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Night Moves

Lights Shine on Shrine Game for First Time

  • New Hampshire head coach Ray Kershaw speaks to his players at the beginning of Friday's walk-through at Dartmouth College's Memorial Field. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    New Hampshire head coach Ray Kershaw speaks to his players at the beginning of Friday's walk-through at Dartmouth College's Memorial Field.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford High's Taylor Potter  throws the ball back to a coach during a walk-through for today's Shrine Sugar Maple Bowl. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Hartford High's Taylor Potter throws the ball back to a coach during a walk-through for today's Shrine Sugar Maple Bowl.

    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Stevens High's Logan Batchelder warms up with the rest of the New Hampshire Shrine Bowl Team at Memorial Field in Hanover on Friday.<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Stevens High's Logan Batchelder warms up with the rest of the New Hampshire Shrine Bowl Team at Memorial Field in Hanover on Friday.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • New Hampshire head coach Ray Kershaw speaks to his players at the beginning of Friday's walk-through at Dartmouth College's Memorial Field. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Hartford High's Taylor Potter  throws the ball back to a coach during a walk-through for today's Shrine Sugar Maple Bowl. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Stevens High's Logan Batchelder warms up with the rest of the New Hampshire Shrine Bowl Team at Memorial Field in Hanover on Friday.<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Hanover — A tableau: Friday, 2 p.m. Two college workers are inspecting the northwest light tower of Dartmouth’s Memorial Field in anticipation of the first evening Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl. Two others are adding rubber pellets to the stadium’s artificial turf field. About 60 members of the Shrine Game marching band warm up in the shadow of Memorial’s ancient west grandstand.

No sign of the Vermont Shrine team for its final walk-through practice.

The 60th Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl will be a first, as in the first to see the light of night. It kicks off at 5:30 p.m. today, and for Vermont to break New Hampshire’s 12-year stranglehold on supremacy, it first must show up on time, ready to perform.

That’s because, en route to the Granite State’s 44-13-2 all-time series lead, the Shrine Game has become a cliché, at least from the wins-and-losses point of view. Vermont throws the football and hopes. New Hampshire runs the football and wins.

Vermont coach Jason Thomas, of Burr & Burton, won’t break that mold. He’ll search for a way over the Granite Staters on the arm of his award-winning, Middlebury College-bound quarterback, Jake Stalcup. It’s worked before; Thomas believes it can work again.

“Our whole premise is we want to be a hurry, up-tempo team,” Thomas said yesterday after Vermont’s workout, which started 40 minutes late because of a delayed departure from training camp at Castleton State College. “We like to pick up the tempo and play fast. Typically we’ve been a spread team, but whatever the personnel dictates is what you are.”

In an attempt to bring the rivals closer together on the scoreboard — New Hampshire’s last two wins have been by a combined 62 points — Shrine Game organizers limited first-time Granite State coach Ray Kershaw to six players from each of the state’s six divisions. The response is an offensive line built from the large schools, but with enough spots still left for big-school speed.

Four of the five starting offensive line slots will be filled by athletes whose teams played in NHIAA Divisions I or II last year, and that’s by design, said Kershaw, the coach at Mascoma Valley Regional High School. Goffstown’s Connor Benjamin will call the signals, and speedsters such as Romeo Masuku of D-IV Trinity or Tyler Grant of D-I Exeter will carry the ball out of New Hampshire’s double-wing offense.

“We were trying to get the best linemen out there,” Kershaw said. “If we can have a great line, the running backs — if they had problems picking up the offense — it would be OK. For the linemen, it was still pretty basic for them, just different calls, but still what they’re used to.”

Portsmouth’s Ricky Holt highlights the New Hampshire defense. Bound for UNH on a full ride, the 6-foot-4, 270-pounder will join a defense seeking to disrupt Vermont’s offensive timing.

“He’s very intelligent out there,” Kershaw said. “He knows when he’s got to make an adjustment without being told to. And he’s very aggressive. Hopefully, that’ll be a handful for Vermont.”

“I guess the biggest challenge is staying with everybody,” added Lebanon High linebacker Dylan Drew, who will start and who was chosen one of New Hampshire’s five captains. “With our scout (offense) going, they’ve done a pretty good job representing what they’re going to run. We look good.”

Thomas has the Green Mountaineers in position to do the same behind Vermont Gatorade player of the year Stalcup, who completed 59 percent of his passes last season for 2,448 yards and 31 touchdowns to lead BBA to the VPA D-II title game. What promises to be a wide-open attack will feature BFA-St. Albans’s Doug Saffo as the sole running back and Hartford’s Taylor Potter in the starting four-receiver set.

Woodstock’s Edward Doton — owner of more than 3,000 rushing yards over the past two autumns — expected to be Saffo’s lead blocker when Shrine camp started, but that changed when Hartford’s Josh Claflin went down with an ankle injury on Monday. Doton took a number of handoffs from Stalcup and Essex QB Joey Picard during Friday’s walk-through, and the St. Lawrence-bound Doton is anticipating a bigger role today. Woodstock teammate Travis Gault is among Vermont’s five starting offensive linemen.

“Even though I’m only a few pounds heavier than Doug, I’m the ‘big’ back on the team,” the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Doton said. “I’m going to open holes for him the best I can. I wasn’t anticipating playing running back until Josh went down, but I’m going to do my best to fill in his shoes.”

Burlington two-way lineman Billy Katon anchors a 3-4 Vermont defense that includes Hartford’s Nolan Frechette and Jon Carlson among the starters.

“The defense is going be multiple,” Thomas said. “We’ve got to get those guys different looks. We’re trying to keep it simplistic in its scheme so the guys understand it in a week’s time. But we don’t want to give them the same look every time, because if they know where they’re going, they’re going to line up and do what they need to do.”

The win will go to the team that shows up first, and it better get there on time.

Quick Hits: Stevens’ C.J. Gosselin (end) and Kearsarge’s Oliver Gallo (back) will start with Drew on the New Hampshire defense. … This is the 50th time that Dartmouth has hosted the Shrine Game in its 60-year history. … With the later-than-usual kickoff time and the knowledge that Vermont will likely throw the football often, Shrine officials will employ 12-minute quarters today, a return to old ways after choosing 15-minute periods last year. … Exeter’s Grant accounted for 23 touchdowns and nearly 1,500 offensive yards in winning New Hampshire’s Gatorade award last season. … The traditional pre-game parade will go off at noon as usual. The town of Hanover is stepping up to fill the gap before kickoff with a variety of musical performances along with a downtown sidewalk sale from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.

CORRECTION

This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. New Hampshire Srhine Maple Sugar Bowl coach Ray Kershaw coaches at Mascoma Valley Regional High School. His school was incorrectly identified in an earlier version of this article.