Football: Knights look to continue three game win streak, take down powerhouse

By Dylan O'Toole, Round Table Sports Editor

The stage has been set. This is the matchup the Hawks have been waiting for since this time last season, when Middletown scored 14 unanswered points on its way to a 14-7 victory at Urbana.

Urbana was once the type of football program that Middletown aspired to become, but the Knights have overtaken the Hawks in recent years. Tonight is the night the Hawks hope to reclaim the title as Frederick County’s top football program.

“Urbana always seems like its right there next to us every year,” said Knight senior Nick Forbes. “They have good talent and are clearly doing something right.”

Urbana was the last team to beat Middletown prior to this season. The Hawks were the only blemish on the Knights schedule in 2011, as Urbana won 14-6.

In 2012, the Knights made it a mission to beat Urbana, and they did so very decisively. Middletown dominated all facets of the game and led by Zach Welch, who had 324 rushing yards along with three touchdowns, the Knights cruised to a 41-20 home victory.

Last season, the Knights faced their biggest scare of the season when they took on Urbana on the road. The Hawks got off to an early 7-0 lead on a 35-yard touchdown run from Ray Gray, but Urbana would not cross the goal line again.

After a Tim Schumacher run tied the game at seven in the third quarter, it seemed as if the game could conceivably go into overtime, but in the final two minutes something miraculous happened.

The Knights faced a third and long on the Hawks 35 on what would likely be their last possession of regulation. The Hawks blitzed and Mitch Sgrignoli, playing with a broken arm, ran free on a slant pass up the middle, Tim Pirrone hit him for a 35-yard game-winning touchdown pass.

Urbana wants revenge from the last two years, and senior Temple commit Ray Gray will certainly play a huge part in this game.

“In order to stop Ray Gray we are going to have to bottle him up in the middle,” said Knights senior Peter Heon. “We can’t let him get to the outside.”

Gray is fresh off of a record setting performance against Tuscarora, when he set the county record for rushing yards in a single game with 363. The record was previously held by former Middletown running back Zach Welch.

Gray poses the same type of problem that Titans running back Rodney Dorsey did for the Knights: speed, speed and speed.

Dorsey ran for 158 yards and three touchdowns two weeks ago in the Knights 38-35 shootout victory over the Titans.

The Knights have been working hard in practice all week, preparing for the combination of speed and experience that Gray brings to the table.

“We’ve worked on form tackling all week in practice,” said Forbes. “We’re going to try and stop him from running inside, and keep him inside the tackles.”

Middletown knows how important this game is to the community, it being the homecoming game.

“The homecoming game is very important to us,” said Heon. “Alumni from all over the place come just to watch us get the W.”

After two early season losses, the Knights are not heavily favored in this game against the 5-1 Hawks, but there are some encouraging things for Middletown.

The Knights really seemed to come together towards the end of their win against Tuscarora. Momentum from that game carried over into last week, as the Knights easily disposed of Frederick, 45-6.

The Knights dynamic running back duo of junior Marquis Lauer and senior Nick Welch had their best game of the season against the Hawks. Lauer ran for 169 yards and two touchdowns, while Welch ran for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Hawks also had some trouble with Tuscarora last week, who the Knights beat 38-35. Urbana beat the Titans 25-19, only because of the brilliance of Gray, and will have to perform better if they hope to beat the Knights.

Not only is this game a matchup of two of the county’s top teams, but an important game for both teams shot at a playoff spot.

If the season were to end today Urbana would find itself on the outside of a playoff spot in 3A West. The Knights would be in if the season ended today, but a loss tonight would almost certainly knock them out side of the top four in 2A West.

“We put ourselves in a rough position with two early losses,” said Forbes. “We are talented enough and hungry enough to make the playoffs.”

The Knights have a tough road ahead of them. They will face the top three teams in the county: Linganore, Urbana and Oakdale, over their last four games.

“To make the playoffs we are going to have to win some big games down the stretch,” said Heon.

Even with the pressure of homecoming and playoff positioning, the Knights always have a way of focusing on one game at a time.

“Every game is another chance to win the division and home field advantage,” said Welch.

The Knights will need to stay together if they want to take down Urbana.

“We know we can make the playoffs and thrive once we get there,” said Forbes. “I believe in all of my brothers on my team.”