Football: Knights knockout Nardo in second half; take down Cavs 42-14

The Knights used an impressive defensive second half to stymie South Carroll and their most dangerous weapon, QB Ben Nardo.

The Middletown High School Knights football team knew it would have to stop South Carroll High School Cavaliers senior quarterback Ben Nardo if they were to win the 2013 2A West Championship and advance to the state semifinal round of the 2013 Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) 2A Football Championship.

After the first half, it appeared, though, that the Knights were struggling to execute their goal, with Nardo completing 11 out of 20 passes for 102 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Even though the Knights were still up 28-6 over their visitors from Carroll County, Middletown knew that it would have to shut down Nardo in the second half if they wanted to keep the Cavaliers out of the game.

The Knights would do just that, limiting Nardo to 62 yards during the second half and ending the Cavaliers season for the fourth time in five years, taking down South Carroll 42-14.

Nardo was one of the X-factors that the Knights focused on from the first day of practice on Monday, with two of the Knights’ goals for the game that are posted on the locker room door, keeping their hands up on the quarterback and no completions over 20 yards, focused solely on the playmaking Nardo.

The Knights would strike early before Nardo could do anything offensively, as Middletown would cap off its first drive with a 45-yard touchdown run by Knights senior quarterback Tim Pirrone.

Although the rest of the South Carroll team would struggle during the first half, Nardo would be firing on all cylinders, or at least as many as he possibly could.

On the first drive for South Carroll, Nardo would be involved in all of the plays, passing the ball for 18 yards and running it for five yards before the Cavaliers were forced to give it up.

On South Carroll’s next possession, the Cavaliers would go three-and-out and punt to Knights senior Mitch Sgrignoli, who would turn a botched punt return into a stroke of brilliance.

Sgrignoli would have a punt bounce over his head and land at the Knights 24-yard line in a play that seemed dead.

Sgrignoli would pick up the ball and run toward the South Carroll sideline for a second before turning the other way and finding a lot of daylight and some timely blocks from his teammates up field taking the ball back for a touchdown making the score 14-0.

Even as Middletown was tacking on points, Nardo would continue to attack the Knights, using multiple short passes to his receivers to extend drives and attack the Middletown defense.

So even with the score heavily in the favor of the Knights, Middletown would go into the half with one simple message for the players: shut down Nardo.

“Everyone wasn’t doing their job. In the first half we were trying to do a little too much on defense,” said Knights senior defensive back Tim Schumacher. “In the second half, Coach (Kevin Lynott) got back to our core defensive technique with everyone doing their job.”

Middletown would make its statement on how it planned to handle Nardo during the second half from the opening gun, with Knights senior defensive lineman Luke Headley and junior linebacker Peter Heon sacking Nardo on the Cavaliers’ first play from scrimmage in the second half.

“During halftime, Coach challenged us to play better,” said Schumacher, who had 5.5 tackles on the night with 1.5 of them coming for a loss. “We really just set the tone to start the second half with a big sack; it was what we needed.”

Nardo would not be able to find his rhythm in the second half after the big sack by Headley and Heon due to increased pressure from the Knights’ defensive line and better tackling from the Middletown secondary.

That secondary would have a huge impact on the second half, as during the first half Middletown’s defensive backs would struggle on the tackling front, allowing the South Carroll receivers to accumulate more yards after the catch once Nardo put the ball in their hands.

During the second half, the secondary appeared to be a unit on mission, hitting Nardo with force and covering wide receivers tightly, forcing the Cavaliers to go to the run, an area in which Middletown shut them down just like they have against almost every other opponent this year.

“In the first half, we were just missing tackles and we blew a couple coverages,” said Knights junior linebacker Nick Welch, who led all Middletown players with six tackles. “We stepped it up in the second half; every time we touched the kid (Nardo), we were taking him down.”

Nardo would be stymied during the second half, completing seven of his 12 attempted passes but only gaining 62 yards over those seven completions with most of the yards coming on a South Carroll scoring drive late in the game with a good majority of the Knights second team defense in the game.

With Nardo stuck in neutral, the Knights would only need a little more offense to close the game out.

After another touchdown run by Pirrone, this time for a gain of 27 yards, and an 8-yard touchdown run by Knights senior running back Bradley Rinehart, Middletown would have a 42-6 lead and activate the running clock, the ninth time the Knights have had a running clock this season and the fifth straight game that they have had one.

For Middletown, it will move on to the state semifinal round of the 2013 MPSSAA 2A Football Championship where it will take on the Kent Island High School Buccaneers, the third straight year Middletown has hosted a state semifinal.

More importantly the Knights move on with a defense that has now increased its confidence after responding to and eliminating a big challenge in the form of Ben Nardo and the South Carroll Cavaliers.