by Bill Murphy

And then there were three….. games that is remaining in the high school football season. Rutland has become the focal point for the biggest games of Vermont High School Football. For the first time in awhile….. all three games are repeat match-ups of  contests encountered earlier this fall and in each division, the winner the first time around, means little or nothing now, as the total point difference in those three games combined was 7 points. Each game could of gone the other way.

Action kicks off at 11 a.m. as Windsor and Woodstock square off in Division III. Personally IF I had a choice I would vote for the 2 p.m.kick-off, BUT, Woodstock Coach Ramsey Worrell is quite pleased by the early start. “Due to three straight games on the same field, we are the only two teams, who get to do our normal pre-game on the field, so this is the way I prefer it to be,” he notes.

The first time these two teams met in Windsor in Week Eight, it took overtime to decide the winner Windsor, 12-9. Neutral fans are in favor of the same drama this time around.  We spoke to all six coaches playing in Saturday’s games and asked them three questions. Did they think there would be more or less points scored than in their earlier meeting, what they were thinking after that first game and what kind of season they had expected this year?

In that D III contest, both coaches appeared to be at a loss for words when it came to Saturday’s possible point total. Worrell said, “I plead the fifth. It could go either way. Both teams are solid on defense and sound on offense. Both teams have a lot of weapons. I just don’t know. Yellow Jacket Coach Greg Balch told us, ‘the points in that game are misleading. You have to remember almost half the points were scored in overtime. I’m not sure how many points will be scored in this one.”

Certainly Balch walked away from the first meeting with a clearer head than Worrell, BUT, the victorious coach remembers reflecting, “we were fortunate to come out with a win. I thought we could have played better, BUT, I also remember thinking WOW!!!, they are a very good football team. The game could have gone either way. Worrell had the short/long bus ride home to reflect. He recalls, “I was disappointed, BUT, confident. I thought we played a good football game, BUT, you always remember missed opportunities. I had expected more points would have been scored.”

Both coaches expected if things went as planned this year, they would be playing on title Saturday. Balchs’ team ran away from Otter Valley in last year’s title game, BUT, that day is now far from his mind.  He mentioned to us, “the one thing we found out in the earlier game was, we don’t panic if we fall behind. We had not been down for a long time and we came back and won that game. I found out this team is capable of digging deeper when they have to. Worrell has told his team “this is the time of the year when it’s cold and you know it’s great to keep going and play in the state final. You tend to forget about everything, including the cold, the time of the game everything. You are just happy being able to play in this game.” Both sides appear ready. Overtime 2 anyone?

Division II takes the field about 2:00 and this is the only game of the three that doesn’t match number one versus number two. Bellows Falls upset a very strong Burr + Burton team 22-16 and spoiled a perfect three game 1-2 trifecta. Bob Lockerby’s Terriers are the defending state title holders in their division and face a Fair Haven team, who they engaged in a track meet with during the regular season with the Slaters prevailing 35-34.

FH Coach Brian Grady and Lockerby feel that the Saturday contest will produce less than the sixty-nine points these two scored in the earlier meeting. Grady started out by saying, “games between us have generally always been high scoring,” BUT, then, he added a qualifier for this particular game. Grady forecast that, “defenses traditionally get better for championship games. I think both teams know what to expect against each other and both will have made adjustments.”

Lockerby immediately mentioned “I don’t expect it to be as high scoring. I am not sure how many points there will be, BUT, it is expected to be extremely cold and I think that will affect the offenses. I remember after our first game, I was definitely disappointed that we had lost, BUT, I remember thinking what a great football game it was.” Grady concurred in saying, “that was one of the best games I ever coached in. Games like that is why we coach.” It would be exciting for the two teams to duplicate that one and certainly an epic for the fans.

There are certain parts of that game both coaches remember vividly. Lockerby says, “that game came down to extra points and penalties. IF we had done a better job in those areas, we would have won the game. I didn’t have to say a word about keeping the noise down on the way home. You knew the kids knew what was on the line by the way they reacted.”” Grady on the other hand, had internal thoughts following the close game noting, “there were some missed assignments and they broke some long runs early in that one. We changed things up at halftime and things worked a lot better. The game is always about adjustments.” Both coaches will be on their toes for mixing things up this time around.

While Windsor and Woodstock and FH and BF only have to go back to three or four weeks to recall their meetings, St. Johnsbury and Hartford staged their battle over two months ago. AND…. as much as these teams were good then, chances are they are both better today and as much has changed as is the same. Having stated that, this should be an exciting 5 p.m. match-up.

St. J Coach Rich Alercio is of the belief there will be more than 41 points scored in the Division I title game. “He told us, “both offenses are scoring points. I expect that to continue. We played way back in early September. Both offenses are much better now.” Hurricane Head Man Matt Trombly said to our points question, “that’s a tough one right there. As much different as we are than back then, both teams are similar in one way or another. I am not really sure how this game will turn out as far as points are concerned.”

Despite the time which has passed since the early meeting, both coaches vividly remember what was on their mind when they had some alone time that evening. Trombly remembers thinking, ” we did some things well, BUT, we had tough injuries and basically everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. We had people forced to play positions they weren’t accustomed to, we had all kinds of penalties, so I remember all this happened and we only lost to a good team by 3. Things could end up being okay.”

On the St. J bus headed back to the hill, Alercio looked at a play call that he felt created the 3 point difference. “I  was most disappointed in a call that I made. It was first and goal from the 10 and we were up 22-6. I made a call for a pass and it was intercepted near our goal line and before you knew it, they were back in the game.” Two coaches, separate reflections. Two fantastic teams. One loss by 3 points between them. This is a winner take all game.

Trombly said, “I’m not sure where I expected us to be this year. We lost a lot from a year ago, BUT, we had some really good players coming back. Since that game, we have had so many people step forward and make us better. This is where I wanted us to beSaturday, BUT, I am not sure, I really expected it at the beginning.”

Alercio felt differently. “I thought we would be good enough to return to the championship game, BUT, to have the season we have had against the schedule we played and to be undefeated, I can’t say I saw all this coming. This should be a good high scoring game, despite the cold weather.

On paper, there are three match-ups that saw three games between these foes have a separation of seven points during the season. The scores were 22-19, 35-34 and 12-9 (Overtime) in Division I, II and III respectively, the first time around in games played in close to ideal weather. Playing in a title game is ideal, BUT, cold weather is a separator. It creates mistakes and plays on lots of minds. More than any week this year, these will be encounters of mind over matter. IF teams don’t mind the cold, there chances of winning improve. Buckle up those chinstraps and let the games begin.