by Bill Murphy

On paper, there is no bigger game this week than Woodstock-Windsor, BUT IN THE LONG RUN, how big can it be?

Both teams will have home field advantage as long as they play, that is, UNTIL the title game which will be on a neutral field. The winner will likely have to beat the other team again, in the Division III title game, while the loser will be able to call themselves champions, by splitting a pair of games with their rival. On a weekend with half the games on Friday night and half the games Saturday, this is unquestionably, the showcase contest of the week.

Woodstock will be at Windsor Saturday at 1 p.m. and I wonder IF I have been drinking the right Kool-Aid all season. You see, from the start, I have thought it was Windsor and then everyone else. I did think that someone (Woodstock?) might have a chance when everything was on the line in a title game, IF, they received every break in the book. HOWEVER, that IF was, like 1 or 2 % AT BEST.

QPR says Woodstock is number one, BUT, I still say QPR is baloney through and through. I don’t debate it just might be the best way to seed and separate, BUT, regular readers know I believe it is not necessary and that there should be a four division more balanced system, BUT, that again is a story for another day.

Before moving on, the Kool-Aid says it will be 38-16 Windsor.

There are two additional games in Division III this week and both should have a closer outcome than the showdown. Mill River (5-2) with their only losses to the two powers are idle and will await who finishes sixth for a home play-off game next week. Fourth place Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax (2-4) travels to winless Missisquoi (0-6) Saturday for the Thunderbirds Senior Day. We spoke to Missisquoi Coach Eric Bushey about how much progress the state’s youngest football program has made in it’s history and he told us, “we are definitely seeing growth on the field. Last weeks’ game (a 34-28 defeat at Springfield) was finally the first time, we really looked like a football team. It was awesome.”

Bushey played his high school football at Winooski and he coached there, until he took the head job of the Thunderbirds the year they became a varsity program. “I think we were very comfortable last week and I hope we can carry it over to this week and play another strong game,” Bushey noted.

The two teams in a tie for fifth meet in this weeks’ other encounter as Springfield and Poultney/Mount Saint Joseph with identical records, square off in Poultney Saturday at 1 p.m. A fitting match-up for the season’s final week. The picks on the two games are: BFA 34 Missisquoi 16 and Springfield 28 Poultney/MSJ 20.

The states longest running rivalry is featured in a crossover Division I Division II game this week. St. Johnsbury (7-0) leader of the pack in DI will travel the few miles to D II Lyndon (4-3) 5th in D II, Saturday at 1 p.m.for local bragging rights. There was a day in time when a Viking victory in this one would carry as much weight as a state title, BUT, it will take a Lyndon victory to measure such an effect today. In my opinion, both teams have overachieved this season. The Vikings may challenge early, BUT IN THE END, color it 44-20 Hilltoppers.

Hartford (6-1) who fell to St. J on opening night 22-19, continues to put the pressure on the front runners, as each team has won every week since. They could be headed to a repeat title game match. Hartford travels to out of contention  Essex (1-6) Friday night at 7 p.m. and we expect the White River Junction eleven to keep moving forward 40-12. Burlington was knocked from the ranks of the undefeated last week and on Senior Night Friday, host an interesting (3-4) Rutland team, who has won two in a row. We pick the Seahorses wrong just about every week. We will try some reverse psychology this week and say it will be Raiders in the winners circle 26-25.

There also will be a Senior Night Friday at fourth place Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans (5-2) where the Bobwhites will host a (2-5) Rice team, who is hoping to spring an upset and somehow make the play-offs. It won’t happen BFA  32-14. Middlebury’s Tigers pulled off the Burlington (6-1) upset last week and the fifth place Tigers (4-3) are looking to finish strong at Champlain Valley Union (3-4) Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m.Middlebury had been playing well until Burr + Burton had blasted them two weeks ago, BUT, I suspect they will play well again in an exciting win 19-12 in a defensive battle.

Mount Mansfield (4-3) has enjoyed a good season to date, BUT, Coach Marty Richards had kind of expected more. “I thought we might be 5-3 or 6-2, BUT, so far we haven’t stolen one or two. On the other hand, I didn’t see either BFA (a 10-0 loss) OR Burlington (a 42-33 loss) being as good as they have been,” he noted. Richards is pleased that his team proved they can compete with the best. He said, “against Hartford, we played well into the second half, then we didn’t finish. That is our problem, we just don’t play four quarters of football in a game like that.” The play-offs are around the corner and they may just get another chance.

BUT, first, they travel to South Burlington (2-5) Friday night in a game MM will be favored in, EXCEPT, Richards knows there are no automatics on the way to that 5-3 season. “We’ve played in every division since 2004 and we always seem to be the best of the rest,” he says referring to the ins and the outs of the top spots. They are quite often good, BUT, not quite good enough to capture the honors they would like. Anyone who has seen this years’ team would label them a good football team. South Burlington will find out this week as the final is 32-16 Mount Mansfield. The final D I game of this week has Brattleboro (1-6) at Colchester (2-5) Friday night. The hosts have the field advantage and the Colonels have a long bus ride to the Lakers. Too much advantage Colchester 20-14.

Burr + Burton (6-1 lone loss to D I Burlington) hosts Mount Anthony (3-4) Saturday at 1 p.m. The Bulldogs neighbors up the street will play inspired football BUT they are not in the B+B class 55-20. Fair Haven (6-1 lost 37-7 at B+B) is the best of the rest  and will host Mount Abraham (1-6) Friday night on their way to a home play-off berth and come out on top 48-6.

The biggest contest in Division II Friday night is unquestionably Union 32’s (4-3) trip to Bellows Falls (5-2). The winner should host a first round play-off game and the losing team will hit the road. The two teams are presently four and five respectively (BF fourth) in the D II seedings. This could be a thriller, HOWEVER, color it Purple 40-30. Milton (6-1) sits third and will complete their regular campaign at Spaulding Friday with a 6 p.m. kickoff. Milton should continue their winning ways 46-14.

This weeks final match-up North Country (2-5) at Otter Valley (0-7) is between two schools, who may never have met each other previously and there is a lot to play for in both teams cases. NC has played much better than their record indicates and wants to add one more victory to gain respect, while Otter Valley forced up to Division II, is looking for their first win.

Falcons coach Lonnie Wade wishes the season was starting today. Lack of experience and especially experienced leadership left the North Country team a little short early, BUT, they have found their niche to an extent now. “We really missed last years’ leadership at the start of the season,” Wade told us. He said he didn’t necessarily need the players talents of those graduates per se (although they were talented), BUT, the new team, just needed to have someone on the field to point them in the right direction. They lost to Lyndon 27-22, Milton 28-21 and Mount Anthony 6-0 out of the gate and “a little experienced leadership could have made a difference,” he feels. They win two of those three and they are sitting 4-3 heading into this weekend and would be likely in fifth or sixth place, instead of presently hoping to hold on to the final D II play-off spot with a victory.

Wade points out how the little things in a season make a difference. “In the Lyndon game, we had our chances, against Milton, it came down to a matter of inches and we ran into traffic heading to Mount Anthony and had over a four hour bus ride and basically got off the bus and played. We have found some leadership and had something going on in the last few weeks and hoping that continues this week,” Wade noted. The Falcons will fly away with this victory 24-12.

Despite Burlington continuing to be our nemesis, hardly ever picking their games correctly, we had another respectable week at 11-3 to land at 80-24 this season. here’s hoping for a strong finish this week.