For a few minutes, there was a glimmer of hope.
The Newburgh Free Academy football team trailed the Middletown Middies by 12 points with just over four minutes to go. Jun Rivas had just recovered an onside kick, and the Goldbacks marched to the Middletown 5-yard line.
But the Goldbacks had been plagued by key turnovers all game, and this drive was no different. Middletown’s Michael Culver intercepted Newburgh quarterback Mason Hoover in the end zone, turning the ball back over, and the Middies ran out the clock, winning the Section 9 Class AA championship with a 26-14 win over the Goldbacks on Saturday at Academy Field in Newburgh.
It was the second time the Middies had beaten the Goldbacks at Academy Field, previously posting a 28-17 win on October 6.
“Credit to them, they made some big plays,” Newburgh coach Bill Bianco said. “I would have liked for it to go better. We had a couple of different issues that we thought we had fixed, but that’s easier said than done. They did a good job of running behind their big guys and giving that kid the ball. It’s tough to stop.”
It didn’t help that the Goldbacks dug themselves an early hole, falling behind 20-0 on two touchdown runs by Julani Green. Eighth-grade quarterback Joseph Royal also hooked up with Culver for a 59-yard touchdown pass.
The offense didn’t get into the end zone until 2:47 remained in the second quarter.
With the Middies holding a three-touchdown lead, Newburgh’s Liam Ehlers ran the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to the Middletown 5-yard line. Three plays later, Newburgh’s Tajir Walker plunged into the end zone on a three-yard run, cutting Middletown’s lead to 20-7.
The Middies took a 26-7 lead on an 18-yard pass from Royal to Elijah Georges.
The Goldbacks’ defense held the Middies’ defense in check from there, until the offense got going in the fourth quarter and Hoover hit Christopher Leggett at the goal-line for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
Rivas grabbed the ensuing onside kick deep into the Middies’ territory, but being unable to advance an onside kick, the Goldbacks’ took over on the Middies’ 47-yard line. Completions to Nakei Johnson and Montgomery and two to Rivas brought the Goldbacks back to the Middletown 5.
After a spike and an incompletion, and with Leggett on the sideline due to injury, Culver’s interception ended the comeback attempt.
“We didn’t quit,” Bianco said. “We kept swinging. I think we dug ourselves a little too deep in the hole to have many mistakes. Even with everything that happened, we were down inside the 20 two or three times in the second half. We just couldn’t convert.”
The Middies will advance to Saturday’s New York State Public High School Athletic Association East semifinal against Section 2 champion Christian Brother’s Academy at Faller Field in Middletown.
“We’ve definitely been on the other side,” Bianco said. “Am I happy? No, but I don’t think it was an effort thing. We just didn’t execute at some different parts of the game, but it is what it is. That’s football.”