR/DB Aaron Nordai, WR/DB Rece Butler, K/P Tyson Leach, TE/DE Kam Chisolm, OL/DL Chase Eberly (5’10, 210), OL/DL Dominic Singh (5”10, 210), OL/DL Law Brunson (5’11, 260), OL/DL Donnie Neidig (5’9, 240), and Malcolm Taalbuddeen (5’11, 230).

Acri noted that the expectations for Middletown football are high. “You can bet that we will be ready to compete week in and week out!” he said.


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