TOWNSEND — There were floats, kings and queens and a large crowd on Friday night as the North Middlesex football team celebrated homecoming, but one thing was missing, a win. Gardner acted as rude guests, getting 100-yard plus rushing nights from Larry Ard and Will Vance and a pair of touchdown passes from Tyler Craft to take a 24-13 victory and drop the Patriots to 0-6 on the season.
“We made too many mistakes tonight and that came back to haunt us,” said North Middlesex coach John Margarita. “It has been an issue all year for us. When you have a young team, you expect those types of things. We just need to learn from those miscues and get better as a team.”
Things got off to a poor start for North Middlesex as a bad snap on a punt attempt gave the Wildcats great field position on their first drive. Gardner took over on the Patriots’ 11-yard line and found the end zone three plays later. On third-and-six from the seven, Craft connected with Eric O’Reilly in the left corner for a touchdown. The conversion failed, but it was 6-0 just over three minutes into the game.
On the first drive of the second quarter, North Middlesex finally got things going on offense. Starting at their own 26, the Patriots got 31 yards on four carries from Justin Maudie to help move the ball down to the Wildcats’ 33, but a fumble ended the threat.
Ard recovered the fumble for Gardner and then turned it into points on the ensuing drive. On second-and-eight from the 40, Ard took a hand-off on a sweep and outran the North Middlesex defense, going 60 yards for a score. The two-point conversion failed, but the Wildcats now held a 12-0 advantage.
The Patriots responded by getting on the board on the next possession. Alan Ericson (two carries for 23 yards) and Leo LeBlanc (two carries for 37 yards) keyed a five play, 68-yard drive as North Middlesex cut the lead in half. LeBlanc finished things up, bursting through a hole in the line and going 27 yards for a touchdown. The PAT kick was wide left as it was now a 12-6 contest.
Any jubilation on the Patriots side was short lived as Gardner responded with a quick touchdown. On third-and-seven from the 27, Vance took a pass in the flats from Craft and turned it into a 73-yard touchdown reception. Once again the conversion failed, but the Wildcats increased their lead to 18-6 heading into the half.
Things got off to a quick start in the third quarter as Gardner padded their advantage in just two plays. Vance struck again, taking a hand-off up the middle and outrunning the North Middlesex defense, covering 65 yards for his second touchdown of the night. The Wildcats failed on the conversion as it was now 24-6.
D.J. Webb kept the Patriots in the contest on the ensuing kick-off. The junior bobbled the kick and gained possession at his own 19 before getting a couple of blocks and then dashing through the open field for an 81-yard touchdown return. Dean Dumont added the PAT to cut the advantage to 24-13 with 9:51 to play in the third quarter.
It seemed as if the teams were headed to a shootout, but those were the last points scored as both defenses settled in and took control of the game. On Gardner’s next possession, they drove down to the North Middlesex’ 14, but an incomplete pass turned the ball over on downs.
For the Patriots, offense was extremely hard to come by in the second half. North Middlesex ran only five plays in the third quarter, netting just 14 yards as the Wildcats did a nice job of shutting down the option and putting pressure on quarterback Alan Ericson when he tried to pass.
In the closing minutes, the Patriots put together one last drive in an attempt to get back in the game. Starting at their own 23, North Middlesex slowly moved the ball up field as Ericson hit on passes of 11, 17 and 20 while adding 14 yards rushing to put the ball on the Gardner’ 15. However that is where the drive would end as three incompletions and a sack gave the ball back to the Wildcats who ran out the clock to seal the win.
“You have to give them (Gardner) credit, they are a much better team than their record indicates,” said Margarita. “We had some chances tonight that we didn’t capitalize on and that is something we have to work on.”
Maudie paced the Patriots offense with 68 yards on 11 carries. Ericson finished with 89 total yards (53 passing and 36 rushing) while adding five tackles on defense.