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Prep football: Middletown, East looking to bounce back in GMC opener

The Middletown High School football team gained some early confidence by winning its season opener and jumping out to an early lead against Springboro in Week 2.

Injuries took their toll after the first quarter against the Panthers and the game unraveled, but first-year Middies coach Don Simpson said the 42-26 loss last week was a good “next man up” lesson.

Now the Middies, who were a combined 1-19 over the previous two seasons, are looking to see more signs of progress as they enter Greater Miami Conference play Friday at home against Lakota East (1-1). Middletown’s lone win last year came in Week 9 against GMC foe Oak Hills.

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“We’ve had great buy-in with what we’re doing, but this is our first real adversity, our first setback to see how we respond,” Simpson said. “This will be that game to really solidify: This is where we compete. We know there was a time Middletown was one of the top teams in the conference, and the past few years it’s been a struggle just to get a win. If we can compete 48 minutes with a very good opponent, it will let people know what we’re doing is right.

“It’s still a process. We’re not going to run through the GMC, but as long as we see progress, it’s positive.”

Middletown kicked off the season with a 42-0 win over Western Hills and led Springboro 23-7 after the first quarter last week, but the Middies couldn’t overcome injuries to several key starters, including quarterback Jarrenn Thomas, who suffered an injury to his non-throwing arm in the second quarter.

Simpson said none of the injuries appeared major and he is hopeful his players bounce back in time to play Friday, but young players stepped up as needed and the team built a little character from the experience.

“The attitude is still great,” Simpson said. “We’ve learned how to take the small victories within the game and knowing when we’re clicking on all cylinders and healthy, we’re a pretty good football team.”

East will be another good challenge.

The Thunderhawks opened their season in similar fashion to the Middies, rolling to a 42-7 win over Walnut Hills in the opener and then rallying from a 20-3 halftime deficit only to fall 27-24 against Kings last week in a weather-delayed game that concluded Saturday.

East coach Rick Haynes hopes his players are prepared to play a full game Friday.

“The biggest thing we learned is we have to play four quarters,” Haynes said. “I was pleased with how we played the second half but teams we’re playing, we can’t spot them 17 points like we did. We didn’t play well in the first half, and to come back and win is really difficult when you’re in a hole like that.

“Our kids played well against Walnut Hills and then Friday didn’t play well at all.”

Haynes said he already can see a difference in the Middletown program, noting the Middies seem “more structured in what they are doing offensively and defensively,” which can be difficult with a team that lacks continuity.

As usual, Middletown has some speed that concerns the Hawks, but Simpson said the challenge with East is its physicality, which hurt the Middies against Springboro. Both teams run an odd-front defense. The Hawks are led offensively by dual-threat quarterback Sean Church and fullback Jack Dobroszi.

“The challenge for us is to stay fundamentally sound and stay disciplined because one mistake and they can expose you with the triple option,” said Simpson, who was previously the defensive coordinator at Princeton. “They are big and we know it’s going to be a physical battle, so we need to take steps to make sure we’re healthy and ready to go to open GMC play.”

Friday’s game

What: Lakota East (1-1) at Middletown (1-1), 7 p.m.

Where: Cris Carter Field at Barnitz Stadium, 1211 S. Main St., Middletown

Series: Lakota East leads 8-7 and has won the last four meetings, including 40-3 in 2016

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