by Bill Murphy
By the time night falls on Vermont Saturday, half of the 2017 high school football season will be in the books. That was too quick for me. It was also probably too quick for a number of teams, who are already seeing their post season hopes or seeds dwindling.
Saturday afternoon, the campus of Burr + Burton in Manchester will host the highlight game of this weekend. Fair Haven comes to town with the favorites role, in what will be a big Division II match-up, which could shape the regular season landscape of that division. A couple of weeks back, B+B coach Jason Thomas, made it clear here in this column, that he doesn’t buy predictions or talk, “games are decided on the field,” he made clear to us. People can say here or there, this team OR that team can win, BUT, wait until the whistle blows is the doctrine he believes in.
We spoke to Fair Haven Coach Brian Grady this week and he knows a number of people have said nice things about his team, BUT, he is cautious. “I wasn’t surprised a lot of people picked us, BUT, I really don’t pay a lot of attention to it either,” the Slaters coach told us. He went on to say, “It is nice to have people feel that way about us, BUT, we have a lot of kids back and many of them in important positions so it is easy for people to say that. We take it as a compliment, BUT, realistically, this is high school football and until a given day comes you never know.” It looks like Thomas and Grady agree on that point.
There have been a number of seasons in recent years, when D II has been scheduled in a way that Burr + Burton, Fair Haven and Bellows Falls have waited until near the end of the season to have their match-ups and everyone was left holding their breath. This isn’t the case this time around, because Burr + Burton beat BF last weekend 23-6 and now host the Slaters Saturday on their home turf. The Terriers travel to Fair Haven though in Week seven, preserving one top tier contest near the end.
Bouncing back to this Saturday’s big game, Grady told us, “they lost Stallcup, BUT, their offense is still very good, BUT, I am most impressed with how good and quick they are on defense. They are really impressive there.” Saturday at 1 p.m.there should be a large crowd in Manchester to witness the first meeting of which could be a couple of strong match-ups between these two.
Elsewhere in D II, there are three other match-ups within the division this week. The most intriguing of the rest is the Mount Anthony at Milton game. Both elevens are in the running for homefield advantage in the play-offs and chances are the hopes of the losing team in that regard will be dashed. The game is a Friday 7 p.m. test and Milton will remain unbeaten with a 32-26 overtime victory. Union 32 will be at Otter Valley at 1 p.m. on Saturday and these two have had some interesting get togethers over the years in their former stomping grounds, Division III. U 32 wins this one on the road 34-18. Mount Abraham travels to Lyndon for another Saturday matinee and both teams stand 1-2. This will be a competitive game, BUT, homefield will not matter as Mt. Abe comes out on top 20-7. Three other D II teams play out of Division this week as North Country gets to host a formidable D I Mount Mansfield team Friday night and will be beaten 42-12, Spaulding will obtain their first win of the season at Missisquoi 34-14 on Saturday, while BF bounces back from their loss to the Bulldogs last week in a Friday night tilt at D III Springfield 40-16.
Springfield has received a number of compliments from rival coaches for their early season play, despite carrying an 0-3 record and the numbers, which have seen them outscored 130-41. I have seen Springfield and they have improved, BUT, the rugged schedule they have been handed by the schedule gods has not been kind, including this week, when they face the defending D II title holders BF. Cosmos Coach Rich Saypack says, “I tell them everyday what other coaches say after we play them. They are getting better every week, they hit and they play hard. Things went much better against BFA (they lost to Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax 28-7 last week), BUT, we still started slowly, and we played much better after that. I wish we could have caught a better break with the schedule this year, BUT, we didn’t. The older kids can see the improvement we show and they are buying in, BUT, it is still tough for the younger players, who can only see the results.”
Sayback went on to say, that, “usually we have been able to point to the BF game and its tradition and the rivalry and when it was the last game of the season, it was always something to work towards, BUT, now it is in week four and I hate to say this, BUT, BF Coach (Bob) Lockerby agrees, it is now just another game.
Springfield does appear to have some light at the end of the tunnel as the teams they play after this week have a combined 4-8 record compared to the 9-3 mark of the four teams they have faced through tonight.
Looking at the rest of the D III field, top dog Windsor will sit idle, while the rest of the contenders vie for the best spot they can for the post season. The marque game of the week in III has to be Woodstock traveling up to Fairfax for a Saturday1 p.m. meeting. It looks from here like another road win as the Wasps should prove too strong for the Bullets 34-22. At the same time Saturday, Mill River should bounce back from their loss to Windsor with a 36-12 win at Poultney/ Mount Saint Joseph to complete the Division III slate for the week.
Division I has the most horses of any division at the top of the pack and this was the year, we expected Rice to close the gap and make a move a little up the standings, BUT, some of the same problems which are helping hold Springfield down, Rice has encountered. Coach Neil Brodeur told us when Rice decided to stay in D I, that it was just a matter of time, when they would feel more comfortable. Now the time has become more than he expected.
“I didn’t think we would be in the position we are in,” Brodeur told us, going on to say, “a combination of things have held us back. The schedule has us playing two top programs back to back early in the season during that time for three straight years, we have made mistakes, which have affected us in our early games and we have been faced with injuries during that time. We have the players , BUT, we don’t have the depth to deal with the players who are hurt. We have more kids in the program and that is good, BUT, we need many of our young kids to get a little better, which they should in the coming weeks, BUT, they also need to learn to believe in themselves, which is hard to do when you play the Hartford’s and St. Johnsbury’s early.”
Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans has been the biggest early season surprise in 2017. They have outscored three respectable opponents (Champlain Valley Union, Mt. Mansfield and Rutland) 72-14 while building up their 3-0 mark and Friday night they host 1-2 South Burlington. SB surprised Essex in Week I and played respectively in Week 2, BUT, they have gone backwards since and we expect the slide to continue versus BFA 46-12. St. Johnsbury and Burlington are also 3-0 and hope to continue undefeated. The Hilltoppers host Rice on Saturday at 1 and although Brodeur told us, “I expect we will improve even more this week,” color this one St. Jay green 30-16. Burlington will also continue their winning ways at Brattleboro Saturday at 3, as they walk away with a 48-8 victory.
Hartford has looked as good as anyone since their first week loss to St. J and most other D I teams think they will be in the thick of things at the end. Friday night they travel to football rival Rutland, who at 1-2 is having trouble getting moving, BUT, rivalry games sometimes get teams going. WE think Hartford wins 29-20, BUT, Rutland gets better. In another Friday night affair 0-3 Essex is at 1-2 Middlebury and both teams we think are better than their record indicates. The Tigers get back to an break even season by winning 26-18. There is one other game in D-I and it finds CVU 2-1 hosting Colchester 1-2 Saturday afternoon. This one will be real close with the hosts prevailing in a defensive battle 14-12.
Last week we were able to pick eleven of the fifteen games on the schedule correctly, which was a one game improvement from our average of the first two weeks. Here’s hoping we can do at least that well this time around.