MIDDLETOWN — Somehow, Jalen Huskey wound up in the right place at the right time.
Originally told to run a go-route down the sideline, the sophomore receiver for Middletown was bumped off his route and wound up drifting into the middle of the field and into the end zone.
A moment or two later, a tipped pass fell right into his arms, like a present falling out of the sky, and Huskey had an unexpected touchdown early in the second quarter of Friday night’s Class 2A West playoff football game against Seneca Valley.
“I wasn’t supposed to be there. It just wound up working out,” he said.
While the fortuitous play went Middletown’s way, it also underscored the difficulty the Knights had in generating any sort of offense against Seneca Valley’s physical and athletic defense in what became a rather ugly playoff win.
“They were just bringing the house, and we didn’t really have an answer for it,” senior quarterback Reese Poffenbarger said after Middletown’s 24-6 win over the Screamin’ Eagles. “They were very athletic with the guys coming off the outside.”
An offense that had been humming along for six-and-a-half games was completely derailed in the second half. The short passing attack that had carried Middletown (8-2) to six consecutive victories was virtually non-existent, and there was no running game to speak of.
It was difficult to tell whether the Knights had gotten away from what had worked so well for them, as they put up close to 40 points per game during the winning streak, or they were forced out of it by Seneca Valley.
Though, Poffenbarger provided a clue.
“They played [man-to-man coverage]. When you play man, you are really putting a lot of faith in your defensive backs,” he said.
“Since they were playing our receivers head up, that took the quick stuff away that teams had been giving us. It’s not so much that we are trying to run our offense a certain way. We are just going to take what the defense gives us.
“If the defense plays six yards off the ball, hey, we are going to take those [short passes]. If they come up and press, we are going to go over the top. We just didn’t play to our full potential tonight.”
Middletown got all of its points in the first half on a 31-yard field goal by Paul McHugh after defensive lineman Zach Brady set them up with a blocked punt, an athletic grab near the side of the end zone by receiver Brian Walker on a 19-yard pass from Poffenbarger, the tipped pass to Huskey and an 8-yard run by Kadin Fisher that followed a Huskey interception.
Nothing was easy. But the Knights were in firm control. Their defense was making it difficult for Seneca Valley to pick up a first down.
Then, the second half started and things really came unraveled for the Middletown offense.
The Knights’ eight second-half possessions were like something out of a nightmare: three-and-out, three-and-out, turnover on downs, turnover on downs, missed field goal, turnover on downs, turnover on downs on a drive that started at the Seneca Valley 20 and a three-and-out from the Seneca Valley 23.
The Middletown players admitted they were frustrated and arguing with one another on the field.
“When things got tough, we didn’t come together,” Huskey said. “We have to work on that in practice this week.”
Most of the Middletown players had never played in a playoff game before. The Knights had not won a postseason game since 2016. And coach Collin Delauter had to remind his team what it had just accomplished to inject some life into a rather downtrodden postgame huddle.
Middletown will have to play better next week if it wants to beat rival Walkersville in the next round of the playoffs. The Knights were coming off a 37-7 victory over the Lions the previous week.
“We are going to be a totally different team this coming week,” Poffenbarger said. “I mean, if I am Walkersville, I am going to be sending guys off the edge on blitzes. But we are going to come prepared. Seneca Valley had athleticism we had not seen all season. We are going be much more polished next week.”