by Bill Murphy

And then there were four……… teams that is, remaining in every division of Vermont High School Football. All three defending State Champions are still in the picture, BUT, only one of them is seeded number one. HOWEVER, each of them still has a strong vision of being the one.

Only Division I still has the possibility of staging the second straight title game between the same opponents. Hartford defeated St. Johnsbury 24-14 a year ago in the championship game. The two teams opened up 2017 versus each other and the Hilltoppers extracted revenge on the Hurricanes field 22-19. IF both teams win this week, the two outstanding squads will meet one more time. Things may not be that easy though.

St. J Coach Rich Alercio told us Thursday night that his teams’ semi-final opponent Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans “is no traditional number four seed. They (BFA) have been unfortunate in losing just two close games against the top two teams in the division, both on the road and they are fourth. They are big, strong, fast and physical and a very good football team. They are as good as most seasons number two seeds and have shown they can play with both the top two seeds.” The Bobwhites losses were in back to back weeks, first in St. J 36-28 and then in White River 24-23.

Most people did not see BFA as this strong a team at the outset and Alercio admitted he was skeptical as well, before he played them. We inquired how many weeks before he knew there might just be another blue chip team out there and he answered “as soon as they scored their first touchdown against us in Week 5.” That certainly makes sense. St. J and BFA  play Saturday at 1 p.m on the Hill.

All three divisions have the perfect set up this week, thus attendance at games should be large. Each division has one game Friday night and one game Saturday, allowing fans to attend both games in their division. The Friday night DI game has the truest Cinderella of them all, Mount Mansfield (the sixth seed who upset Burlington 21-15 in the first round) heading into Hartford at 7 p.m. When they met two weeks ago at Mount Mansfield, a lot of points were scored (Hartford 46-29). Will the same thing happen again?

The forecast here is for a repeat title game in Division I and we have a week to figure out who will win, what could be a classic. This pick is made believing the two coaches headed to that meetings word, that their athletes will not be looking ahead this week. We say it will be St. J 28 BFA 24 and Hartford 36 Mount Mansfield 22.

Last years title game square off takes one week early in Division II. Burr + Burton and Bellows Falls are meeting for the third year in a row in the post season, Saturday in Manchester at 1 p.m. Bulldog Coach Jason Thomas tells us “I always look forward to playing Bellows Falls. We have had some really good football games and this week should be no exception.”

The Bulldogs distanced themselves from the rest of the pack during the season defeating both BF (23-6) and Fair Haven (37-7) in the so called big games and actually are seeded number one. This took place despite that B+B was blessed with by far the toughest schedule in the division. Not only did they play their two mentioned in division rivals, their schedule somehow found two Division I’s, Burlington (a 14-9 loss) and Middlebury (a 36-7 victory) on it as well. Thomas agrees he was dealt the most difficult hand and has lived to tell about it, BUT, he takes things a step further.

“It really made us focus to play teams like that. We have been able to focus on us and pay attention to detail almost every week. That definitely has helped make us better,” he relayed to us. In other words, while BF was scheduled against Otter Valley (50-6)and Mount Abraham (54-0) and Fair Haven defeated Otter Valley (60-0) and Poultney/Mount Saint Joseph (49-7), Thomas’ Bulldogs (who didn’t play those teams at all) had to sweat out the two previously mentioned games, BUT, although they split them, this likely helped them be a stronger eleven.

In the end, Thomas wonders though. “we did have a number of moving parts when this season began, so it was tough to tell exactly who we might become, BUT, when everyone thought  Fair Haven was THE TEAM and didn’t consider us strongly, I don’t know how they thought they could tell and that made me feel, some people didn’t really have the kind of respect, they should have for our program.”

Well Jason, they have it now and you sit in the top seeded position. Thomas feels good about his team entering the Final Four, BUT, he knows you still must play the games. He realizes common sense, not QPR, says it should be Burr + Burton versus Milton and Fair Haven against BF, BUT, Milton didn’t have to meet either of the latter teams or Union 32 during the regular season and piled up the QPR points and snuck into second place, travelling to Fair Haven Friday evening at 7 p.m. The truth ends up being, you have to beat whomever you play and that is what the better teams usually do, and that is exactly what B+B and FH will do. The Bulldogs win 28-14 and the Slaters prevail 42-14.

For the second year in a row, Windsor and Woodstock are headed on a collision course for the Division III title game, BUT, last year, the Wasps never reached there. They were shocked in the semi-finals by Otter Valley (something that I even sometimes forget, BUT the Wasps certainly won’t) and Woodstock Coach Ramsey Worrell knows that 2016 verdict will be on his players minds Friday night, when they host third seeded Mill River under the lights at 7 p.m.

Worrell still has a clear picture of what happened versus Otter Valley and he also has a clear picture of football expectations at the school he played football at himself. “Woodstock football is expected to contend every year. Even when we moved up  to Division II, the expectations were to contend. Going into every season, the team is expected to make the play-offs and do well. Last year it was tough. Looking back we can’t forget it and now we have the opportunity to learn from it. This is the way I was taught to think.”

Now that we all know what Worrell thinks, I think Mill River is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Color this a Wasps victory Friday night style 50-12.

The other semi-final contest is Saturday afternoon in Windsor and the Yellow Jackets will meet the same Springfield team, they opened the season against. Every week during the season, coaches throughout the state have mentioned how they think the Cosmos have become better each week and they have, BUT, in Vermont Division III, there are Windsor and Woodstock and then everyone else. I truly believe  the Cosmos will play better than they did the opening week, BUT, I think the outcome will be very similar to Week I, Jackets 49 Cosmos 22.