Showdown in Manchester Saturday Night in Division II

by Bill Murphy

Simple surface math has been at the forefront of Vermont Division II football all fall. The basic premise is, that all contenders have known from the start of play, that four cannot be divided by five evenly. Returning rosters told one and all, that there were five strong football teams in the Division II loop for the 2015 season. The only division which is limited to four play-off spots, would be sending a very good team home immediately, when the regular season ends. While Vermont’s other two divisions would be advancing to the post season with some less than qualified teams, Division II would not be letting all their good teams into the tournament fun.

Then there is the elephant in the room: Rice. The three time defending champions, (plus four titles in five years) may or may not have been good enough to play with the contenders this fall, BUT, because they were moved up to Division I, by their recent performances raising their league formula numbers, no one will ever know, how their inclusion in D-II would have played out. They stand 1-6 in Division I, and it isn’t clear whether their apparent slippage, was as simple as graduation, which knocked them down a peg, or injuries this fall, which has them playing assorted converted skill position players sprinkled throughout their offensive line. Whatever the case is, it gave them little chance to compete in their new surroundings. If Rice were still in D-II, making it six strong teams in this division,the going would have been even tougher, BUT, it would have made for some great football.

For the moment, THE GAME will be played Saturday night at Applejack Field in Manchester at 7 p.m. Top ranked Burr + Burton (7-0) will be hosting equally undefeated Bellows Falls (6-0) in that contest, which will decide the top seed for this years’ Division II play-offs. The other three teams mentioned in the elite five are presently in order: Burlington third (5-2) with a 5.250 QPR, Fair Haven fourth (5-2) with a 4.500 QPR and Milton fifth (4-3) with a 4.125 QPR. There is a present rank, BUT, in the only division where everybody plays everybody, records are more important in the end than QPR UNLESS someone finishes in a three way tie. Then, someone could be eliminated by a QPR, which includes their out of division game. There is also two weeks remaining in Division II.

Obviously the Bulldog-Terrier showdown IS where all the attention is spotlighted, BUT, although this is a Division II column, we certainly can’t go without mentioning, that possibly, for the first time in Vermont football history this late in the season, there are actually two sensational showdowns of unbeatens in state play on the same weekend. Rutland is at Hartford, Friday night at 7 in D-I. As far as we know, the Green Mountain State has never been as blessed.

Back to Division II, where there happens to be another prime match-up on Friday night, when Burlington travels to Fair Haven at 7. Milton, the other team in the race plays at winless North Country (0-7) at the same time and will be a heavy favorite to win and align themselves in a tie recordwise with the loser of the game at Fair Haven. Between Milton and North Country in the standings are Mount Abraham (2-5), Lyndon Institute (1-6) and Mount Mansfield (1-6). Lyndon plays its own version of THE GAME at home against D-I St. Johnsbury at 1 p.m. Saturday, while at the same time, Mt. Abe is at Mt. Mansfield.

The BF game is the final league division contest for Burr + Burton and they WILL be seeded in one of the Division’s top two positions regardless of Saturday nights outcome. Next week, they travel to Pembrooke, New Hampshire for a Saturday 1:30 non-league challenge prior to entering the play-offs. For Bob Lockerby’s BF Terriers, next week offers a different type of challenge. They play another contender, hosting Fair Haven on Friday night at 7. The remaining games next week include North Country at Burlington, Milton at Mount Abraham and Mount Mansfield and Lyndon, with the latter two played on Saturday at 1 p.m.

When all is said and done, who will WIN D-II?This brings us back to Rice. Could there be anybody better qualified to recognize the next D-II title holder? We asked this question to their successful coach Neil Brodeur, who has stood on the title winning sideline, four times recently. Neil, is there a team in the field who can beat Burr + Burton, who most people consider the favorite?

“The only team who has a chance to beat Burr + Burton is themselves. They have the best team. Having Griffin Stalcup makes them the definite favorite. He is a difference maker,” the veteran coach offered. Going on, Brodeur gave a salute to this weeks’ opponent though, the Terriers, remembering when Rice was on the title road, Lockerby’s team was always one to reckon with.

I’ll tell you, Bellows Falls won’t be intimidated. I remember, regardless of what happened, they didn’t back down. We always got BF’s best,” he reflected.

What about Rice? We know Brodeur felt his program was not ready to move up, not because they didn’t have talent, BUT, because he felt they needed bigger numbers (they presently have 43 in uniform) to compete week in and week out, in the Vermont world of Division I football. Will they soon be back in Division II? His answer surprised us.

“We are in Division I and we’re not interested in dropping down to Division II or Division III. We’re here now and we want to attempt to make a go of it. Our goal has always been to get to Division I, but not until we had more kids. We have to increase our numbers now to build more depth,” he said.

There has always been a great amount of pride in Rice football. They are working hard to keep that alive. In the meantime, Burr + Burton would like to become the new sheriff in town.