by Bill Murphy
Play-off football comes to Vermont this weekend, at least in two divisions. Divisions I and III, with twelve teams each, send eight teams to the dance, while Division II has one more week in the regular season to sort out their fourth and final team. Of the twenty teams, who will be in the post season, only three have losing records, all owning 3-5 marks. Here is some insight into the play this weekend.
GAMES WHICH ARE LOCKS- Rutland, Middlebury, Otter Valley and Union 32 will win this weekend. If any of those games end up in upsets, the losing team did not take care of business in any way. Respectively, Mount Anthony, St. Johnsbury, Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax and Springfield, aren’t deep enough to make it happen, unless one of the number one or two seeds have not focused and felt they were too good to pay attention to business.
GAMES OF THE WEEK- Colchester at Hartford, Champlain Valley Union at Brattleboro and Windsor at Mill River. If you are just a fan of the game and don’t cheer for any particular team, you should travel to one or more of these games. The first two are played Friday night at 7 p.m., while the Division III tilt is Saturday at 1 p.m.
Hartford defeated Colchester in a real good game at home early this season. There was plenty of both good offense and good defense in that contest and it was an entertaining 14-6 outcome, in which both teams had a chance to win. The competitors in the other two games did not meet during the regular campaign, which makes those get togethers even more intriguing.
What about Oxbow at Woodstock? Woodstock only won 21-16 the first time around. All we can say is, it won’t be that close this week.
AWAITED REMATCHES- Likely the two most talked about possible rematches are Rutland-Hartford and Burr + Burton- Bellows Falls. These teams met as undefeateds and although the winners definitely looked like the better teams in each case, there are people, who feel the shoe could fit the other foot. There were some interesting comments coming out of both coaches following the D-II game.
All the talk has been about the Burr + Burton offense this year, BUT, what about their defense? It took center stage in the Bulldog victory over the Terriers. Winning coach Jason Thomas said “with how we have been winning many of our games so easily and our starters don’t give up many points, our defense has been overlooked. Tonight, they won us the game.” Terrier coach Bob Lockerby saluted the Bulldog unit as well saying, “my hat is off to them. We have had no trouble running the ball well all year long, BUT, that was not the case tonight.”
Lockerby was also the first one hoping for a rematch with the Bulldogs and he put the words into motion after the contest, as he knew his players earned respect in defeat that night. The BF coach said “all we have seen and heard all season is how Burr + Burton is running through the league, AND, we just wanted to get a little respect. I am so proud of those guys,” he said pointing towards his players, adding after a pause, “we are looking forward to playing them again. I hope it all works out, that we get to play them one more time.” They could only meet in the finals.
OTTERS ALL THE WAY- I haven’t found a fan that doesn’t think the Otters will easily run and pass through the D-III competition. It had us thinking about what it is like to be in Jim Hill’s shoes to have his team anointed, by most, before the first of three games is kicked off. To get a perspective, we checked in with the dean forever of D-III coaches, Jim McLaughlin, the long time successful Woodstock coach, who coached his share of favorites along the way.
We asked McLaughlin how hard that preparation is and he told us, “it depends on the maturity of your kids, especially what kind of seniors you have. This is the year, they will be talking about at reunions for years to come.”
Then we prodded the long time leader of the Wasps, what he verbally said to his players about games in which they were the heavy favorite. McLaughlin responded, “you don’t talk about it at all. It’s business as usual. You are already sky high and it just isn’t something you ever talk about.”
Before finishing our conversation the football coach for the ages gave us one final tip. “The semi-final is always the toughest one. When you are on top and play the fourth team and are expected to win, you hope your kids aren’t already getting ready for the finals.That’s the one to look out for.”
MIDDLEBURY NUMBER ONE?- The system says they are seeded second, BUT, there are a whole lot of folks, who still consider Middlebury number one in every respect, until someone beats them. This statement is not meant in anyway to diminish the accomphlishments by Mike Norman and his Rutland Raiders, who are seeded number one, BUT, Middlebury has not lost in a long long time and are the defending champions. They deserve to be number one. Are the Tigers using this system snub as a rallying cry?
“No,” was the short answer of Middlebury coach Dennis Smith, who went on to say, “I am not going to sit here and argue with it,” he mentioned, elaborating to say, “any way, I believe in our system. Some years, it may benefit you and others it goes against you, BUT, our QPR system, is the best way I know, when you can’t play everyone in your division.”