by Bill Murphy
I wonder how many of you, enjoy the leftovers of the holidays as much as the meal itself. Here’s guessing, the overwhelming majority of you are really bummed, when said leftovers are gone. They are a special treat I say. Here’s hoping, these nuggets, which have been left behind from the Vermont State Championship Football Games from the perspective of the winning coaches, still prove tasty to you. We will present the choice words in the order the games were actually played.
DIVISION III- Windsor 13 Woodstock 7 (Overtime)
The Yellow Jackets and the Wasps put together two incredible football games for their fans in 2017. I’m not sure it gets any better than this for the neutral fan. WOW! WOW! AND likely there would be another WOW!again IF they could match-up on New Years’ Day for a third time.
Windsor Coach Greg Balch was as amazed as we were about the two match-ups. “Overtime is not very common in high school football anyway and to have the two of us, do it twice……..,” followed by a pause of how great that is was his take.
Balch said, “our game plan was different for the second game. I thought conservative play would win the game. I thought we could grind the ball. Obviously we didn’t plan on an injury (running back Trevor Worral) which made things tougher.”
Looking at his opponent Woodstock’s team, Balch told us, “there is no part of that team, I don’t respect. They come to play. It seems to be always close when the two of us play.”
Looking at the extra session, Balch mentioned “we felt confident we could score in overtime. I am proud we proved we could be resilient. We had kids on the field that made sure we would not lose.”
DIVISION II Fair Haven 46 Bellows Falls 20
The Terriers became the only defending champion this fall not able to defend their State Title. Each of the three champions from 2016 made it back to the final determining game. Brian Grady’s Slaters were the only team to reach a final deciding game in 2107, who wasn’t playing in a championship game a year ago. The team may not have had title game experience, BUT, that didn’t matter a bit. They were ready to play from the start.
Grady told us in retrospect, “I thought we had a pretty good game plan. We thought IF we could get up early, it would force them to throw the ball. We wanted to take them out of their comfort zone. We succeeded doing that.””
Then in the second half things changed you say coach?
Grady tells us, “since we were up now, the second half we just wanted to control the ball. We wanted to reverse roles. We used a six man front. Things worked just the way we wanted them to.”
The Slaters coach felt his teams’ week of preparation was another reason for his teams success on title day. He told us, “our coaching staff did a great job of preparing and the kids were the most focused they were all year. I want to make sure both our offensive and defensive lines get enough credit. I don’t think either of them has been mentioned enough.”
Obviously the Slaters were the only ones who didn’t have to hold their breath to the very end for the outcome of their top dog contest.They may not have been in a title game last year, BUT, they were the only truly undisputed champs this time through.
DIVISION I St. Johnsbury 33 Hartford 32
It took both four quarters and 65 points to decide the DI title. Speaking of the subject of heavyweight bouts. This was the Real McCoy. The two teams met in the first week of the season and again in the final game of the high school title contests.
Coach Rich Alercio was not one bit surprised of the outcome. “The social cohesion of our returning players was the difference between winning and losing,” the veteran coach told us. The Hilltopper head man went on to say, “I’ve coached awhile and I’ve never been around a group of players who didn’t have a pecking order. We didn’t have any of that. It was quite astonishing. We had an incredible buy in from everyone, including the parents. We were lucky to be pretty much injury free, BUT, we did the things we needed to do to win.”
Alercio pointed out that his teams special bond played a big part in the eventual outcome. “There were a lot of things that had to play out,” he mentioned, elaborating to cite that, “we didn’t think anybody could beat us. This team was going to find a way to win. The kids understood our social cohesion. Our goal is to be the best football program in the state. Going to the title game was an expectation.”
In addition, Alercio pointed out that for his team, it was the same old / same old way in the play-offs. While many Division I teams were able to experience new match-ups in the post season, the Hilltoppers had to face three teams, they had previously matched up against in the regular season. The coach pointed out, “we had to beat all three teams twice. That is an incredibly tough thing to do.”
One thing proved certain, the combined score the second time the match-ups occurred, was much closer than the first time around. St. Johnsbury defeated the three foes by a total of 115-54 (38-18 average) in the regular season contests, while the total for the postseason encounters was a much closer 101-65 (33-22 average). The totals were mostly skewed by the close 33-32 outcome of the finale. No matter how ones looks at it, the team with social cohesion was able to get the job done.
A COUPLE OF WINTER SEASON QUESTIONS- Has the pendulum shifted in Division I Boys Basketball? For years, the north more than dominated the field and southern teams were nothing more than an afterthought when it came to deciding the championship? Southern teams had not won a title in this century, until Rutland captured all the marbles last winter with a 43-37 overtime triumph over Champlain Valley Union. The most recent previous DI southern champion had also come from Rutland, Mount Saint Joseph in 1999, a 66-52 winner over Burlington. Things had become so bad, the south was only averaging a little over one Final Four participant in that time. The last non-Rutland southern champion was Brattleboro in 1993. That year the south really held their last stand. They had two teams in the finals with the Colonels defeating Rutland 55-44. Taking things a step further, the south has now won three DI titles in 25 years, BUT, who is counting?
Rutland and Mount Anthony (who remembers when MAU under Dave Fredrickson won five straight DI titles ending in 1992) are at the top of the heap as we write this and they are a combined 6-0 against northern teams at the moment. It could prove to be an interesting year.
In the Division I world of Girls basketball, Champlain Valley Union is on the type of run we referred to with the MAU Patriots twenty some odd years ago. The question here IS, can they win the crown again this winter and equal that MAU Boys streak? At the moment, CVU has some company at the top of the heap. No less than six teams are currently 2-0 or better at the seasons outset. Rice, Essex and CVU are 4-0, St. Johnsbury and South Burlington are 3-0 and Burlington is 2-0. It will be interesting to watch how this season plays out.