Northmont cruises by Middletown in playoff opener

After three straight come-from-behind wins, Northmont took care of business early with a 35-0 win over Middletown to open the Division. I, Region 2 playoffs.

“The boys really locked in and focused," Northmont coach Tony Broering said. "We prepared as if it was a championship week like last week, and they did a good job of prepping. Credit to the assistants and the boys. They really did a great job. They didn’t look past. They didn’t look at records. They looked at scheme design and how to exploit and they did a really good job so I am really proud of them.”

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Second-seeded Northmont controlled the game from the start.

The Thunderbolts (7-0) forced a three-and-out then took advantage of a short punt, scoring on their first offensive play from scrimmage when Cade Rice found Rod Moore over the middle for a 30-yard touchdown pass.

After forcing another punt, Northmont drove 55 yards for its next score, a 2-yard touchdown pass from Rice to Markus Allen with 4:49 left in the first quarter.

A 27-yard connection between Rice and Allen set up the next the next Northmont touchdown, a 1-yard run by James McKinney.

After Rice found Allen for a 3-yard touchdown with 7:11 left in the second quarter, the quarterback went back to more for Northmont’s fifth touchdown of the first half.

That was a 19-yard pass Moore took off the shoulder pads of a defender, and Xavier Vuong’s PAT kick made it 35-0 with 1:34 left in the half.

Vuong also had one of the key defensive plays for the Bolts in the first half when he threw Middletown quarterback Kellen Davis for a 14-yard loss on third-and-goal from the Northmont 7 late in the second quarter.

The Middies, the No. 15 seed, lined up to try a 38-yard field goal, but a delay-of-game penalty pushed them out of field goal range.

They went for it instead, and Davis' deep ball to Willis Williams was broken up near the goal line to give the ball back to Northmont.

The easy win was a change of pace for the Thunderbolts, who fell behind by double digits the past three weeks but rallied to beat Springfield, Miamisburg and Wayne.

Middletown, coming off its first win of the season, fell to 1-5.

Northmont advances to host Marysville, a 35-14 winner over Dublin Jerome, but Broering said he had not allowed himself or his team to look ahead at possible matchups.

He was worried about a talented Middletown team pulling and upset after the Middies got their first win a week earlier over Walnut Hills.

“That was the cautionary tale," Broering said. "I told the boys all week they have some really talented young men so we had to be sharp, and we were. When we play like that we’re tough. The defense was dialed up and locked in. Cade and Markus really had it going.”

Rice completed 20 of 28 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns. Allen had 74 yards on seven catches, Moore had 57 yards on four catches and TJ Gregory had 57 yards on four catches.

Eli Newburg led the Northmont defense with nine tackles.

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The Thunderbolts held the visitors to 106 total yards and turned them away twice in the red zone.

“I really saw our team show our youth in this moment," Middletown coach Don Simpson said. "Our guys had never been there before. We really showed just the youth and got caught up in the moment. We didn’t execute the way we needed to execute. Things were there. We weren’t at our top game, and it’s kind of disappointing because I really thought we were improving week by week and then to take a step back this week was kind of disheartening. This is truly not what this team is. This team is much better than what they showed today.”

The Middies got a late start on the season because of coronavirus concerns, something Simpson called not an excuse but a real obstacle to building his squad that won only one game last season.

Middletown last played in the playoffs in 2011, and Simpson hopes this unique postseason experience -- every team makes the playoffs this year as a result of a shortened regular season -- pays off down the road.

This year schools are allowed to schedule more games after getting knocked out of the playoffs, and Simpson said the plan is to play Oak Hills and county rival Hamilton if possible.

Kellen Davis threw for 109 yards for the Middies while Willis Williams had 72 yards on four catches.

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