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Football: MIddle Park caps season with impressive victory

by Will Bublitz
Sky-Hi Daily News
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After a tough season of injuries and frustrating losses, Middle Park High’s football team earned a 28-20 victory against Bishop Machebeuf in the season finale Saturday night in Aurora.

Played on the AstroTurf field of the Aurora Public Schools Stadium, the game’s first half was dominated by the Panthers. In the second half, they were able to stave off a resurgent Buffalo offense to secure their win.

The victory could not have been better medicine for Middle Park’s battle-scarred team, which struggled through the fall short of starters sidelined due to injury and illness.

“This victory was a great way to finish off our season,” said coach Marc Loberg. “We went into this game as a two-touchdown underdog against a higher-ranked league team. It was a good win for us.”

The Panthers’ determination to win this final game was evident from the first minutes of play. After the opening kickoff, Middle Park’s defense quickly shut down Machebeuf’s first possession, forcing a short punt that was taken at the Panther 48 yard line.

Immediately seizing the opportunity, quarterback Mike Schmidt got the Panther offense rolling with a head-down battering charge up the middle for 16 yards. It was immediately followed by a pitch to Alex Morrow for another six-yard rush. On the next play, Zane Bickler got the handoff and battled forward for four more yards to get the first down.

Schmidt kept the drive going with another three-yard rush. Receiving more good blocking, Morrow then charged up the middle for 10 more yards, followed by Bickler with a three-yard gain.

On the next play, the Panthers switched from their head-on drive to a wide sweep to the left by Morrow who scampered across the goal line to score the first touchdown. Jordan Reynolds capped Middle Park’s first drive with an accurate kick through the goal posts for the extra point.

The Panther defense quickly stopped the Buffalos in their tracks on their next possession with plays such as Aaron Wood’s tackle of a rusher in the backfield for a five-yard loss. Machebeuf was forced to punt again with Middle Park taking possession at its 40 yard line.

On the first play, Morrow got the handoff to battle forward for five yards, followed by an 11-yard pass to Bickler who took the ball into Buffalo territory. A series of rushes by Morrow, Bickler and Morrow took the ball to within inches of goal line.

In one final push by Middle Park’s offensive line, Schmidt crashed into the end zone to score the TD just after the second quarter began. Reynolds again added the icing to the cake with a boot through the uprights for the extra point.

Then for the third consecutive time, Middle Park’s defense was rock solid, quickly crushing Machebeuf’s next possession and forcing a punt. Taking the ball on their own 49 yard line, the Panther offense battled across midfield against a stiffening Buffalo defense.

Held at the 27-yard line on a fourth down, Middle Park opted to go for it rather than punt the ball away. As the play went into motion, Schmidt swept wide to the right. Receiving good blocking, he charged down the sideline to score the Panthers’ third touchdown.

Following the kickoff, Middle Park’s defense quickly went back to work, snuffing out Machebeuf’s possession. Taking the punt at its 49 yard line, the Panther offense began what appeared to be another successful drive for the goal line.

But then, disaster struck. At the 12 yard line, a passing attempt was bobbled with the ball being intercepted and run back 98 yards for the first Buffalo touchdown. Machebeuf’s kick for the extra point went wide.

After that mistake, the Panthers entered the second half with a 20-6 lead and high hopes to continue their dominance. However, it soon became evident that Machebeuf’s defense had finally found its iron, forcing Middle Park to make its first punts of the game.

With less than a minute left in the third quarter, Middle Park’s offense was forced once again to punt the ball away with the Buffalo receiver catching it deep in Machebeuf territory. Evading Panther after Panther, he sprinted across the field in an 84-yard punt return to score. Middle Park’s defense then succeeded in stopping Machebeuf’s attempt for a two-point conversion.

Sensing that this final game might slip away if they did not give it their maximum effort, the Panthers immediately came back on their next possession. Taking the punt at its 35 yard line as the fourth quarter began, Middle Park’s offense began a series of ground-gaining rushes by Schmidt and Morrow who took the ball across midfield.

Making it to the 39-yard line, Schmidt then switched to an aerial attack, shooting a pass to Chad Sprague who battled to the one-yard line. Schmidt then plowed into the end zone for another TD. He immediately followed it by running in a two-point conversion play.

With more than eight minutes left on the clock, the Buffalos were still confident they had a chance to pull off a win. Putting together a good rushing-passing combination, they charged back across the field to score another touchdown and then followed it up with a two-point conversion.

Now trailing by eight points with over five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Machebeuf attempted an on-side kick to regain possession, but it failed with Middle Park taking the ball at the Buffalo 45-yard line.

Hanging on tight to the ball, the Panther offense worked the ball forward, gaining the needed first downs. The game clock ran out as Schmidt made a final rush to the 15-yard line.

“Other than giving up that interception and that punt return, we held them to only 124 yards of offense, which was a great job by our defense,” Loberg said. “Our offense earned 320 yards rushing. Our offensive line, which was led by Rod Garrett, was phenomenal.”

Quarterback Mike Schmidt had another excellent game, earning over 200 yards rushing. His rushing total for the season is 787 yards, which is the second highest yardage for a Panther over the past 12 years. What is even more impressive is that he earned it despite missing three games this fall due to injuries.

The team’s other big rusher was Alex Morrow who earned 94 yards in Saturday’s game. His season total is 438 yards.

Panther receiver Chad Sprague made 22 catches this season, which is the second highest for a Panther over the past dozen years.

Looking ahead to next fall, Loberg is very optimistic about the team’s chances.

“We started this season with three returning offensive and two defensive starters,” he said. “Next year, we’ll have eight offensive and eight defensive starters returning. We also have 30 players who earned substantial varsity playing experience this season. It’s looking good.”

With the end of its 2007 season, Middle Park High’s football team is saying goodbye to its seniors ” Alex Morrow, Chad Sprague, Rod Garrett, Zilvinus Sutkus, John Shirado and Aaron Wood.

“We want to thank our seniors for their leadership this season,” coach Marc Loberg said. “They did a great job.”


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