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Middletown - It was just about a month earlier that the ending was cinematic: the big upset, the field goal as time expired, resonating even in New London, where there is estimable high school football history.
And then came Tuesday, the rematch, the state playoffs, with the potential hope and wonder of maybe a bigger, better narrative under brighter lights.
Middletown, once the No. 3 team in the state, proved worthy of its former perch, hammering New London, 49-14, in the CIAC Class L quarterfinals at Rosek-Skubel Stadium. The Blue Dragons (11-1) advanced to Saturdasy's semifinals against top-seeded Darien without much perspiration, snapping New London's eight-game win streak.
Middletown, which blew a 14-0 lead in its loss to New London last month, used the churning legs of quarterback Dario Highsmith, who ran for 206 yards and four scores.
"They took it to us (in New London)," Middletown coach Sal Morello said. "I think we were humbled by it. Our kids did a great job responding. I don't know if we fought the whole game over there, but we fought tonight. That team was a hot football team. We got another chance at them. We had no excuses."
The Whalers (9-3) never really threatened, although they cut a 21-0 deficit to 21-7 with seven minutes left in the third period. Jose Garcia caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from Danny Maranda, allowing New London some hope. The Whalers rallied from a two-touchdown deficit last month, too.
"We were feeling good about ourselves," New London coach Duane Maranda said. "We just didn't get the stop. They blew us off the ball all night long."
Middletown used a six-minute, 65-yard drive, capped by Highsmith's fourth score, a 6-yard touchdown run to make it 28-7.
Morello: "We told our kids that was a championship drive. We could have been up 28-0 and had a touchdown called back because of a penalty. Now it's 21-7. We looked at the kids and offensive line and said, 'this is what we've been talking about all year.' That was the game right there."
Indeed. New London wasn't heard from again.
Maranda finished 11-for-29 for 179 yards. Garcia also scored from 49 yards out late for New London. Orrin Parke led the Whalers with 59 yards rushing.
"My hat goes off to Middletown," Duane Maranda said. "They did a nice job stopping the run with limited guys in the box. We need to be able to run the ball when people have five in the box. (Highsmith) definitely belongs on the top all-state team. I don't care if you have to put four quarterbacks on there. You never seem to really get a good shot on him."
New London, meanwhile, finished with a playoff berth and the Large Division championship within the Eastern Connecticut Conference. All after a 1-2 start. New London loses Garcia, Nico Ramos and Parke, among others, but has its lines returning.
"I'm not going to remember this score," Maranda said. "It's not taking away from what we've done. I told the kids what we did was we made believers out of ourselves and a city. They rose up from the darkness and became champions. These guys are fighters."