by Bill Murphy
The seedings are almost in place. Three divisions and three races. There will be excitement to the end of the 2017 High School Football season in Vermont. Two of the three divisions have surprise leaders from what one might of thought coming out of the hot days of early season workouts in August. That creates plenty of excitement on the gridiron scene.
There are several big games in Week seven, which will go a long ways in telling us, who has homefield advantage for two rounds of the play-offs, which should be a big deal in sorting out, who the post season favorites will be.
The biggest game in Division III will be next week, BUT, a game this week, could take some glamour off from that event. Tonight, Woodstock will host Union 32 at 7 p.m., in what should be one heck of a football game. The Raiders were moved up to D II this fall, HOWEVER, in recent years, the Wasps and these same Raiders, faced each other in an annual showdown with high anticipation. The two are no longer in the same division, BUT, the build up to this get together, is still on the rather big size.
Woodstock is officially 5-0 (5-1 overall having lost their out of state opener) and trail top of the pack Windsor, by a small number of QPR points. U-32 sits fifth in D II with the possibility of a couple of victories landing them in an advantageous position of a home play-off game. There is a lot on the line tonight.
Raider Coach Brian Divelbliss says, “I guess you could call it a rivalry. We like playing them. We have had a lot of good games. I think one of the reasons is that we have similar offenses. We are always chewing up time. Three yards and a cloud of dust, BUT, tonight, there probably will not be too much dust.”
Divelbliss went on to say, “we have had a good year,” of their transition to D II, “and “we have hard working kids and coaches, who have enjoyed the competition in Division II and look to stay healthy and are having fun, while hoping to earn home field for the play-offs.”
Two of the other three contests in D III this week should be exciting, EXCEPT, they likely will not lead to any changes in the 2017 seedings. Everyone sees Windsor moving quickly past Poultney/ Mount Saint Joseph at Windsor Saturday at 1 p.m. Look for the Yellow Jackets to pass the 50 mark for the fourth time this season 52-6. Mill River hosts Otter Valley Saturday in another encounter between a pair of former division rivals.
Mill River will more than cement their third-place seed in D III and make sure the Otters don’t see the play-off field this fall with a 30-14 triumph. Springfield and Missisquoi are both winless and meet in Springfield tonight. On the surface this looks like the perfect match, BUT, the Cosmos have been a tough luck team all fall playing a much tougher schedule, so look for them to be the winner with their highest point total of the year 26-12. Oh, you say I forgot to pick the Woodstock- U 32 game, no, that’s not the case, just trying to read the crystal ball, which is cloudy on that one. It looks like 28-24 Raiders.
In Division II, the top four teams meet head on in showdowns which will go a long way in deciding who plays who in this years’ play-offs. One plays two and three plays four and with both games head to head on the clock Friday evening at 7, it is too bad they couldn’t play a doubleheader somewhere. Such an occurrence would likely draw a title game size crowd. Now it is time for this writer to get his head out of the clouds and tab those winners.
Burr + Burton, numero uno at 5-1, travels to Milton (6-0) tonight, in a great game on paper. The Bulldogs have unequivocally played the most difficult schedule in their division. Bluntly, it isn’t even fair, BUT…… Jason Thomas has somehow transformed this team into a better football team than any sane mind thought possible. The Bulldogs will continue their roll at Milton, leaving another challenging opponent in their wake 34-14. Home field in the play-offs will be center focus in the number three (Fair Haven 5-1) hosting number four (Bellows Falls) showdown. Bob Lockerby earlier this season tabbed Brian Grady’s team as the team to beat in the division and his forecast bears fruit this week 40-34 in a track meet tonight.
I would say that both Lyndon and Milton have surprised people in D II this year and Vikings Coach Chad Simpson sees his team as having maybe a little more in the tank. Simpson, an alumnus of LI, a tab most proud alums use to honor their institution, played as a Viking and is in his third year as head coach of an 11-year coaching career there and has witnessed both good years and bad, AND, presently feels good about the direction the team is showing.
