Dec. 07--MIDDLETOWN, Pa. -- Brett Myers has never been too focused on the bigger picture.
Instead, Myers, Middletown's head football coach, likes to view his team on a short term, week-to-week and day-to-day basis. He says he's never thought about making it the state championship game or if his team was good enough to get there. Instead, he's kept himself and his team focused on the daily process and sat back to see where that process would take them.
Turns out, for the second year in row, the process has taken the Blue Raiders to the PIAA 3A championship, where, again, Middletown will face off against a Beaver Valley Conference team, this time Quaker Valley on Saturday at noon. Last season, Middletown was defeated by Beaver Falls in the championship game, 30-13.
That Middletown has been able to make it to this game again is, in some respects, surprising. The Blue Raiders graduated nearly two dozen seniors from last year's team, among them Jaelen Thompson, who rushed for 1,605 yards last season, and Chase Snavely, who threw for 2,243 yards. No matter, Middletown is undefeated at this point, just as it was last season, outscoring opponents 597-100 along the way.
"I always thought we had kids that gave really, really good effort. I always thought that the kids really liked practice. I don't know if I ever thought we were good, but I thought, 'this is really a fun group to be around and work with,'" Myers said.
"I think they have a lot of similarities (to last year's team). Both teams really enjoy practice and really enjoy competing against each other. Just like last year's team, this year's team has a lot of multi-sport athletes. And they just like to play, compete and have fun. It doesn't matter if it's a practice or a game, they're going to get after it."
With its most important game of the season pending, Middletown has found itself clicking at its highest level. In three PIAA playoff games, Middletown has outscored its opponents 133-7, including a 49-7 win over Conwell-Egan Catholic in the semifinals.
"I think we're still pretty young. As the season went on, those playoff games and extra weeks of practice paid off," Myers said. "Some of these guys are now going on their 15th start. In a lot of programs, that would be a year and a half of experience. So I don't think you can talk about the growth without realizing how much practice time they've had."
Offensively, Middletown is fueled by a multi-threat attack. The ground game has shined a bit brighter than the air-attack, as Brady Fox and Jose Lopez have combined for well over 3,000 yards. Fox is the school's career leading rusher.
"(Fox) is a 200-pound back, runs a 4.6 (40-yard dash). He's just a really nice, hardworking high school running back," Myers said. "Jose's pretty fast, and he's got great balance. They complement each other very well."
The passing game, however, has been no slouch. Scott Ash has thrown for over a 1,000 yards, 337 of those in the last two games.
"As his experience has grown, we've been able to do more things in the playoffs," Myers said. "You go against pretty good programs, you have to make some adjustment, and our quarterback has done a nice job at that."
On the other side of the ball, Middletown hasn't given up double digit points in two months. Over the last eight game, the Blue Raiders have surrendered just 35 points and shut out three teams. The continuous improvement is something Myers attributes to a honing of the basics.
"We pride ourself on giving good effort. And as the season has gone on, our players have picked up their effort and understanding of what's expected to get on the field for us," Myers said. "I just think over the course of the season, every week we've gotten a little better at tackling and getting to the ball and our pursuit angles."
That focus on the basics is a team-wide trend. It's a philosophy that has served Middletown well, and something it will lean back on in the championship game against Quaker Valley, a team Myers admittedly has little familiarity with.
"We haven't seen much (of Quaker Valley), but what does stand out is they have a lot of good players who really, really hustle and are well coached. You see why they're the best team coming through on that side of the bracket," Myers said.
"In the end, football's a really simple game. The team that blocks better and tackles better wins."
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