Burlington Free Press - Vermont H.S. football semifinals: McCoy, Burr and Burton overwhelm Middlebury
MIDDLEBURY - Tyler Buxton cut and maneuvered his way down the home sideline for a game-tying, 54-yard touchdown scamper, to the delight of the crowd at Doc Collins Field.
Middlebury was matching Burr and Burton score for score — the Buxton dash was the teams' third TD in the last four plays from scrimmage — but the Tigers' coaching staff saw what was unfolding early in the second quarter. And they didn't like it.
"I heard on my headset, ‘We don’t want a shootout,'" Dennis Smith said.
The longtime Middlebury coach's retort? "Well, stop them please."
Except they couldn't. There was just no slowing down the Joey McCoy-led Bulldogs.
The senior signal-caller totaled eight touchdowns and racked up more than 500 yards of offense as the No. 3 Bulldogs never trailed in a 54-39 victory over the second-seed Tigers in the Division I high school football semifinals on Friday night.
"Every time we tried to take one thing away, they found another thing," Smith said. "They are a great team, they have athletes all over the place. I tip my hat. They are the real deal."
BBA (9-1), the reigning D-II champ, will meet the winner of Saturday's semifinal between No. 5 Essex and No. 1 St. Johnsbury for the D-I championship on Nov. 9 at Rutland.
It will be the Bulldogs' fourth appearance in state final since 2015.
"That’s something I never would have thought," said McCoy of reaching the D-I title game. "At the beginning of the year, all we were trying to do was compete in D-I. And to come out here and beat an undefeated Middlebury team, it’s something special and something I’ll never forget."
McCoy went 14 of 22 for 254 yards and five touchdowns, all to John Morgantini, while gashing the Middlebury defense with 25 carries for 251 yards and a trio of scores.
Morgantini finished with 131 receiving yards on his five TD hauls of 30, 53, 21, 22 and 5 yards.
"It’s just about preparation, really. Trying to figure out the best thing to do against a pretty quick and well-coached Middlebury team," BBA coach Tom McCoy said. "We went with that empty set and spread them out and got the football to our athletes.
"It’s a dream come true for a coach. But it’s these kids, it’s not coaching. They played their hearts out, that was the difference."
Burr and Burton opened a 34-21 halftime lead — the 34 points was twice as many as Middlebury had allowed in the first half of their nine previous outings combined — and had quick responses when the Tigers brought the margin to within a possession on two occasions in the second half.
"We had chances. We just didn’t capitalize on the situations, especially in the passing game," Smith said. "We had guys open, we just didn’t hit them."
Buxton tallied 140 rushing yards on 12 carries and added a late 9-yard TD reception while Thatcher Trudeau rushed 19 times for 107 yards and a score for the Tigers (9-1).
When the contest seesawed, BBA and Middlebury traded blows on three plays spanning the first and second quarters. Trudeau rumbled 44 yards for a TD and 14-all score. Then two plays later, McCoy connected with Morgantini on a 53-yard TD, with Morgantini leaping for the ball over the middle and bursting to paydirt for BBA's third lead of the half.
After a short kickoff set up Middlebury near midfield, Buxton went off the left edge and raced to the end zone to level the game at 21 with 11:49 until the break.
After Smith pleaded for his defense to come up with a stop, BBA scored in five plays to take a lead it would not relinquish. John Morgan (58 receiving yards, 74 rushing yards) took a reverse for a 50-yard gain, setting up McCoy to Morgantini on a 21-yard rainbow inside the left pylon for a 27-21 advantage (the extra point was blocked).
"You don’t have receivers like that in Vermont," said McCoy of his top target. "And to have him come out and play like that and to have him by my side all these years, it’s really incredible. I’m so happy he had a big night."
BBA forced a turnover on downs on the ensuing Middlebury possession, stopping the Tigers just short of the red zone. Then McCoy punched it in from 9 yards on a keeper to cap a nine-play, 78-yard drive for the 34-21 margin in the final minute of the half.
Middlebury, though, nearly responded. An Ian Ploof kickoff return of 56 yards put the Tigers in prime position, but miscommunication in the final seconds resulted in a QB spike on fourth down at the BBA 20.
"Maybe if we scored before the half, we get the ball (to start the second half) and we’re right back on schedule but it didn’t happen," Smith said.
The Tigers drew to within 34-27 midway through the third on a Tim Goettelmann 7-yard rush. McCoy then converted a fourth-and-1 on a dive and found Morgantini on the next play from 22 yards out to restore the double-digit margin.
And when Middlebury made it a one possession game again, 41-33, on Ploof's 2-yard score to open the fourth, McCoy dashed 67 yards on a QB draw that would've reached paydirt if not for a remarkable, diving tackle by Buxton. Three plays later, McCoy was in on a 1-yard sneak for a 47-33 advantage.
The only blemish on the night for McCoy was a fumble resulting in Nikolai Luksch's scoop-and-score TD from inside the 10 to make it a 7-7 game early in the first quarter.
Even that turnover couldn't shake McCoy's confidence.
"We never give up or get down on ourselves," McCoy said. "We try and stay positive the whole time and keep grinding."
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Contact Alex Abrami at 660-1848 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @aabrami5.