A return to winning will be an onerous task for Middletown High School’s football team this week.
The Middies are 1-2 and have lost their last two games, giving up 74 points in the process. And now they face a Friday trip to Colerain, the top-ranked Division I unit in Ohio.
But Middletown senior linebacker Gene Underhill doesn’t want to hear anybody say his team has no chance. He’s playing to win.
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“I feel very pumped,” Underhill said. “I feel like the team chemistry is coming along really good. I feel like we’re going to show ’em what’s going on.”
First-year Middies coach Don Simpson wants his players to simply take a deep breath and play.
“They’re excited about the opportunity,” Simpson said. “We’re just looking at it as another chance to get better. When we get to the point where we can get out of our own way and stop the self-inflicted wounds, we’ll be a pretty good team.
“We haven’t won, lost or tied a game yet this week. I said, ‘Gentlemen, we’re going to keep chopping. We don’t have to swing the axe any harder. We’ve just got to sharpen the blade. We’ve got to be a little more crisp in everything we do.’ ”
For Colerain, Greater Miami Conference play has been a smooth ride for a very long time. The Cardinals are 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the GMC this year, and their conference winning streak has reached 68.
The last team to beat Colerain in GMC competition was Middletown. That was a 42-39 decision on Oct. 3, 2008, at Barnitz Stadium.
The Cardinals have grown accustomed to beatdowns in conference play — their last single-digit win was 49-48 in double overtime against Lakota East on Oct. 3, 2014 — but Colerain coach Tom Bolden said he never worries about his players taking anybody lightly.
“The one thing we’ve never had trouble with is complacency,” Bolden said. “I think we’ve got a great formula for that. We’re always competing in practice. I don’t have to get them fired up too much because they just want to be great. Our kids like going out and showing what they can do. So they’re going to play at a high level regardless of who we’re playing.”
Don Simpson addresses his Middletown football team after a practice session this season at Barnitz Stadium in Middletown. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
Three Colerain players have committed to Miami University — inside linebacker Luke Bolden, offensive lineman Rusty Feth and running back/cornerback Syncere Jones. One has committed to Cincinnati — tight end/defensive end Eric Phillips.
Feth is out with an injury, though sophomore guard Kweisi Jones has stepped up in his absence. The early schedule hasn’t been easy, but the Cardinals have outscored La Salle, St. Xavier and Princeton 84-31.
One of the keys has been turnover margin. Colerain is plus-7 in that department.
“That’s pretty good stuff,” Tom Bolden said. “If you can do things like that, you’re going to win a lot of games.”
Cardinals senior quarterback Deante Smith-Moore is tied for the GMC lead in rushing with Fairfield’s JuTahn McClain. Smith-Moore has 432 yards and six touchdowns on 69 carries, and he’s 6-of-14 for 56 yards and a TD through the air.
“He plays at a whole different level,” Bolden said. “He’s just a thousand miles per hour all the time. He’s locked in. He’s been a great leader for our offense.”
Sophomore Kamari Fuller has been Middletown’s quarterback since senior Jarrenn Thomas went down with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder early in the Week 2 game against Springboro.
The Middies led Boro 23-7 after one quarter before losing 42-26, and Week 3 produced a 32-7 loss to Lakota East. Senior outside linebacker/running back Cameron Dillingham suffered an Achilles injury in Week 2 and will miss the rest of the year.
Thomas was off to a great start (22-of-26, 385 yards, six TDs, no interceptions) when he got hurt. Simpson said he might be able to return this season, but for now, Fuller is the guy.
“He has the attitude of a starting varsity quarterback, but he’s looking like who he is, a sophomore that got thrown in the fire,” Simpson said of Fuller, who’s 18-of-33 for 127 yards and a touchdown with three picks. “But I love his attitude. He has the ‘it’ factor. Anybody around him can see it.”
Simpson said Middletown’s performance against East included way too many mental mistakes.
“Honestly, we just shot ourselves in the foot over and over on the offensive side of the ball,” he said. “We had a total of five false starts, a holding penalty, a block in the back, and this is all culminating in like two or three drives.”
Friday’s game will be Elementary Night at Colerain. Bolden said a packed house is expected.
What: Middletown (1-2, 0-1 GMC) at Colerain (3-0, 1-0 GMC), 7 p.m.
Where: Cardinal Stadium, 8801 Cheviot Road, Colerain Township
Series: Colerain leads 21-5 and has won the last seven meetings, including 38-7 in 2017