WINDSOR, Dec. 5 – Windsor High coach Rob Fleeting has been finding ways to get 6-foot-3 senior Tim Gardner-Russaw to touch the ball for the Warriors.
Not only did Gardner-Russaw lead the Warriors in rushing this fall with 11 touchdowns and more than 800 yards but he also pulled in 27 receptions for 382 yards and three TDs.
Gardner-Russaw had a career evening in Monday night in the Class L semifinal against Central Connecticut Conference rival Middletown at Jack O’Brien Stadium. Gardner-Russaw ran for a career-high 204 yards and five TDs to lead Windsor back to the Class L championship game with a 40-14 victory.
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. A year ago, the Rams dominated Windsor in a 21-6 loss in the Class L quarterfinals.
It will be Windsor’s fourth trip to the finals and first since they beat Notre Dame-West Haven in 2014 to win their first state title in Class L Small.
Windsor faced Middletown for the second time in three weeks. Nearly two weeks ago, the Warriors stopped Middletown on a fourth-and-goal run late in the game to earn a 20-17 victory and finish the season undefeated.
This time, it wasn’t as dramatic. Windsor and Gardner-Russaw 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-Russaw, who ran for just 50 yards in Windsor’s 20-17 victory on November 23. Last night, Gardner-Russaw rambled down the sideline on his second carry of the game for 52 yards. On his fifth carry of the game, Gardner-Russaw 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-Russaw said. “It was like playing football on the playground. The offensive line did what they had to do. Everyone executed.”
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 of Gardner-Russaw, “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.”
Gardner-Russaw caught two passes for 38 yards and returned a kickoff 22 yards. His previous best game rushing the ball was 135 yards on 12 carries and two TDs in the 56-0 win over Harding on the Class L quarterfinals.
Windsor took the opening kickoff and marched 69 yards on seven plays with Gardner-Russaw scoring from the two-yard line. The key play was Gardner-Russaw’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-Russaw’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-Russaw all alone in the flat and he rambled 21 yards for a first down. Two plays later, Gardner-Russaw scored from the 12 to extend the lead to 20-7. With 3:28 left in the second quarter, Gardner-Russaw 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-Russaw 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. The long snapper for Middletown snapped the ball over the head of punter Michael Aresco, who scrambled to pick up the loose ball. He grabbed and tried to punt but the Warriors were all around him.
The fourth quarter got a bit ugly. The Dragons drove 71 yards to the Windsor nine-yard line, twice converting on third down passes from James to Derrick Raynor (19 yards) and C.J. Sprowl (14 yards) to keep the drive alive.
But after an incomplete pass from James, there was an incident on the Middletown sideline. A punch was thrown and tempers flared. Four Middletown players were ejected, pushing the Dragons back to their own 31-yard line. Middletown had second down and goal, 69 yards away from the end zone. No Windsor players were ejected.
Morello was disappointed in the loss but furious with the ejection of his players. “I thought we taught our kids better,” he said. “We lost our composure. It’s a life lesson. But that in no way reflects on our team and all of the good things we did this year.”
Middletown was trying to earn their first spot in the state championship game since 1992. It was the first trip to the semifinals since 2007 when New Canaan eliminated the Dragons, 27-0. … New Canaan earned a spot in the championship game with a 20-17 win over Notre Dame-West Haven. The Rams are in the state championship game for the third time in four years. … For much of the season, both teams were ranked in the top 10 of the state sportswriters poll.
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
SACKS: Middletown – Stone Belzo 1-5; Windsor – Jomal Mills 1½-11, Rhamel Thames 1½-12, Eric Foster 1-3; RETURNS: Windsor – Gardner-Russaw 1-22 (kickoff)