by Bill Murphy
There are three Vermont High School Football coaches who have a little bit extra to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. The turkey and stuffing are apt to taste a whole lot better for Hartford’s Matt Trombly, Bellows Falls’ Bob Lockerby and Windsor’s Greg Balch. They all guided their team to the top of their division’s mountain this fall.
A beyond the norm fact about these teams is they were all once a part of a very successful Connecticut Valley League. This was before the state’s present play-off set-up. The new set-up was formatted through division play and limited the number of out of state games possible. This league, which existed into the mid-eighties, crowned their own champion(s) each fall. In an additional interesting unique twist, Stevens High School of Claremont, New Hampshire, a member of that CVL, which included five Vermont and four New Hampshire schools, captured New Hampshire’s Division III State Football Title this fall. Thus for those readers who may not be familiar with the history in that former league, they can now certainly imagine what kind of football was played week in and week out back then. There never seemed to be a weak opponent.
The three game salute to Vermont football in Rutland saw three new champions crowned. Hartford and Bellows Falls in Divisions I and II are among the top title winners since championships began to be played out on the field. Hartford had defeated St. Johnsbury during the regular season in come from behind fashion and were a slim favorite entering the finale. HOWEVER, it is very difficult to defeat another tough opponent, twice in the same season.
Trombly just completed his third fall at the helm of the Hurricanes and he is a strong disciple of the Mike Stone way. “Ever since I have been here, going back to when I came on as a assistant, we have done things the same way. We sometimes do something different because of another teams personnel, BUT, we have our traditional game plan we have had for years.” Trombly admits game strategy changed in the second half, when Hartford had the lead, “everything then was centered around keeping them out of the end zone. We played conservatively, trying to hold on to the ball as long as we can.”
We asked Trombly what it felt like being in the drivers seat for the first time and although almost a week had passed, he said, “Ahh,ahh, it really hasn’t set in yet. I have been busy collecting equipment and doing other end of season things, BUT, it definitely was a cool way to end it.” Then Trombly let us in on what was going on in the immediate aftermath of the title victory on Saturday. He drew from the teachings of Stone and passed along what Stone had keyed him into years ago as they won a number of titles under his watch. “He told me to make sure you take the time to see the kids’ faces. That’s why we do this. Fortunately I have been a part of a strong program and been brought up the right way,” the coach told us. Now those working under him.are enjoying the same experience.
Lockerby enjoyed the same experience at BF. His example takes the training and exposure a step further though. Bis Bisbee was the long time successful coach for the Terriers and Lockerby both played and coached under Bisbee. BF added another trophy to their case by turning back the defending state champions from Burr + Burton 20-14. Most so-called handicappers, had the Bulldogs as the biggest favorite of the day, BUT, Lockerby had said all along, IF, his teams played up to their capabilities, they could compete, which they did, scoring the winning points to break a 14-14 tie.
“The key was controlling possession,’ he said, going on to say,”and we controlled the possession 31 of the 48 minutes. Everybody knows we beat a very good football team, BUT, keeping the ball away from them means, we played one of our best games of the year.” The now veteran coach noted, “we knew we had to win the turnover battle and we did have some things go our way. The winning score came off a broken play and Jacob Streeter had the game of his life.He took the opening kick-off back 88 yards, played well at his receiver spot and he even led us in tackles. We played well enough to win.”
Windsor’s path to the title was one of unexpected routes. The Yellow Jackets claimed the number one seed in Division III in the seasons last week defeating Woodstock at the Wasps homefield. Balch and his ballclub expected that triumph to have to be duplicated a second time, BUT, Otter Valley spoiled that return contest, when they eliminated the Wasps in the semi-final. The absence of Bill Wood went a long way in helping Jim Hill and the Otters to grasp the momentum and run with that in that one. Then the route which played out in the championship game was a shocker in itself, as no one, including the winning Windsor team, expected a 42-6 romp.
“They were improved from the first time we say them, BUT, we played very well. We got all the breaks the first time we played them,” Balch reminded us, going on to add, “this game didn’t feel like a blowout to me. Offensively, we took what they gave us. When they put nine in the box, we went with the play action pass and threw over the top of them. You can’t take everything away. Defensively, we put pressure on their sophomore quarterback and our group played very well. The special teams played well too.”
