by Bill Murphy
For the second year in succession, Vermont High School Football has two major showdowns of undefeated teams squaring off in Week eight. It almost looks like the schedule maker knew exactly how to put things together. The number one seed in both divisions II and III are likely to come out of these premier match-ups.
Weather permitting (as you know a postponement in football is highly unlikely) the two games both kick-off Friday night at7 p.m. Defending champion Burr + Burton travels to Bellows Falls in D-II and Windsor is at Woodstock in D-III. All four teams are 7-0. Hopefully the anticipated weather does not make a major impact on attendance. These players deserve big crowds for these big time encounters.
There has been no secret about who the four postseason teams will be in D-II for some time now, BUT, obviously the seedings are still up in the air. Besides THE GAME in the division this week, third place Fair Haven (6-1) and fourth place Burlington (5-2) meet in Burlington in the same time slot, with the winner likely headed towards at least the number three seed. Fair Haven and BF still have an important scheduled game next week, when the final seeded positions will be determined.
Mount Abraham and Mount Mansfield both 2-5, face off at Mt. Abe Saturday at 1 p.m. and North Country (3-4) is at Milton (2-5) Friday night. The outcomes of these games will go a long ways to determining who can be in the best position to lay claim to fifth place. Lyndon (0-7) will more than have their hands full traveling to rival St. Johnsbury (5-2), who has dropped two in a row and fallen to third place in the Division I standings. The game will be Saturday at 1 p.m.
In D-III, Windsor and Woodstock have been long time rivals, which adds to the drama which will play out Friday night. The QPR rankings, which will in the end be the deciding factor of how teams will be seeded, have Union 32 (4-3) in third place presently, by just a nose, ahead of defending champion Otter Valley (5-2). This is WHY I am not a fan at all of QPR. It is used because everyone does not play a balanced schedule, BUT, Otter Valley has a better record than U-32 and they beat them head to head (26-15), so in too many ways this makes no sense. This corner supports a four division set-up arranged so QPR can be used only in a minimal role OR in a perfect world, not at all.
Back to the D-III race at hand, U-32 has a bye this week. In a scheduling twist so does D-I Rice, who has two victories in their last two games to move them from out of the play-off standings to in. Rice had expressed interest in not being idle and to play U-32, BUT, U-32 declined. The understanding is, they felt that was best for their program. THUS, they sit and wait this weeks’ results to determine their final seed.
Otter Valley hosts Mill River (4-3) Saturday at 1 p.m. and both teams could meet each other again next week, depending how the entire weeks’ games shake down. Sixth place Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax (3-3) fittingly hosts seventh place Oxbow (3-4) at the same time with another seeded position possibly being in the outcome. The final spot in the D-III play-offs is also up for grabs, with the order presently Poultney/ Mount Saint Joseph eighth, closely followed by Springfield and Spaulding in a tie for ninth. Those three teams are all 1-6. Missisquoi is 0-6. Poultney/ MSJ hosts Missisquoi Saturday at 1 p.m and Springfield travels Friday night for Spaulding’s Homecoming celebration in a 6 p.m. kick-off. All anyone knows for sure here is that when the results are in, one team will garner eighth place.
Trying to figure out how the D-I standings are going to go from one thru eight is about as difficult as making your opening day picks for the entire season. We are down to one weekend to play and every slot has a possibility of more than one team. We did tell you it was a wide open Division I this year, way back at the start didn’t we?
Hartford ((6-1/6-0 Vermont) won the battle on the hill last week and appear headed to the number one seed, BUT, hold on for a moment. The Hurricanes took a physical beating in the 35-20 victory over St. Johnsbury (5-2) and with a game at Rutland (4-3/4-2 Vermont) Friday at 7 p.m., one has to wait for that outcome to engrave the Hurricanes in the top spot. Hartford coach Matt Twombly is certainly confident of his team headed to the postseason, BUT, he is in no way overconfident. “I still think anything can happen in this division,” he told The Northeast Sports Network this week, adding, “we are playing Rutland next and I can tell you having taken a look at them, they are like several of the other teams, very good. There are not really any bad teams that will be making the play-offs in Division I.”
While St. J was losing two games in a row, Champlain Valley Union (6-1) crept pass them into second place. The Redhawks travel to Middlebury (4-3) for another Friday night test and attempt to show they are worthy of a high seed. The Tigers have also lost two in a row and want to keep their hopes of a home seed alive. Essex (5-2) is currently fourth and their life is as simple as a win guarantees a home play-off game. They are at South Burlington (0-6) and should be able to pull that off. Other D-I teams in the play-off scenario include Rice, who has the bye already mentioned and they are likely to finish anywhere between fifth and seventh, Rutland, who is in the same boat with an outside shot at fourth, and the winner take all battle between Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans (2-5) and Colchester (3-4) in Colchester Friday at 7 p.m. with the winner the eighth seed. Brattleboro (2-5) travels to Bennington for a game at Mount Anthony (0-7) in a contest that sees two teams, with no play-off chance.
.Rice coach Neil Brodeur had a team which was sitting at 1-4 two weeks ago with only a 12-0 victory over Mount Anthony to show on the upside. Then Rice put together the formula of defense with just enough offense to claim upset triumphs over both top ranked unbeaten St. Johnsbury (7-0) and traditional power Middlebury (14-7) in back to back weeks to put themselves well into the mix.
Brodeur had seen his team lose some tough ones early against good opposition and told us “I am fine with the bye this week. We gave the guys two days off and now we are back at it. I sensed we would develop into a good team this year. I knew we had more talent and should be more competitive and now we are. Look at our game against number two seed CVU, we had a TD taken away and had 100 yards in penalties and we lost 6-0. We can play much better than that.”
Once upon a time people thought Rice’s stay in D-I might only last two years. Their record over the past two years will likely push them down at least one division in the first draft for the next cycle, BUT, it is probable they will choose to stay in Division I. “I think this is the right place for us,” he said, continuing on to say, “I expect we will continue to build on what we have done here.”
Presently my forecast mark for 2016 is 94-18, which is 84% correct, which translates to almost the same percent of games 86%, that have been decided by more than 14 points during this football season. Throwing out a couple of more updated stats, the winning team has scored more than 40 points in 56% of all Vermont High School games and the losing team has scored less than 10 points in 52% of those games. The winners have put up 4446 points and the losing teams have managed 1195. Translated to the scoreboard, the average high school game in Vermont in 2016 now sits at 40-11.
Before we forget, here are this week’s winners: BFA (St. Albans), Brattleboro, CVU, Essex, Rutland, St. J, Burr + Burton, Fair Haven, Milton, Mt. Abe, BFA (Fairfax), Otter Valley, Poultney/MSJ, Spaulding and Woodstock.