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Prep football: Big opening win gives Middletown shot of confidence

Don Simpson’s first game as a head coach was enough of a blur that he needed some time to process the whole thing.

In reflection, last Friday was a very good night for Simpson and his Middletown High School football team, which hadn’t won an opener since 2011, then went out and blasted Western Hills 42-0 at Barnitz Stadium.

“There’s so much going on while it’s happening. I had to sit back and watch the game later to really enjoy it,” Simpson said. “It was great at the end. The student body, the administration, just everybody congratulating me and telling me that they believe in us. When you put in all the long hours that coaches put in, it feels good when you hear that.”

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The competition figures to be considerably tougher the rest of the way for the Middies, who will travel to Springboro on Friday night.

Simpson said Middletown was far from perfect against Western Hills, but it was still a quality performance for a program that desperately needed one. The Middies were 1-19 over the previous two seasons.

“That was a great reward for a lot of hard work,” Simpson said. “A lot of building that trust up started back in January when I first came to the school, but I think they’re starting to believe in the process. They just needed some confidence.

“I thought it was very interesting that a group of talented young men like they are could lack that confidence to go out and play like that. If you would’ve asked them if that score would be 42-0, they would’ve told you no. They thought we’d beat them, but maybe by one or two touchdowns. Then they started to see how good we can be.”

Middletown is hoping to create more offensive fireworks. Senior quarterback Jarrenn Thomas tied a school record by throwing five touchdown passes last week, and senior wide receiver Shandon Morris also tied a school record by catching four of them.

“I’m happy for those two guys,” Simpson said. “They worked their butts off this summer and were truly committed to being leaders. To be voted by their team to be captains and then to go out on the biggest stage and perform like they did, I think it was great for them.”

Thomas was 16-of-18 for 261 yards with no interceptions. Morris caught five balls for 119 yards.

“I was real surprised and happy. I really couldn’t have done it without Jarrenn Thomas putting the ball right in the pocket,” Morris said. “We did a lot of things right. It just came from pushing each other during practice.

“I think we’re ready to surprise a lot of people, but we’ve just got to keep working, keep grinding. Now it’s time to lock in for Springboro.”

The Middies’ defense limited Western Hills to 120 total yards. Simpson said middle linebacker Gene Underhill, safety Troy Vinson and end Earl Nelson — a first-time defensive starter — led the way.

“I’ll give the defense a B,” Simpson said. “We talk about shutouts and how hard they are to get, but I feel on that side of the ball, we could’ve been sharper at times.”

Springboro’s defense was very good in a 10-6 loss to Mason last week. The Panthers have switched to an odd front this season, a first in Ryan Wilhite’s 13-year tenure. Senior nose guard Dillon Cripe (5-11, 200), senior inside linebacker Lincoln Troxell (5-9, 210) and senior cornerback Max Yost (5-11, 180) are among the top defenders.

Wilhite said his spread offense had a difficult time trying to move the ball against Mason. Junior quarterback Landon Palmer was 11-of-18 for 88 yards and a late touchdown to Eric Myers.

Ironically, the only significant varsity action Palmer saw in 2017 came in the 37-0 win at Middletown. He was 7-of-18 for 74 yards and a TD (to Myers) in a relief role after starter Cameron Rountree suffered an eye injury.

“I felt in the preseason and in our scrimmages that we were maybe a better offensive team than we showed against Mason,” Wilhite said. “We didn’t have any turnovers in the game … neither team did. We just really didn’t have anything going until the end of the game.

“Defensively, this is a real challenge because Middletown is going to attack us almost the exact opposite way that Mason did. Mason was very much a two-back team and running power off tackle, and Middletown’s going to try to use every inch of the field. Mason attempted one downfield throw the whole time, so this is a completely different animal for us to defend.”

Wilhite said Springboro doesn’t necessarily have great team speed on defense, “but I would say that our style plays fast. We’re moving when the ball’s snapped and not reading and reacting. I think that’s probably one of the reasons we’ve gone to this front because I feel that may generate us to be a faster-playing defense.”

Simpson said he’s impressed with the Panthers’ discipline and physicality.

“We’re going to play teams like this that are going to line up and just try to pound us,” Simpson said. “I believe we can play in this game, but we can’t beat ourselves. If we stay away from the big mistakes and having those game-altering plays against us, I think we’ll be OK.”

This will be the first official game on Springboro’s new FieldTurf. Wilhite said the stadium also has a new scoreboard and sound system.

Friday’s game

What: Middletown (1-0) at Springboro (0-1), 7 p.m.

Where: CareFlight Field at Watkins Stadium, 1675 S. Main St., Springboro

Series: Springboro leads 2-0 and won 37-0 last year

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