by Bill Murphy

Each week of Vermont High School football has had a handful of exciting games to date. Week Four looks to me like just more of the same. When we all settle down Saturday night and close our eyes to rest, one half of the regular season in Divisions I and III will be complete and 44% of the games in Division II will have been completed.

There are four games on this weeks’ schedule, which appear to attract the most attention on the Friday/Saturday card. Two of those games line up in Division I, while there will be one each in Divisions II and III. The ultimate week four showdowns feature Burr and Burton at Burlington and Otter Valley at Windsor, with three of those four teams sitting undefeated. The D-II game in Burlington is Friday night, and both teams are undefeated, while once beaten, BUT, still defending champion, Otter Valley  (beaten (by Woodstock 41-14) tries to prevent Windsor from jumping two games ahead of them, on the road Saturday at 1 p.m.

The two D-I encounters attracting center stage treatment include, surprise contender Champlain Valley Union (3-0) traveling to Essex (2-1) for a Friday evening 7 p.m. start and a day later St. Johnsbury (3-0) hosting defending champion Rutland (1-1 in Vermont) at 1 p.m. The winners in each game will fall into the hunt for a home field advantage in the first round.

St. J and CVU are the only unbeatens remaining in D-I and hope to stay that way, HOWEVER, there are other D-I teams hoping to press them to the finish. There are three 2-1 teams and they hope to apply pressure with victories this week. Essex is one of those and as you know meets CVU head to head. Hartford, whose lone loss came at the hands of out of state power Catholic Memorial, is 2-1, as is Middlebury, who faces a Homecoming match-up with Colchester (1-2) Fridayon the same night, Hartford hosts Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans (1-2).

Dennis Smith has had his Middlebury Tigers in the thick of things for years now and is facing a real challenge this season, to fill all the holes left open after yet another strong fight to the end with Rutland a year ago. Very little experience returns for Middlebury and the loss to an up and coming Brattleboro team (28-13) a week ago has the Black and Orange with question marks about how high they can finish. The Homecoming test with Colchester, might be at the right time, at the right place.

Smith was disappointed at the five turnovers his team left on the field last week in the 28-13 defeat at the hands of Brattleboro and told us, “we just don’t have the talent on the field anymore to overcome something like that. Now with the team we have, we need to limit our mistakes to put ourselves in a position to win. I think we are in a group of six to eight teams fighting to be in position for a play-off spot, BUT, we don’t have the number of athletes we have had in the past and we don’t have the number of kids, who use to put in the extra time in the off season and you can’t catch up with that at this time of year.”

In an odd twist, I found out a lot about Middlebury Homecoming this week, while covering the Red Sox at Camden Yards. Mark Allen, is one of the Press Stewards there and he just happens to be a former Tige,r whose team is celebrating the 40th year since they were in a Tiger uniform. Allen will drive from his Maryland home on Friday to support the old team. Every team would love to have such loyal support. “We have a reunion Saturday night,” Allen told us and “more than half the football players from my class will be there. I am really looking forward to it.”

Brattleboro looks to strengthen their chances for a first round play-off game when they host South Burlington (0-3 ) Fridayat 7 p.m, on the same evening a pair of winless foes meet in Bennington as Rice travels to Mount Anthony.

Besides the headline game in D-II, there are several other intriguing get togethers there, which will help separate the haves from the have nots. Bellows Falls (3-0) running neck and neck with the other B’s Burlington and Burr + Burton at the top of the pack, has an interesting game at home on their Homecoming Saturday at 1 p.m. Mount Mansfield is 2-1 and has surprised both Milton 28-22 and D-I BFA 40-28 and would like to show that they may be closing the gap to being a contender in their league. The Terriers will introduce their 1971 State Title team to the crowd, as they are celebrating the 45th Anniversary in town that eveni

Fair Haven (2-1) is another perennial contender and they hit the road to Lyndon (0-3/ BUT gave Burlington a tough go round 28-20) on Saturday, looking to prove they will be in such position again. Milton (1-2) hosts D-III Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax (1-1) Friday night hoping for the same type of outcome. The final D-II contest has Mount Abraham (0-3) at North Country (1-2) on Friday night.

