Matt Minno Leads Football to Second Half Win

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Matt Minno Leads Football to Second Half Win

Middlebury’s Trevor Miletich ’16 prepares to make a catch in front of the Williams sideline.

Middlebury’s Trevor Miletich ’16 prepares to make a catch in front of the Williams sideline.

Middlebury’s Trevor Miletich ’16 prepares to make a catch in front of the Williams sideline.

Middlebury’s Trevor Miletich ’16 prepares to make a catch in front of the Williams sideline.

By Sebastian Sanchez

Williams’ Purple Ephs visited the Middlebury Panthers at Alumni Stadium on a chilly Homecoming Saturday, in a game that the Panthers won comfortably in the end, 36-14, despite a back-and-forth first half.

The first quarter was a defensive gridlock as neither team could put points on the board. An uneventful first half was solely highlighted by an interception by Addison Pierce ’17, but Middlebury could not capitalize as the first quarter ended with a 0-0 score.

Williams scored early in the second quarter on a three-yard touchdown run that put the Ephs up 7-0. However, Middlebury answered quickly and in great fashion.

Tanner Contois ’18 caught the ensuing kickoff on Middlebury’s four-yard line, dodged a tackle, cut back towards the middle of the field, picked up a couple blocks and never looked back. A 96-yard kickoff return silenced any Williams’ fans in the stands, turning a 7-0 lead to a 7-6 game. Charlie Gordon’s ’19 extra point attempt was blocked and Williams held onto the lead 7-6.

After another eight minutes of strong defense, the Panthers took the lead with 6:21 left on a 24-yard field goal by Gordon to make it 9-7. At this point, a close game seemed inevitable, as both the defenses were forcing punts and immovable at the line of scrimmage. The Panthers clung to that two-point league coming halftime.

Head Coach Bob Ritter commented on his team’s play coming out of the first half.

“We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times,” Ritter said, “Williams controlled the clock in the first quarter. They slowed the tempo of the game. They converted on a couple third downs, and their execution was thorough.”

William’s control of the tempo did not phase the Panthers in the second half.

The Ephs came out of the locker room hot as their first possession in the third quarter resulted in a touchdown by running back Connor Harris, putting his team up 14-9.

On the next drive, Middlebury coughed up a fumble on its own 29-yard line, and fans began to wonder whether the Panthers would be able to rebound. But their worries were for naught.

Williams could not capitalize on the fumble. The Ephs missed a 38-yard field goal attempt after Middlebury’s defense held tight and three plays later, quarterback Matt Milano ’16 hit wideout Matt Minno ’16 with a 10-yard pass which Minno took 71 yards to the house and put the Panthers up 15-14.

“The chemistry between these two is unbelievable,” Ritter said. “During the second-half of [last] season the two really clicked. Minno is a great, tall target and Milano isn’t afraid to throw it up for him to grab it.”

However, Panthers were again unable to convert the extra point, keeping it a one-point game.

Minno’s touchdown started a powerful second half and the Panthers didn’t look back as Williams went three-and-out and Middlebury’s offense followed that with a nine-play, 96-yard, 2:48 touchdown drive. Amidst the drive, running back Diego Meritus ’19 rushed for 20 yards and caught an 11-yard pass, along with catches from tight end Trevor Miletech ’16 and Minno. Milano found Minno in the corner of the right half of the end zone to stretch the lead to 21-14, but Middlebury missed the extra point once again.

“We need to make those extra points and we will work hard in practice to clean it up,” Ritter said, “especially in close games, it can be the difference.”

Meritus’ success on that drive helped him tally 118 yards on the ground, his first 100+ yard game in his career.

“It felt great knowing that I was able to do my job and contribute to our teams success,” Meritus said. “Coach [Ritter] talks about winning our one-on-one battles each week. Being able to win my one-on-one battle allowed us to move the ball effectively in both the run and passing game.”

Ritter praised the young back’s performance.

“He is a strong and tough runner,” Ritter said. “He can lower his shoulder and run a defender over or make a quick move and beat his man. He is a player who wins his one-on-one battles. More importantly, Diego is mature beyond his years and it shows on the field,” Ritter said.

At some point, a fan chanted “Go, Diego, Go!” and the first-year back took the fan’s advice.

The Panthers began the fourth quarter with the ball and a short field while holding onto that 21-14 lead.

Middlebury quickly scored on a flat pass from Milano to Meritus who caught the pass and ran 19 yards for the touchdown to make the score 27-14. Since Middlebury struggled with extra points all day, the team went with a two-point conversion play. The Panthers converted, but Middlebury was called for a blocking-in-the-back penalty and the Panthers got moved back to the 18-yard line. This didn’t phase Milano as he fired back with a pass to Contois who hauled it down in the endzone to make it 29-14.

Williams showed some fight in the fourth, marching up the field with a couple big catches, but, their momentum was whisked away as cornerback Nate Leedy ’17 snagged the ball in the end-zone for a Middlebury interception.

This was the end for Williams. Middlebury marched down the field again which resulted in a 16-yard dash to the endzone for the touchdown by Meritus. with 7:57 left in the game, the Panthers secured their insurance points and kept the comfortable 36-14 lead until the final whistles blew, signaling the end of the game.

Milano threw for 319 yards, connecting on 20 of 41 passes with three touchdowns. Minno caught eight passes and set a career record with 171 yards. Meritus ran for 118 yards, another career best.

The Panthers face the Bates Bobcats this weekend on the road in Lewiston, ME.

“A focused week of practice” is going to be what Midd needs to get the win,  as “Bates runs a unique offense and defense is what we will have to prepare for,” said Ritter.

With a record of 3-1, Middlebury keeps their hopes alive for contention of the NESCAC title.

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