Middleton starts fast, rides strong defense to win
By ERIC PLUMMER
SANDPOINT — Hayden Smith took the opening kickoff 95 yards, running untouched for a quick score and setting an early tone for his team, as Middleton controlled the action from start to finish in a 42-10 win over Sandpoint on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the 4A state playoffs at Barlow Stadium.
Safety Jake Tuckett intercepted quarterback Jaxon Pettit on the ensuing drive, and the No. 4 ranked Vikings (8-3) turned a short field into point as senior quarterback Darin Post threw the first of his four touchdown passes, finding Smith from 18 yards out.
The Bulldogs (3-7) went three-and-out on their next possession, and the Vikings struck again, building a 21-0 with 3:30 left in the first quarter and quieting the home crowd.
Sandpoint receiver Hunter Elliott hauled in a 31 yard catch from Pettit, setting up Garrett Chandler for a 33 yard field goal to cut the lead to 21-3 and turn the tide briefly.
On Middleton’s next drive, Payton Cox got the crowd going with a big sack, and corner Riley Anderson made the first of a handful of stellar defensive plays by breaking up a pass to force the Vikings to punt for the first time.
On the ensuing drive, Pettit threw the second of his four picks, and the Vikings once again capitalized on the turnover, as Smith struck again on the very next play by taking a tunnel screen 71 yards to the house for a 28-3 lead.
Pettit hit J.J. Johnson and T.J. Davis on a pair of nice gains on the next drive, but Chandler missed a 43 yard field goal. Alex Stockton attempted a double-pass at the end of the half, which was intercepted by Tuckett, who finished with three picks on the night. The half ended with the Bulldogs trailing 28-3.
“We have a new system and philosophy. We’ve got some work to do,” said Bulldog head coach George Yarno, who felt his team competed all game. “They never quit. We’re learning about life here, that you never quit.”
The Bulldogs came out of halftime with some energy, as Dustin Norris returned the opening kickoff to mid-field. A pair of 15 yard catches by Stockton and Payton Cox set up the Bulldogs’ lone touchdown, as Pettit found Julian Barajas for a five yard strike to cut the lead to 28-10.
As they did all game, the Vikings had an answer, scoring on the next two possessions to bump the lead back up to 42-10.
Alex Stockton had a huge game defensively in defeat, and recovered a fumble for the Bulldogs’ lone turnover of the night on defense. Payton Cox, who caught five balls for 42 yards, had several big hits on defense in a strong two-way performance. Middleton executed its offense with precision, racking up 181 yards rushing and 287 yards passing on a balanced night.
Middleton finished with five interceptions on the night, as neither team scored in the fourth quarter. The Vikings’ defense seemed to have multiple players around the ball all night, holding the Bulldogs to just 56 yards rushing on 22 carries, and just 228 yards of offense.
Pettit went nearly the entire way at quarterback in defeat, as the sophomore faced an upper echelon 4A defense for the first time on a cold and slick field, no easy task for any quarterback, let alone a sophomore with just two varsity starts under his belt. He finished 15-31, for 187 yards,
At the end of the day, the Bulldogs faced a well-coached team that executed well in all three phases of the game.
“It never feels good to lose,” said Yarno, lauding the support of the home crowd. “It feels good to have the support. We will get it going.”
Middleton 21 7 14 0 — 42
Sandpoint 3 0 7 0 — 10
Mid — Hayden Smith 95 kickoff return (Neal Webber kick)
Mid — Smith 22 catch from Darin Post (Weber kick)
Mid — Landon Ebbers 5 catch from Post (Weber kick)
Spt — Garrett Chandler 33 field goal
Mid — Smith 71 catch from Post (Weber kick)
Spt — Julian Barajas 5 catch from Jaxon Pettit (Chandler kick)
Mid — Post 8 run (Weber kick)
Mid — Alex Wright 41 catch from Post (Weber kick)