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Hartford Football Cruises in Semis

  • Hartford's Tyler Hamilton. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, November 03, 2017

White River Junction — Mount Mansfield Union High’s football team didn’t see Hartford quarterback Tyler Hamilton coming. By game time on Friday night in its VPA Division I semifinal contest, it was too late.

Hamilton, a captain in his first season starting behind center for the Hurricanes, rocked No. 6 seed MMU for 144 rushing yards, 130 throwing yards and three touchdowns — two on the ground and one in the air — to lead Hartford to a dominating 37-8 win, sending the Canes to their second straight championship game.

“No. 12, we didn’t have an answer for him,” Cougars head coach Marty Richards said. “Good quarterback. Give him all the credit in the world. He gets in the open field, god. In my opinion, he’s their best football player.”

Whenever Hartford needed it, Hamilton was there. He opened up the second quarter on a fourth-and-6 from near midfield with a rollout to his right for 13 yards. He scored two plays later, going untouched up the middle for 15 yards for Hartford’s first of five touchdowns on the night.

Hamilton found wide receiver Austin Gaudette for a 45-yard touchdown pass, the quarterback’s eighth TD toss of the season, on Hartford’s next drive. He finished the game 5-for-8 in the air.

“He’s really matured,” Gaudette said. “He reads the game well. He knows when to tuck and run. … We’re really comfortable with him back there.”

Added Hartford head coach Matt Trombly: “That’s just the kind of kid he is. He shows up on both sides of the ball. Not only is he the quarterback of our offense, he’s the quarterback of our defense. He’s there. He makes big plays. He’s smart; he’s very athletic. When the game is on the line or we need to make big plays, he’s the one. We want the ball in his hands.”

Hartford led 14-0 at halftime. Hamilton broke free again in the third quarter, running through the defense into an empty backfield for a 56-yard score. Sophomore back Zach Burek and Kody Rhodes each scored touchdowns in the fourth quarter to give the Canes insurance.

“Coach calls the play, and I just run it,” Hamilton said. “Our line did a good job when I was running the ball. Our receivers did a good job getting open. I just hit them.”

Hamilton took over for graduated quarterback Gavin Farnsworth this fall after seeing action in only one game during Hartford’s undefeated championship run in 2016. A year later, and with a few games now under his belt, the signal caller said he’s grown a lot in playing the position, particularly in what his teammates expect of him.

“It’s a leadership role on the team,” he said. “In the beginning of the year, I was getting mad too much, too angry at our players. But knowing that I had to step up and be that leader, keep everybody together, I feel like I’ve done a much better job at that. And controlling our players when we get penalties. Stuff like that.”

Mount Mansfield juniors Asa Carlson, the Cougars’ quarterback, and Jehric Hackney, its featured back, did their best to get the visitors going. Hackney did his damage early, putting together 41 rushing yards on seven carries in MMU’s first two drives.

The Cougars had their best chance to score on their third drive of the night, in the second quarter, following Hamilton’s initial score and an 85-yard kickoff return from the Cougars’ Silas Diamond that put MMU in the red zone. Three plays and a delay of game penalty cost the visitors six yards. MMU’s ensuing field-goal attempt was shanked wide right.

Hartford answered with 31 straight points. Cougars running back Dylan Davis spoiled the shutout late in the fourth quarter to put MMU on the scoreboard.

“They wore us down,” Richards said. “We defended them pretty well. The scoreboard doesn’t show it, but I thought we defended them pretty well. We held them to 14 points in the first half. We got in the red zone a few times, couldn’t score.

“Their last two touchdowns were just us being tired more than anything else.”

Defending champion Hartford returns to the D-I title game, set for next Saturday at Rutland High, a more battle-tested team from the dominant squad it fielded a year ago. Most importantly, Trombly admitted, the Canes are a different team from their regular-season loss to top-seeded St. Johnsbury, last year’s D-I championship opponent.

The Hilltoppers play No. 4 BFA-St. Albans this afternoon in the other D-I semifinal to decide Hartford’s opponent. But it’s hard for the Hurricanes not to hope they can get another crack at St. Johnsbury.

“I’m happy for our kids,” Trombly said. “With the kids who graduated and the kids coming up, we really didn’t know what to expect. We lost a lot of really good athletes and a lot of really good leaders. To be able to find their own way, it’s a really big deal. We’ve got a lot of young kids who stepped up into those roles that the vacated seniors left. I’m happy for them.”

Notes: The letters MMU, which were originally painted in white letters in one of the end zones on Hartford’s football field, were covered up in bright red paint before Friday’s game. Canes golf coach Mike Hathorn posted a video of a flyover of the field ahead of the game, showing the names of both teams in the end zones. Hartford athletic director Jeff Moreno was mum as to why MMU’s name was painted over. … Nick Porter got his 1,000th rushing yard of the season during the second quarter. He enters the final with 1,026 yards on 105 carries this fall. … Game time for next week’s championship game has not yet been announced.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.