Woodstock and Windsor, both 3-0, pace the field presently in D-III. Obviously Windsor’s test with Otter Valley will tell foes a lot and the two undefeateds, don’t meet each other until the final game of the season at Woodstock October 21st. This week Woodstock hosts winless Spaulding on Friday. Mill River is another 3-0 team and they will host near by foe Poultney/Mount Saint Joseph (0-3) Saturday afternoon.One other D-III team with first round home seed aspirations is Union-32, presently 2-1. They will be out to keep a top spot in line as they travel to Oxbow (1-2) on Saturday at 1 p.m. In the last game of the week, Springfield will make the long trip to Missisquoi Saturday in a match-up of 0-3 teams.

This corner is hoping for more competitive match-ups in week 4, since the overwhelming majority of the games in the first three weeks have not been close. In the first 48 games in Vermont this fall, the winners have again outscored the losing teams a lot to a little (1832-529. Twenty-eight of the forty-eight games have seen the winner tally 40 points or more, while twenty-five of the losing teams total has been less than 10 points in a game. Even more absurd, is the fact, only six of the forty-eight contests have been closer than 14 points. A year ago, I strongly advocated for a four division system and the battle cry I heard is, we don’t give trophies to everyone.

One more time, I plead for those who can make a difference to step up and stop the pounding from going on. Safety and getting pounded in many ways go hand in hand. The Montpeliers and Winooskis  are gone and others may go soon if they are not allowed to breathe. It is really too bad when, who or who doesn’t win championships becomes more important, than what may be best overall for the student/athlete.

Coming off our worst forecast week yet, at 11-5,  leaving us 40-8 on the season, here are this weeks’ choices; Hartford, Brattleboro, Essex, Middlebury, Rice, St. Johnsbury, Bellows Falls, Burr + Burton, Fair Haven, Milton, North Country, Mill River, Springfield, Otter Valley, Union-32 and Woodstock. One thing is a sure pick. It is going to be another great weather weekend.

RED SOX ON THE BUMP- Baseball is all about the pitching. That’s why the Red Sox have risen to the top. Any dairy farmer could have predicted that. During the last month, faulty efforts by Sox starters, have been few or far between. Yes, there was a stretch not too long ago, when Sox starters had three questionable starts in five games, BUT, spread over a months time, an average of one bad start a week is more than tolerable.

Turning to the bullpen, the Sox have  allowed only ONE inherited runner to score this month. That is better than any other team in baseball, in the most important month on the baseball calendar. I am kind of wondering how we ever got guys like that?

One year ago, Rick Porcello was not a popular figure in Red Sox Nation. NOW, if he was on the ballot this November, voters in New England states, would likely choose him for President. They trust him that much. Wait a moment, they might have voted for him for President last year, even without the trust, BUT, that is another story

The job Porcello did Monday night in winning his 21st game against second place at the time Baltimore, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits, while striking out 7, was punctuated by the fact, he threw only 88 pitches. By the time this season is over, the team which almost looked at a point in May to have no aces, might have two. There was a stretch when critics were saying the team lacked an ace at all, when apparently Dave Dombrowsi  one up each sleeve.

When we met John Farrell after Porcello’s gem in Camden Yards, the manager told us, “Rick Porcello was outstanding. He threw a high percentage of first pitch strikes. He was able to induce ground balls. He elevated at appropriate times. He had four pitches working for strikes tonight. In complete command for this one.”

Command was the operative word. Porcello had the big hard swinging Orioles eating out of the palm of his hand. The Sox ace went beyond the short and quick answer when we asked him how he had been able to pull this off. He was specific.

“We knew coming into it, they were going to be aggressive. We just saw them five days ago and that’s the way they’ve been all year. So we’re just trying to use that aggressiveness to our advantage, go beyond the strike zone. Mix up fastballs, sinkers and four seamers. Just keep them off balance,” Porcello explained.

One reporter still didn’t fully grasp what the righthander was saying, so he asked for more. Porcello came back with another try. He said, “I’m just trying to expand it beyond the spots where they want it. A lot of those guys are just , anything in the strike zone, they do alot of damage with. So you know, we’re just trying to work just off the plate, both sides, change up speeds.”

Put the two paragraphs together and things get quite clear. So clear, I am wondering IF the Orioles didn’t see or hear what Porcello said. The fact he noted “we’re just trying”, made me realize he meant the Red Sox pitching staff, not just Rick Porcello. Judging from the results of the efforts by Eduardo Rodriguez,  Clay Buchholz and David Price following Porcello, the Birds never adjusted. They are still swinging from the heels aggressively on the first pitch which is close.