Sloppy, but sweet win for Middletown

Middletown ball carrier David Pike pushes through Gary Randolph, mud and the rest of the Healdsburg defense, Friday Dec. 3, 2010 in Middletown as the Mustangs advance to the NCS finals after defeating the Greyhounds, 10-0.(Kent Porter / PD)

ByMICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

MIDDLETOWN — On a sloppy field with fog rolling in, Middletown’s defense and a big play early were enough Friday to handle Healdsburg.

The much anticipated contest centered on two high-powered offenses. But the defenses stole the show and the host Mustangs shut out the Greyhounds, 10-0, forcing four turnovers along the way in their NCS Div. 4 semifinal matchup.

Healdsburg had chances throughout the game and kept Middletown off the scoreboard in the final two quarters. The biggest turnover was Jereomy Hoefer’s fumble recovery for the Mustangs with the Greyhounds driving for a possible score to open the second half.

“The whole momentum just grew from that,” Hoefer said. “It’s all about defense because defense wins championships.”

One more win (next weekend against the winner of today’s Ferndale/Salesian game) and Middletown will have its first North Coast Section championship since 2001. Leading the Mustang’s push are a corps of seniors who want to eliminate the bitter taste of recent playoff losses.

“Before the beginning of the season we focused on going all the way. We know we can do it,” said back David Pike, who had a tough 90 yards to lead all rushers.

Healdsburg liked its chances with quarterback Max Opperman back from injury and back Carson Seanor having a tremendous season. But the Mustangs held the pair to 83 combined yards.

“They were flying to the ball. They played hard,” Healdsburg coach Tom Kirkpatrick said of Middletown’s defense. “We kind of hurt ourselves with mistakes, but you can’t take anything away from Middletown.”

This was a rare game between the Sonoma County and North Central leagues. Healdsburg played a tougher schedule with games against larger schools. But Middletown showed it was ready a week ago with a decisive win over El Molino, one of Healdsburg’s SCL foes.

“Every yard was hard-fought. They’re the toughest defense that we’ve faced all year,” said Middletown coach Bill Foltmer. “The difference was the one big play.”

After the Mustangs’ power running tandem of Pike and Jake Davis worked for a first down on the game’s opening drive, Middletown went to the air. Quarterback Kyle Brown doesn’t throw much, but he and the Mustangs receivers are efficient.

Faking a handoff, Brown dropped back and waited just long enough for Pike to get a step on the Healdsburg defense. The back hauled in the pass 25 yards out and ran for the 80-yard TD, breaking two tackles along the way. It was Pike’s only catch on the night.

With the ball for the first time, Healdsburg put together a 16-play drive with Opperman getting big chunks on draw plays. The biggest play was his 31-yard pass connection with George Brush.

After gaining a first down on fourth and inches at the Mustangs 20-yard line, the Greyhounds went for it again at the 10-yard line. But the Mustangs made the first of several big stops.

After forcing Middletown to punt, Healdsburg took over on a short field. Five plays later, the Greyhounds again tried to keep a drive alive with a fourth down play. But a pass was batted down in the end zone.

Seizing the momentum, Middletown went deep into Healdsburg territory behind Pike and Davis. When the drive stalled, Danny Cardenas booted a 28-yard field goal off the muddy center of the field.

“This was the biggest win all year,” Pike said. “It was the toughest too. That’s what makes it even sweeter.”