Learning on the fly, Urbana falls to strong Middletown team from Delaware

Sep. 1—URBANA — It didn't take long for Urbana football to figure out where it stood relative to a high-quality opponent.

The Hawks' biggest question mark entering the first football Friday of the season was their widespread inexperience, and they were hoping the talent, athleticism and coaching would be able to overcome that.

But that inexperience showed against a dynamic Middletown squad that made the 120-mile bus trip from its hometown in Delaware. The Cavaliers, with potential Division I-bound receivers and a veteran quarterback, played a poised contest and showed why they're a championship contender in their state.

Urbana fell 41-14 at home, beginning a new era in the program that shows just how far it has to go.

"They're a legit program, and so we knew it was a good test for us. And we probably didn't pass the test," Hawks head coach Dean Swink said following his first game in charge.

Middletown sure did, and it took advantage of Urbana learning on the fly by opening up for 570 total yards of offense, 417 of which came in the air.

Senior quarterback Austin Troyer was precise in leading the Cavaliers (1-0) down the field, often finding top receivers BJ Garrett, Ronnell Davis and Matthew Priestley in stride. They scored on the game's first drive and never looked back.

The Hawks (0-1) had several communication breakdowns that led to busted coverages and big plays, and the handful of stands they did make — including an interception by Jayden Sharper — didn't lead anywhere on offense.

It didn't help that linebacker and defensive captain Mikey Shea, one of the few players with extensive starting experience, watched the game from the sidelines after rolling his ankle in practice on Thursday.

"When you play a vanilla defense against a team like that, they know what to do," Swink said. "You're putting guys in positions that are tough, but there's not much else you can do."

Urbana's new-look offense, meanwhile, showed flashes in the second and third quarter but ultimately missed several critical opportunities.

No sequence hurt more than the Hawks' drive to open the third quarter.

They marched into the red zone, only to fumble the series away on a botched pitch. On the very next play, Troyer hit Garrett for an 84-yard touchdown.

Though that swing didn't cost Urbana the contest, it stifled any momentum the team had recuperated.

"We're gonna have to do a lot more playmaking than we might think we have to," senior Elijah Jean-Jacques said.

For his sake, Jean-Jacques did the majority of that Friday night.

As the team's best athlete, its top option on offense and a shutdown corner, the senior flew across the field and regularly found himself beating Middletown's top options. He scored both Hawks touchdowns, on a 72-yard catch-and-run from senior quarterback Tanner Rupinta in the second quarter and a 10-yard sweep in the third.

His 164 all-purpose yards accounted for 55% of Urbana's total offensive production, the majority of which came after his first score as the offense began finding more of a rhythm. That improvement throughout the contest is one of the team's main positive takeaways.

"We don't even need to have more explosive plays, but just positive plays, 4, 6-yard gains, back to back to back, keep the momentum on our side of the field even if we're down," Jean-Jacques said. "If we can do that, keep the energy up on the sideline, I think we'll be just fine."

And that's the message the Hawks hope to send.

They'll need to work hard and get healthy to overcome their inexperience, but difficult contests like Friday's will only serve them well as the season rolls along. Come Week 9, they hope many of these struggles disappear.

"It's a work in progress," Swink said. "I would dare anybody to watch the film tonight, and watch the film next week and say that you don't notice an improvement. And if you don't, then that's on us coaches."