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In a twist of fate, fifth-seeded Middletown upset top seed and host Kelseyville 14-12 on Friday night in a North Coast Section Division 5 semifinal contest with quarterback RH Hess at the helm for the Mustangs. Two seasons ago, Hess played for the Knights before transferring to Middletown.

“The key for us was Hess,” Middletown coach Bill Foltmer said. “He was the difference for us because Kelseyville stopped our run.”

The quarterback was 4-of-5 for 77 yards passing with two touchdowns.

“Hess was the difference for Middletown,” Kelseyville coach Erick Larsen agreed. “He is a great kid.”

In another twist, Kelseyville quarterback and offensive leader Alex Garcia hurt his throwing hand in the first quarter and was unable to pass for the rest of the game, rendering the Knights’ offense one dimensional. Kelseyville had no viable backup to take over.

“Garcia hurt his hand in the first quarter and was unable to throw. He couldn’t squeeze the football. What’s tough is, with Alex, our offense was geared as an option team,” Larsen said. “We didn’t have a good backup plan if Garcia got hurt.”

Middletown (10-3) moves on to play in the Division 5 championship game next weekend on the road against the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal, which pits No. 2 Salesian College Preparatory of Richmond against No. 3 Stellar Prep of Hayward.

Larsen said Middletown has a good chance to win the title, especially since the Mustangs were able to stop the Knights’ high-flying offense (35-point average in the first 11 games).

“Middletown plays solid football and doesn’t make mistakes,” Larsen said. “For us to not generate more than 12 points, you have to take your hats off to Middletown.”

The win over Kelseyville (10-2) was payback for the Mustangs, who lost to the Knights in a North Central League I regular-season game. The rematch was a grind from the get-go.

Middletown scored with 11:05 to play in the first quarter on an 18-yard rollout pass from Hess to Nico Barrio. Kelseyville responded with a touchdown three minutes later via a 2-yard run by Adrian Villalobos. The Knights, who have eschewed extra points all season, went for a two-point conversion on a run but were stopped short.

“All year we have committed to go for two points after a touchdown,” Larsen said. “Our two-point conversion probabilities have been favorable.”

The Mustangs led 7-6 and scored with 1:52 to play in the second quarter before Hess connected with Guy Boyd on a 22-yard touchdown for a 14-6 Middletown halftime lead.

“In the first half, we had a couple of blown assignments on defense and that was the difference in the game,” Larsen said. “Middletown’s offensive line did a good job of pass blocking and our defensive line didn’t do a good job of pass rushing.”

Kelseyville’s defense, however, was stout in bottling up Middletown’s rushing game and keeping the Mustangs scoreless in the second half.

“In the second half, we struggled to run the ball. Kelseyville’s defense did a pretty good job stopping us,” Foltmer said. “It was a real grind-it-out game.”

The Knights scored a touchdown with 6:42 to play in the fourth quarter after Robert Chavez ran 3 yards to the end zone. Trailing 14-12 with a chance to tie the game, Garcia rolled out on an option play and pitched to Chavez, who was stuffed a yard short of the goal line, keeping the Middletown lead intact.

Kelseyville was able to drive to the Middletown 30-yard line with 1:25 to play before being stopped on downs.

“Kelseyville had time in the fourth quarter and they knocked on the door. They moved the ball, but we came up with the big plays,” Foltmer said. “It was a great defensive effort. We gambled, packed the box and blitzed. We had to do it because we felt we were a little outmanned on the line.”

Middletown has knocked Kelseyville out of the NCS semifinals two years in a row, having defeated the Knights 7-0 last year.

Being unable to throw “made it tough. It is frustrating, without a doubt. That is the way it goes; that (injuries) is part of the game,” Larsen said.

The loss “stings — it hurts. This one night does not define our season. We had a great season, we won league and we were a No. 1 playoff seed,” he said.

For Middletown, one victory remains for a title.

“I feel great,” Foltmer said. “We beat a real good football team tonight.”

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