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New Faces, Same Result

Wasps Continue Ground-and-Pound Tradition

Woodstock — First-year Woodstock Union High football coach Ramsey Worrell commonly refers to Wasps fullback Oliver Kaija as a “throwback” runner because of the senior’s propensity to embrace contact.

Thanks to those skills and more, Woodstock’s football keeps moving forward.

Behind Kaija’s 516 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns through four games, the two-time defending Vermont Division III champion Wasps are 4-0 while outscoring opponents 219-38. Kaija, 5-foot-10, 180-pounder, was a halfback prior to this year but has been inserted flawlessly as the featured back in Woodstock’s tried-and-true wing-T attack.

It’s been the Wasps’ primary scheme for decades, both under retired 31-year coach Jim McLaughlin and now under Worrell, who played for “Coach Mac” in the 1990s.

“The system isn’t much different now than what we did 20 years ago when I played,” said Worrell, a running back and defensive back on a Woodstock team that reached the state final during both his junior and senior seasons. “In the wing-T, the fullback is the guy that gets the ball and gets us moving. I could name you a whole string of great fullbacks who have been very productive for this team.”

The latest was Ed Doton, an explosive presence who rushed for nearly 3,000 yards and 53 touchdowns during his four-year varsity career. So imposing was Doton, it was difficult to imagine another runner emerging as effectively quickly after his graduation last year — yet Kaija has done just that.

Kaija’s yardage and touchdown totals as well as his 11.2 yards per carry are all slightly higher than Doton’s were through four games a year ago, when he finished with 1,226 yards and 23 scores.

“(Doton) cast a large shadow,” Kaija conceded, “but it’s not about yards per carry or touchdowns, it’s about wins and losses. It’s about discipline and technique and going 100 percent on every play.”

Doton was one of 10 seniors who helped the Wasps earn two straight state crowns, including last year’s perfect 11-0 season. Kaija hopes his senior class — which includes four first-year starters on the offensive line — can help continue the legacy.

“Last year was a great group of seniors, but thinking about last year isn’t going to help us win games this year,” Kaija said. “So people can compare me and Ed, talk about it, blog about it, whatever. But it all comes down to what we do together on the field as a team.”

Kaija is far from alone in the backfield. Speedster Tom Baumann appears to be the perfect complement — if he can stay on the field. A sprinter who placed third in both the 100-meter dash (11.29 seconds) and 200 (23.52) at the Vermont Division III state track and field championships last spring, Baumann was hard to stop in the open field during the first two games this year. He rushed for 386 yards on just 15 carries — a mind-numbing 25.7 yards per rush — and seven scores before being benched for Woodstock’s third game of the year at Union-32 for team disciplinary reasons, according to Worrell.

Baumann returned for Woodstock’s 59-12 home win over Oxbow on Friday night, when he was limited to 55 yards and a score on six carries.

“Once I get outside, it’s basically like a sprint (at a track meet),” Baumann said.

Seniors Zack Cole (208 yards, three touchdowns) and Bradley Lewis are also threats, along with sophomore Nikolai Davis, whom Worrell hopes to groom into team’s next productive fullback.

First-year starting QB Nehemiah Wood has been effective while taking over for versatile graduate Hunter Schmell. Wood has completed 8 of 17 passes for 179 yards and three scores

On the line, sophomore center Ryan Blanchard, guards Matt Broadwell and Nate Fegard and tackles Kyle Longley and Will Gault are all first-year starters. Yet the holes have been large as ever for Woodstock’s backs.

“They might not have started last year, but they all saw plenty of snaps,” Worrell said. “Some of them at different positions, but they’ve meshed really well as a unit.”

The Wasps enjoy better carry-over in the defensive backfield, where twins Zack and Sam Cole are third-year starting safeties. Seniors Stephen Titus and Tyler Anstruther man the corner spots, the latter returning from injury against Oxbow and returning an interception for a touchdown.

Kaija, Lewis and Fegard lead an experienced linebacker corps behind ends Sam Zonay and Gault and rotating tackle trio of Longley, Ethan Buckman and Broadwell. Thanks in part to the sizeable leads its been able to build in every game this season, Woodstock regularly turns to its bench for substitutions. “It’s an experienced defense with a lot of guys with (similar) abilities,” said Worrell. “We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to get guys some rest.”

Despite its new coach and player nucleus, Woodstock’s D-III dominance doesn’t appear in jeopardy. While beating foes by an average score of 55-10 this season, the Wasps have extended their unbeaten streak to 24 games dating to September 2011.

That’s consistency.

“There’s been a learning curve for me in certain ways, but for the most part it’s pretty similar to how it was 20 years ago when I played,” said Worrell, who previously coached the offensive and defensive backs under McLaughlin. “I’m trying a few different things than Mac, but when you look at this team, it doesn’t feel much different.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.