Football – Connor Welsh Carries Middletown North Past Wall
MIDDLETOWN - Senior running back Connor Welsh is arguably the best returning player on the Middletown North football team and he barely played at all as a junior due to a broken bone in his arm.
That both speaks to how dangerous Welsh is, but also to the fact that the Lions entered this year without a lot of returning experience on either side of the ball. Despite that inexperience, Middletown North finds itself poised for sprint to the finish in 2017.
Welsh went off for 217 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries Friday and the Lions - ranked No. 10 in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10 - climbed back over the .500 mark for the first time since Week One with a 34-14 win over Wall.
"We've come together after two tough losses to two good football teams," Middletown North coach Steve Bush said, alluding to losses against Red Bank Catholic and Howell. "We know we're better than we've showed in some spots - you change any one of about ten plays and things might have been different. But we've all come together and gotten better at some fundamental things and I think we're getting there."
Middletown North dominated the first half from the opening drive until the final whistle of the second quarter, but Wall responded by scoring on its first possession of the second half to pull within 14-7 and make it a game.
Both teams traded empty possessions and the Lions started the fourth quarter with 2nd-and-5 from their own 25.
On the first play of the final quarter, Welsh took a pitch, cut upfield toward daylight, and sprinted into the clear for a 75-yard touchdown run that reversed the momentum back in Middletown North's favor and gave the Lions a 21-7 lead following Joey Cavanagh's extra point. The 75-yard burst was the third of Welsh's three touchdown carries.
"We have a real dynamic offense," Welsh said. "It helps a lot. In my opinion, we have one of the top offenses in the Shore. We've continued to show it game after game and it's going to continue for the rest of the season."
Despite what appeared to be a demoralizing play, the defending South Jersey Group III champion Knights did not stay down. After returning the ensuing squib kick to their own 49 yard-line, Wall started its drive with a false start, a two-yard loss and an incomplete pass to bring up a 3rd-and-17.
Wall quarterback Eddie Scott stepped up and fired over the middle to Dylan Richey, who hauled in the 24-yard pass while absorbing a big hit to pick up the first down.
On the next play, senior running back Brady McNally pressed the edge and cut back to the middle, where he found a lane for a 34-yard touchdown run that cut the Middletown North lead to 21-14 with 10:34 left. McNally also capped the opening drive of the second half with a 17-yard touchdown run and finished the game with 93 yards on 14 carries.
On the following Middletown North possession, Welsh led a 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a three-yard touchdown run by junior back Connor Robbins. Welsh carried the ball on the first eight plays of the drive and senior Austin Dewise contributed a pair of runs - including a two-yard pick-up on 4th-and-2 from the Wall 29 yard-line.
Robbins finished off the drive with three carries for 27 yards, including a 20-yard run that set-up the three-yard touchdown plunge.
After Wall turned the ball over on downs, Robbins added his second touchdown on a 14-yard score. He finished with 50 yards on seven carries.
Middletown North started the game with a 15-play, 83-yard drive to open the scoring. Junior quarterback Sean Glenn connected with Dewise for a 29-yard gain up the right sideline on 3rd-and-25 for the most crucial play of the drive. Welsh then finished the drive with five consecutive runs, capped by a 3-yard push into the endzone for the first touchdown of the game.
After forcing a Wall punt, Middletown North held the ball for 11 more plays to carry the game into the second quarter. The Lions marched 75 yards on the drive and Welsh again ended the drive with a touchdown, this time with a cutback on a pitch to the right that netted him a 17-yard score.
Although Middletown North's defense gave up a pair of long touchdown runs by McNally, the Lions bottled up the rest of Wall's primary offensive weapons. Scott threw for just 63 yards on 8-for-21 passing, while senior Chavese Covin finished with 54 combined yards rushing (33) and receiving (21).
"Stop the run and contain the big plays - that's all we focused on," Welsh said. "If we avoid giving up plays, we make them have to settle down and drive the whole field."
The Middletown North defense also sacked Scott four times and hurried him on nearly half of his drop-backs. Senior Nick Cofone accounted for two of the sacks, while juniors David Rodriguez and Steven Holler had the other two.
A 3-2 start for a team that features so many new starters is a net positive to begin with, but considering Middletown North's two losses came in competitive games against two of the top five teams in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10, it's even more encouraging. The Lions lost to No. 3 Red Bank Catholic, 60-41, in a game that was tied, 34-34, at halftime and dropped a 28-26 loss to No. 5 Howell.
"It helped a lot coming back to our home turf," said Welsh, whose team suffered both of its losses this season on the road. "I believe, truthfully, that if a couple plays here or there went differently, we might still be undefeated. Fatigue got us a little bit, so we went back to work and made sure we got better."
The Lions bounced back with a win over New Brunswick last week led by a big passing game by Glenn, who finished with 139 yards through the air on 11-for-20 passing on Friday.
"We feel like we can do both (run and pass) well and we're going to take what's given to us and let the game dictate how we play," Bush said. "There was a point tonight when we wanted to use clock and run the ball and the guys did a good job of getting that done and getting us up two scores and finishing it off at the end."
Middletown North will continue its march through the deep, dangerous Class B North schedule with a trip to Manasquan next week, followed by a home game against currently unbeaten Long Branch the following week. The Green Wave would have to beat Red Bank Catholic to remain unbeaten heading into that game, but will nevertheless travel to Middletown North in the midst of a strong season.
"We're real confident," Welsh said. "We really believe that we'll have a good chance to make a run, get into the playoffs and do well."
Middletown North 34, Wall 14
|Wall (3-3, 1-3)||0||0||7||7||14|
|Midd. North (3-2, 2-1)||7||7||0||20||34|
MN - Connor Welsh 3-yard run (Joey Cavanagh kick)
MN - Connor Welsh 17-yard run (Joey Cavanagh kick)
W - Brady McNally 17-yard run (Aidan Mulreed kick)
MN - Connor Welsh 75-yard run (Joey Cavanagh kick)
W - Brady McNally 34-yard run (Aidan Mulreed kick)
MN - Connor Robbins 3-yard run (Joey Cavanagh kick)
MN - Connor Robbins 14-yard run (pass failed)
Rushing - W: Brady McNally 13-94, Chavese Covin 5-33, Eddie Scott 13-28; MN: Connor Welsh 26-217, Connor Robbins 7-50, Austin Dewise 4-19, Anthony Soto 2-20, Sean Glenn 2-(-2), Aidan Campbell 1-(-1)
Passing - W: Eddie Scott 8-21-0 63; MN: Sean Glenn 11-20-1 139
Receiving - W: Dylan Richey 2-35, Tanner Powers 3-16, Chavese Covin 2-21, Tim McKernan 1-(-9); MN: Austin Dewise 5-62, Anthony Soto 3-40, Connor Welsh 2-27, Aidan Campbell 1-10
Interceptions-Return Yards: Kamaal Cofer 1-0