ELKTON — Reese Poffenbarger knew he didn’t didn’t have much time to put together a game-winning drive for Middletown’s football team on Friday night.
Homestanding Elkton had just taken a three-point lead with 1 minute, 14 seconds to go on a 32-yard field goal by Jacob Bosler, so Middletown’s senior quarterback had to make things happen in hurry. Complicating matters was the fact Poffenbarger had to go 68 yards in less than a minute.
Yet somehow he found a way.
Starting at his own 32-yard line, Poffenbarger went to work, marching the Knights to the Golden Elks 14, where he took the ball the rest of the way for the game-winning touchdown with 24 seconds left. A Brian Walker sack of Elkton quarterback Nolan Null as time ran out sealed the Knights’ dramatic 31-27 win over the No. 2 Elks in the Class 2A state semifinals.
“This team has a lot of heart,” Poffenbarger said of the Knights’ ability to come back for the win, which sends them back to the 2A state finals for the first time since 2013, when they won their third straight state crown.
The Knights (11-2) head to next Saturday’s state final at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium against Potomac.
“Elkton is, by far, the best team we’ve played all year,” Poffenbarger said. “They were very athletic. They presented a serious challenge, but our guys rose to the occasion.”
Following Bosler’s field goal, Middletown started from its own 32. Thanks to a key 31-yard pass from Poffenbarger to Walker, the Knights drove to the Elkton 32. That’s where Poffenbarger threw an 18-yard pass to Matthew Mancini with 37.81 seconds on the clock, giving the Knights a first-and-10 at the Elkton 14. Poffenbarger spiked the ball at the 28.4-second mark to give the Knights time to set up their next play.
On second-and-10, Poffenbarger looked for his receiver, then cut right, split two defenders and made it to the end zone for the go-ahead score. Paul McHugh’s extra-point kick gave them a 27-24 lead.
“It was a wide-open gap, so I took it in,” Poffenbarger said. “Let me tell you, this bunch is a never-say-die group.”
Elkton took a 3-0 lead on the game's opening possession, with Bosler kicking a 35-yard field goal with 9 minutes, 20 seconds to go in the first quarter. A Mancini interception set up Middletown's first score.
He returned the ball to the Elkton 38. Two plays later, Fisher broke loose for his 33-yard TD score. McHugh's kick gave Middletown a 7-3 lead midway through the first quarter.
Elkton running back Tashawn Watters scored two straight touchdowns, which pushed the Elks' lead to 16-7 with 4:10 left in the first half. Middletown cut the Elks' lead to 16-14 with 1:04 to go in the first half.
The Knights' took a 17-16 lead into the locker room at halftime when McHugh kicked a 23-yard field goal.
Elkton regained the lead with less than three minutes left in the third quarter on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Null to John Rhodan. Null flipped a 2-point conversion pass to Michael Vass and the Elks led 24-17.
Middletown tied the score at 24 with two minutes to go in the third quarter when Poffenbarger threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Huskey, followed by McHugh's kick, with two minutes to go in the third quarter.
“This bunch grinded it out tonight. We had our backs to the wall,” Middletown coach Collin Delauter said. “We made some mistakes tonight against Elkton, but we were able to turn it around in time, and we are on our way back to the state finals.”