By Gerry deSimas, Jr.
Special to CIACsports.com
WINDSOR, Conn. – Windsor High senior Tim Gardner ran for a career-high 204 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Warriors back to the Class L championship game in a 40-14 victory over Middletown Monday night at Jack O’Brien Stadium.
Undefeated Windsor (12-0) will face defending Class L champion New Canaan (11-1) for the state championship on Saturday afternoon at Willow Brook Park in New Britain. The Warriors won a Class L title in 2014.
Windsor was facing Central Connecticut Conference rival Middletown for the second time in three weeks. Two weeks ago, the Warriors stopped Middletown on a fourth-and-goal run late in the game in a four-point victory.
This time, Windsor and Gardner were too strong and quick for Middletown (9-3). The Warriors sacked Middletown QB Tyshaun James four times for 23 yards and blocked a punt, recovering it in the end zone for a touchdown.
Middletown couldn’t contain Gardner, who ran for just 50 yards in Windsor’s 20-17 victory on November 23. Tonight, Gardner rambled down the sideline on his second carry of the game for 52 yards. On his fifth carry of the game, Gardner scored on a 47-yard run to give Windsor a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.
“I was just out there having fun,” Gardner said. “It was like playing football on the playground.”
Middletown coach Sal Morello said, “He ran hard and he ran with a purpose. He’s a big strong kid and was had trouble bringing him down. Their offensive line was great tonight.”
Windsor coach Rob Fleeting said, “He was the ability to break tackles. In the second half of the season, he has been outstanding and everything we thought he could be. This was the best game I have ever seen him play.”
Windsor took the opening kickoff and marched 69 yards on seven plays with Gardner scoring from the two-yard line. The key play was Gardner’s 52-yard run down the right sideline on Windsor’s second offensive play of the evening. Windsor led 6-0 after the extra point was blocked.
Middletown responded with a long 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive with James throwing a five-yard scoring strike to receiver DeAaron Lawrence for his first TD reception of the season. Mike Aresco’s extra point was good for a 7-6 Middletown lead. The Dragons converted three times on third down on the drive.
Windsor’s response was even quicker. It took the Warriors just 51 seconds and three plays to march 65 yards. Gardner’s 47-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion run made it 14-7.
After stopping Middletown, Windsor got the ball back and was facing a third down and 10 on the Middletown 42-yard line. Windsor QB Jakhari Grant found Gardner all alone in the flat and he rambled 21 yards for a first down. Two plays later, Gardner scored from the 12 to extend the lead to 20-7. With 3:28 left in the second quarter, Gardner scored on a 16-yard run to give Windsor a 27-7 lead.
A 12-yard touchdown pass from James to Lawrence cut the Windsor lead to 27-14 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Middletown got the ball and drove to the Windsor 34-yard line before the drive died on a pair of incomplete passes. “They were tougher than we were at the point of attack,” Morello said. “They took us out of our ballgame. They forced us to pass because they took the run away by beating us up front.”
Windsor iced the contest with a 15-play, 66-yard scoring drive that ate up nearly seven minutes. Gardner scored from the two for a 34-14 lead with 2:36 left in the third quarter.
Windsor added their final touchdown when Joseph Russell blocked a punt and teammate Laheim Walcott recovered in the end zone at the end of the third quarter.
Windsor 40, Middletown 14
Middletown (9-3) 7 7 0 0 — 14
Windsor (12-0) 14 13 14 0 — 40
W: Timothy Gardner-Russaw 3 run (kick blocked), 8:42
M: DeAaron Lawrence 5 pass from Tyshaun James (Mike Aresco kick), 2:19
W: Gardner-Russaw 47 run (Gardner-Russaw run), 1:28
W: Gardner-Russaw 12 run (kick fails), 8:09
W: Gardner-Russaw 16 run (Eric Foster kick), 3:28
M: Lawrence 12 pass from James (Aresco kick), 0:49
W: Gardner-Russaw 1 run (Foster kick), 2:36
W: Laheim Walcott recovers blocked punt in end zone (Foster kick), 0:00
RUSHING: Windsor – Timothy Gardner-Russaw 22-204, Jakhari Grant 6-30, Tah-Jee Holley 7-12; Middletown – DeShaun Bradshaw 1-9, Tyshaun James 23-64, I’bn Lombardo 10-49, DeAaron Lawrence 1-6, C.J. Sprowl 3-7
PASSING: Windsor – Grant 6-7-0, 77; Middletown – James 8-15-0, 109; Trevor Getek 1-1, 4
RECEIVING: Windsor – Jerry Woodard 2-24, Gardner-Russaw 2-38, Jason Pinnock 1-9, Marquis Wilson 1-6; Middletown – DeAaron Lawrence 3-44, C.J. Sprowl 4-46, Derrick Raynor 1-19, Stephen Hill 1-4