Three former Connecticut Valley League teams, three championships. Three Southern Vermont teams. The same formula worked a year ago. Is the South really stronger than the North? Possibly, BUT, the North defeated the South 14-13 in last weeks’ annual North-South Game forcing a debate that gives both sides a chance to crow.
UVM HOOPS OFF TO A STRONG START
John Becker’s Vermont Catamounts are off to an excellent start and could possibly really put themselves on the map, with a victory over the Houston Cougars in the championship game of the Gulfcoast Showcase in Fort Myers, Florida. A win in this one, would definitely fit nicely into the top ten wins in the programs history, SO, don’t expect it, BUT, it is possible. Wins over Wofford 60-59 and Hofstra 87-73, have been good resume builders, BUT, Houston is another story.
For those who don’t follow NCAA basketball very closely, you may not know that Houston now plays out of the American Athletic Conference with the likes of UConn, Cincinnati, SMU and Memphis and are forecast to be in the mix with those schools for the conference title this season. UVM is 5-1 and the 1 is a 80-58 defeat at Providence. I was there for that one and the Cats looked lost to a degree, SO, that could happen again, BUT, if they play the way they did against Hofstra, for large stretches of that game, they could challenge Kelvin Sampson’s team. Also remember, Vermont transfers Payton Henson and Josh Hearlihy, have lined up against these guys before, while competing against them with Tulane. THUS, chances are, the players inside the UVM locker room have been warned what to expect.
We won’t know how good this Vermont team will be for some time, BUT, to some extent, this contest can serve as a measuring stick. IF Becker’s group falls far short, we need to tell you Houston is 3-0 to date, with wins over respectable (but not great mid-majors) Morgan State, George Mason and South Dakota and the average score of those wins is 90-55. It sounds almost like the Vermont-Providence score, so don’t get real excited for tonight’s 7:30 tip on your computer at the BD Global Network presented on You Tube. By the way, my belief is that Houston is much better than Providence.
From an America East perspective, fans have to be encouraged over the Cats 5-1 start. In speaking to Darren Payen (a team high 16 points and 9 rebounds in the home opener)after the only home game to date, he told us going into that game, the coaches had stressed “that we wanted to emphasize moving the ball, getting our offense structured because we wanted to make sure everything is moving right when we go down to this tournament we have.” Well anyone who watched the Hofstra contest, knows that the UVM ball movement was at a very high level and neutral chat room watchers on the BD Global Network were saying they wanted to see more of this UVM team. More than one contributor said, “watching this team is fun.”
Becker weighed in last Saturday with his comments concerning offensive ball movement as well. The successful coach said, “I thought today, we overshared it at times. I thought guys passed up rhythm shots. We talk about passing up good ones for great ones, BUT, I still think we are trying to find and search for that. I know we have a lot of good offensive players and everyone is trying to do the right thing. I think we are still finding our way of what a good shot is, BUT, I rather be unselfish, than selfish and our guys have certainly been unselfish.”
One more concern Becker emphasized which the team worked on in the home opener, was defending the three point shot. UVM yielded 29 successful three’s in their first three games and that figure is alarming. Becker noted, “we went into today’s game wanting to get better protecting the three point line. I think we did a pretty good job and I think we will continue to stress that and work on it.” UVM allowed eight successful three-pointers in the two games in Florida. These Cats learn well.
One final Becker observation that was right on after Saturday’s game, was that he pointed out “I kept Ernie (Duncan) in there in hopes he could get a rhythm going. For him to get that is very important.” Duncan did not get his shot in sync that day, BUT, his shooting was the catalyst for the Hofstra victory. The redshirt sophomore had seven three-pointers on his way to a career high 33 point game and hit five of his 3’s in the games first 12 minutes. The 33 points was the first 30 point game by a Catamount since Sandro Carissimo’s 30 point effort against Harvard on the first day of 2013. Duncan hit 7 of 10 threes in the win and was 6-6 from the foul line.
While speaking to Payen, we brought up the fact that he could be one game away from meeting his previous school Hofstra in the tourney. His response was all professional as he said, “if that ends up happening, it’s just another game on the schedule.” Okay, BUT, it sounded even more right on, when he tacked on the response, “there has been a lot of movement out since I was there through graduation and transfers. There is only one player left I really know.”
A good effort versus Houston would make all of Vermont proud, BUT, in the long run, no matter what happens, this team should keep getting better and a good showing in March is way more important than one in November.