ORANGE PARK – Middleburg High football was less than polite on the opening drive of the Panther homecoming festivities with an early 8-0 lead en route to a 22-13 win for the Broncos in an upset of …
ORANGE PARK – Middleburg High football was less than polite on the opening drive of the Panther homecoming festivities with an early 8-0 lead en route to a 22-13 win for the Broncos in an upset of sorts for the fledgling Middleburg High program that has been struggling to get some traction on a season anticipating a few more wins. With Middleburg down to 30 players, 29 dressing out due to one injury, the team has dubbed itself the Dirty 30.
“That s just what we are, that’s our style,” said Middleburg High coach Karl Smeltzer, now at 2-4 overall. “We are just now getting healthy. We ve played seven different line combinations in seven games. If we stay healthy up there, this can be our identity. We run the ball and that s who we are. “
The Broncos held Ridgeview scoreless in the first half of the game, then came up with three fourth quarter interceptions of Ridgeview s Tyler Huff to squash any comeback drive on their way to the 22-13 road win.
On the Broncos first possession, Panther linebacker Austin Childers collided with Bronco quarterback/punter Joe Justino to get a roughing the punter flag and infuse new life into the Middleburg offense. Justino responded by driving the Broncos 80 yards to paydirt in over six minutes with tailback Anthony Havens scoring and Justino running in for the extra two points..
“There is more to come,” said Havens on the Bronco turnaround. “We ll wake them up. This team has put in a ton of work. If we play like we played tonight, we could go all the way.”
Ridgeview would only get as close as a Matt Koziolek field goal attempt that sailed wide on the Panthers’ next drive.
Justino revved up the Bronco offense again with a 32 yard scamper that got running back Tyler Bryant close enough for a two yard plunge and a 15-0 Bronco lead.
“It s an amazing feeling to see all that green ahead of you,” said Justino.
Havens would end the half with an interception.
An errant kickoff by Justino to open the second half set up a 60 yard scoring sprint from Ridgeview tailback Caleb Plyler as the Panthers looked to stop the bleeding quickly.
An onside kick got the Panthers on the Bronco one yard line and a chance to tie the game in less than two minutes, but a botched center snap got scooped up by Bronco defensive end Justin Borchardt.
Middleburg could not make any advance on the fumble recovery as both teams exchanged series into the third period.
Plyler would get the nod again and score the game at 15-13 that seemed to put momentum on the homecoming sideline, Ridgeview chose to go for a fourth and one at their own 29 yard line that Bronco linebacker Brody Senn intervened by nailing Plyler for a two yard loss.
From the Panther 28, Justino hit tight end Trevor Todd for 14 yards before optioning himself into the end zone from nine yards out with 10:44 to go.
“I’m just like thank you Joe- perfect pass,” said Todd. “When you re in that situation, you need that first down and Joe throws the comeback, it s just unguardable, you can t do anything with it.”
The rest of the fourth quarter was a Bronco highlight reel as Havens, Kevin Littles and Larry Stephens took turns intercepting Huff with Littles getting the final snag to seal the game with 44 seconds to go.
Smeltzer capped the night by imploring his kids to give themselves some creditor for good effort.
“I’ve been telling my kids to get out of your own way,” said Smeltzer. “Give yourself a chance to succeed and you will. Tonight, we kept making mistakes, but got key turnovers to help ourselves finish this off.”
Ridgeview heads over to Clay for district 5-5A clash that can put either team into the playoffs with a win while Middleburg heads to Nease High for a district 4-6A clash. Nease is also hosting their homecoming next week. The Middleburg vs. Ed White make-up game is moved to October 22nd.