WATERVILLE — Colby’s frustrating day on defense could be summed up in the two drives Middlebury sandwiched around halftime. Both ended in field goals, but both took a big bite out of the Mules physically and psychologically.

Virtually any time Colby touched the ball on offense would suffice to sum up its frustrations on that side, too.

Matt Milano threw for 290 yards and two touchdowns to lead a Middlebury offense that racked up 458 yards on offense and spoiled the Mules’ home-opener, 27-7 on a summer-like Saturday at Seaverns Field at Harold Alfond Stadium.

Milano, a junior, completed 22 of 33 passes to eight different receivers, led by Grant Luna (8 catches, 102 yards, TD). Luna also had 37 yards passing of his own on an end-around option that set up Middlebury’s first touchdown.

“Today we were able to just play fast and pound the ball,” Milano said. “When we can do that, we can get defenses on their heels a little bit and just kind of roll.”

Sophomore running back Carl Lipani scored the Mules’ lone touchdown on a 2-yard run. Senior wide receiver Luke Duncklee, a Cony High School graduate, had five catches for 34 yards.

After forcing a Colby punt with 2:35 left in the first half, the Panthers (1-1), seemed content to run out the clock and try to build on a 21-7 lead with the ball to start the second half. They ran the ball on four of the first five plays to midfield before Milano dropped a perfect pass along the Colby sidelines to tight end Trevor Miletich at the 16.

Miletich did well to keep his feet inbounds on the reception but also paid a price, injuring his shoulder. Nevertheless, the Panthers still had time on the clock to bring kicker Michael Dola in for a 33-yard field goal at the horn to make it 24-7 at the half.

“That was big for momentum going into the second half,” Milano said.

Middlebury kept the momentum going to start the second half, marching 67 yards in 21 plays, including three fourth-down conversions. Dola booted a 25-yard field goal to cap that drive, which burned nearly eight minutes off the clock.

“We talked about that coming out of halftime, just to take the air out of the ball and shorten the game,” Middlebury coach Bob Ritter said. “That was a huge drive for us. We would have liked to have gotten into the end zone, but we came away with points and it was just the tone-setting drive we needed to take in the third quarter.”

“We couldn’t get off the field on defense,” said Colby coach Jonathan Michaeles. “We bent, and then to not be able to come out and respond with a score to help the defense out, we leave them hanging.”

Colby’s only first down on its first three possessions of the second half came compliments of a personal foul by Middlebury.

The Mules (0-2) moved the chains regularly in the first half, but couldn’t finish off most of their opportunities. They drove to the Panthers’ 36 on their second series only to get stopped for no gain on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1.

Colby gained just 55 yards on 25 rushing attempts. Middlebury sacked Gabe Harrington (25-for-41, 156 yards) just once but hurried the sophomore quarterback on multiple occasions.

“When we had the routes that we wanted to get people open based on what they were giving us, we didn’t protect,” Michaeles said. “And you’ve got to be able to run the ball on first down and you’ve got to be able to run the ball on 3rd-and-short, when you’ve got two chances to get a yard.”

Luna completed his lone pass to a well-covered Brendan Rankowitz on the Panthers’ second possession. Rankowitz outfought a Colby defender in mid-air and came down with the ball at the Mules’ 4 to set up 1st-and-goal.

“We didn’t fool anybody,” Ritter said. “(Luna) got nailed and (Rankowitz) was covered. We just threw the ball up and he made the great catch.”

The Mules appeared to have Middlebury stopped thanks to a holding penalty on the Panthers that set up 3rd-and-goal at the 11. But they were flagged for pass interference on Milano’s incomplete pass intended for Rankowitz in the end zone, giving the Panthers a fresh set of downs. Two plays later, Drew Jacobs scored from a yard out to make it 7-0.

Later in the quarter, Milano found a wide open Luna streaking down the Colby sideline for a 25-yard touchdown that increased the margin to 14-0.

With the help of two 15-yard personal foul penalties by the Panthers, the Mules drove 77 yards to their only score. Catches of 3, 14 and 8 yards by Duncklee helped set up Lipani’s 2-yard touchdown run with 10:54 left in the half.

Milano’s longest completion of the day, 69 yards to Trevor Wheeler, preceded his second touchdown, a 5-yard pass to Brett Harasimowicz in the back of the end zone to give the Panthers a 21-7 lead with 4:03 to go in the half.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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