“Looking at where we were, we set goals at the beginning of the year and we are in line with those goals,” Simpson told us, going on saying, “the first one was to win the Barrel Bowl,” their annual showdown with North Country. Most neutral observers saw that one going to the Falcons, BUT….. check mark number one was earned with a 27-22 Viking triumph in the opener. “The next one,” Simpson said was, “make the play-offs. IF we win this week (Lyndon (3-3) hosts Spaulding (1-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday) THEN we are in,” so obviously they are headed in the right direction. IF they don’t win either of their last two games (Finale next Saturday at home versus longtime rival St. Johnsbury) they could well be in anyway.
What about the third goal? That one is a well thought out team character goal entitled “staying above the line,” which challenges the team to do what is right in their school, team and community environment. Everything lines up as if they will get a check on that one also. Simpson was very proud of his team’s effort and play in their recent 46-42 loss to undefeated Milton, which showed they are likely better than a 3-3 football team at this stage. “We are looking to finish the season strong,” he told us, adding “”I don’t know if people have respected us enough yet.” Lyndon will earn a check mark this weekend 46-12.
Mount Anthony is about to complete their first season in Division I and they have fit well. The Patriots (3-3) have interesting rivalry games the next two weekends (at 0-6 D I Brattleboro tonight and at numero uno 5-1 Burr + Burton next Saturday) MAU is expected to be in the play-offs win or lose, BUT, they are playing important games this time of year and that’s good for the program. We expect them to win tonight 36-30.
The final D II match-up this week may be for the final play-off spot. Currently, North Country and Mount Abraham are both 1-5, BUT, NC is ahead in QPR points. A win on the field should change that for the time being, BUT, with a win against an easier opponent in week eight, the Falcons could win out anyway. Here’s guessing the Falcons make such a direction irrelevant with a 32-14 win tonight at home.
Saving the best division (at least on the field) for last, several big questions will be answered in the final two weeks of play in Division I. Theoretically three teams stay alive for the top spot, BUT, St. Johnsbury is in charge and expected to be the number one seed. The Hilltoppers (6-0) host Champlain Valley Union (3-3) Saturday at 1 p.m. and we are sure Rich Alercio is not taking his opponent lightly.
CVU Coach Mike Williams says, “I thought we might start closer to where we left off last season, BUT, we lost a lot of seniors and although we had a number of talented players coming, they were juniors straight from JV ball and I had to remember, this is their first year at the varsity level and as a result, especially offensively we have been inconsistent.” Williams went on to say, “we have played some pretty good football, BUT, we often have troubles finishing off drives.” Last week CVU beat South Burlington 20-6, BUT, they will have to play at a much higher level and finish off every drive to pull the upset this week. Can’t see this happening. Hilltoppers 34-18.
What a great year Burlington has had. I have been outspoken here, supporting their years in Division II and I still believe fully, the psyche of advancing to where they are today, could have not happened without the Seahorses learning to believe in themselves. That is a part of the Vermont football system that gets my thumbs up, regardless of what others think.
Cutting to this weeks’ chase, Burlington has the first of two challenges against teams which are good football teams, BUT, not at the top of the heap. Can Burlington continue to pile up the wins? Our record making picks is 69-21 (13-2 last week), BUT, we are 2-4 picking Seahorse games. How do we pick this weeks’ go round with Middlebury (3-3)? The old glass is blurry, I think it says 32-18 Burlington.
Hartford (5-1) has been moving along fine, ever since losing 22-19 to St. Johnsbury in the opener at home. The Hurricanes beat the Hilltoppers in last year’s title game and they may meet again before (I hope before) the next substantial snowstorm. This week Hartford is looking to keep the pressure on St. J with a 30-20 win over a very good Mount Mansfield team Saturday on the road.
Bellows Free Academy (a very classy 24-23 loser to Hartford last week) and Mt. Mansfield are both 4-2 and very much in the hunt for the title game picture. Tonight, BFA is at 2-4 Colchester and the Bobwhites should bounce back with a 26-14 victory. Also in D I this week, Essex (1-5) is at Rutland (2-4) Friday night (the hosts prevail 32-20) and Rice (1-5) hosts close by neighbor South Burlington (2-4) on Saturday and we give the nod to Rice, who has played a much tougher schedule 21-14.