by Bill Murphy

It’s Final Four Time in all football divisions in Vermont. Excitement reigns as most teams feel they can do what it takes to win this week. Although this corner feels all three divisions will end up with one versus two match-ups, no one knows for sure.

Beginning with Division I, Hartford and Middlebury did not meet this fall, BUT, they have met plenty of times in the past. In fact, the Hurricanes and the Tigers have met in the post season, four of the last five years with each team winning twice. Middlebury defeated Hartford 21-0 and 28-6 in 2015 and 2013 respectively, with Hartford pulling out their victories in back to back title years (2012-34-0 in the semis and 2011 42-6 in the title game. Middlebury also won back to back titles the following two seasons (2013 and 2014), BUT, didn’t meet Hartford in 2014.

These two teams clash Friday evening in Hartford at 7 p.m. and one of these two teams has been seeded either first or second every season since the Division I play-offs moved to eight teams in 2011.

During the same period of time, St. Johnsbury and Champlain Valley Union have both been a regular part of the play-off picture as well. The two meet Saturday at 1 p.m. in St. Johnsbury. In a been there before and done that note, the four teams remaining have twenty-three of a possible twenty-four play-off appearances during those years.THUS, of the Final Four, St.Johnsbury in 2012 is the only one of the four not to qualify By the way, St. Johnsbury traveled to CVU in Week 5 this fall and came away with a 52-26 victory when both teams were undefeated.

CVU Coach Mike Williams feels,”we went into the third quarter of the game trailing 24-20 and were on a drive when we fumbled. They took over from there. We came back once in that game. We trailed 24-6 and closed the gap to four at the half, BUT, when we fell further behind, we couldn’t come back again. We think we can play with them.”

Williams also thinks the last two weeks have prepared his team well for the Saturday encounter. Williams said,”we played two teams who were desperate and they played really physical. This can really help us.” They lost to Middlebury 14-7 on the road in the last week of the regular season and then they defeated Rice 13-6 in the quarterfinal round of the play-offs. Low scoring tight games has been the Redhawks trademark in 2016, except in the St. Johnsbury loss. IF one eliminates the St. J total from CVU’s defensive statistics, they allowed an average of 7.4 points a game. Another way to look at it is, CVU allowed 52 points versus St. Johnsbury and 59 points combined against the rest of the field in eight games. Ask first, how good is the Redhawk defense? OR is the real question,how good is St. Johnsbury?

Burr + Burton and Burlington will tangle Saturday in Manchester at 3 p.m. in a Division II semi-final. The Bulldogs have the number one seed and are looking to defend their title. Looking at B+B’s season, no opponent came closer than twenty points, as the Academy went undefeated in regular season play, BUT, Burlington’s 28-0 defeat was closer than it looks. The biggest question in this one, surrounds the Seahorses offense. They averaged 30.9 points per game versus teams not named Burr + Burton and Bellows Falls. The Bulldogs and Terriers held them to an average of 4 points a contest.

Fair Haven travels to Bellows Falls Friday night at 7 p.m. as the two D-II opponents meet for the second week in a row. The Terriers have been in the hunt for the past four years in succession and Fair Haven has graced the same Final Four, four of the past six years. Although the two are always a contender, Fair Haven has not won the title since 2011, when they exploded the scoreboard in a 57-34 triumph over Burr + Burton. BF’s last title came in 2010, in Division III, when they turned back Windsor 39-22. The Falls won by 20 (32-12) last week to determine home field for tonight’s game. Can Fair Haven prove to be more of a challenge this time around?

In Division III, defending champ Otter Valley must do things the hard way in 2016, playing in the third seeded position. They travel to Woodstock Friday night at 7 p.m. to face a team that turned them back 41-14 in Brandon back in Week 3. Woodstock’s offense has put up 40 or more points in all but two contests. They beat Union-32 29-7 and suffered their lone loss to Windsor 27-20. The OV defense allowed an average of 9 points per game this season versus opponents not named Windsor or Woodstock, BUT, yielded an average of 48 points against the top two seeds. They will likely have to create some turnovers to prevent being stung by the Wasps.

Windsor provides the backdrop for the final game of the weekend as they will host Union-32 Saturday at 1 p.m. These two teams had quite a contest in East Montpelier the first time around with the Yellow Jackets prevailing 28-21. Windsor had almost an identical score in their 27-20 victory over Woodstock, so stay tuned, they may be the best team in the division as the regular season showed, BUT, if they actually are, they will certainly have to earn it.

Woodstock won three consecutive D-III titles from 2011-2013 with Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax and OV winning the past two years. Windsor was in the title game, BUT, fell in 2010 and 2011 and U-32 was the team,who was runner-up 33-14 to Otter Valley one year ago. Four teams are left competing in D-III, who know what success is, BUT, only one will prevail. STAY TUNED.

The absolute best thing about this weekend IS that everyone interested, can see each of the semi-finals within one division, which should make for some mammoth crowds. It worked out that one game in each league is Friday night and one is Saturday afternoon. This appears to be a perfect start for what could be one excellent post season.