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Weather’s Cold, So Hartford Football’s Hot

  • Hartford coach Mike Stone prepares his defense for tomorrow’s Vermont Division I championship game.<br/><br/><br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson

    Hartford coach Mike Stone prepares his defense for tomorrow’s Vermont Division I championship game.


    Valley News - James M. Patterson Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford captains, from left, Nolan Frechette, Taylor Potter and Joe Wood warm up their team before practice at Hartford High School yesterday.<br/><br/><br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson

    Hartford captains, from left, Nolan Frechette, Taylor Potter and Joe Wood warm up their team before practice at Hartford High School yesterday.


    Valley News - James M. Patterson Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford coach Mike Stone prepares his defense for tomorrow’s Vermont Division I championship game.<br/><br/><br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson
  • Hartford captains, from left, Nolan Frechette, Taylor Potter and Joe Wood warm up their team before practice at Hartford High School yesterday.<br/><br/><br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson

White River Junction — The calendar having flipped to the season’s third month, the Hartford High football team practiced yesterday in sporadic flurries and wintry temperatures.

The conditions were perfectly suitable for the Hurricanes, who were preparing for the program’s fifth state championship in six years — and second straight perfect season — when they take on BFA-St. Albans in the Vermont Division I title game tomorrow at South Burlington High School. In a rematch of the 2010 final, top-seeded Hartford is 10-0 and the No. 2 Bobwhites 9-1, their only loss coming in a Week 2 rout at the hands of Hartford in White River Junction, 33-7.

Conditions are sure to be cooler tomorrow than they were on that early September evening, but it’s nothing the Canes aren’t accustomed to. Hartford has been to the playoffs 10 times in the last 12 years.

“Any time you’re playing this time of year, you know you’re playing for a championship,” said senior defensive end Donovan Kelley, one-fourth of Hartford’s dominant defensive front. “It gets cold out and you get that feeling. … All you want to do is keep playing.”

That’s been the attitude all season for the Hurricanes, who appear immune to the danger of allowing success to deter their focus. After turning the ball over four times in a 13-7 win at Colchester in the season opener, the Canes (10-0) have won by an average score of 40-13 while maintaining disciplined play in all three phases of the game.

“These guys are much more interested in getting better than any of the stats, any of the numbers or anything else,” said Hartford coach Mike Stone, whose team has already clinched the first back-to-back perfect regular seasons in Vermont since Essex in 2002-03.

“They genuinely want to improve as a team throughout the season. There are a lot of guys who have been on the team for three or four years. They know they have to work so hard during the season to get here, and they know what it takes to win games this late in the season.”

Hartford has returned to the title game with some new faces in key offensive roles. The 2011 Canes graduated starting QB Tucker Stone, who threw for 634 yards and seven touchdowns last year, plus 1,100-yard rusher Troy Bell. This year, junior Greg Shinn has thrown for another seven scores in his year under center, while senior Taylor Potter (70 carries, 752 yards) has averaged better than 10 yards per carry to complement featured back Josh Claflin (118 carries, 1,325 yards, 20 touchdowns). Potter was limited to 25 carries a year ago.

“It happens every year, you hear about how it’s going to be a tough season because you don’t have this person or that person,” Mike Stone said. “I think that’s what makes every year special for us as coaches, to see new guys play, I don’t want to say better than we thought, but to come in and play just as well as the players before them.

“(Potter) is a good example of one of those guys. He would have started for me at running back and free safety as a junior almost any other year, but he happened to be waiting in the wings behind guys who’d been playing there for 3è years (last season).”

Hartford’s experienced defensive front features three seniors (Nolan Frechette, Michael Dulac, Kelly) and a junior (Patrick McGrath), while its offensive line contained three sophomores (Josh Avery, Kevin Ladka, Will Todt) until Avery went down with a broken arm in the Canes’ win over Middlebury in last Friday night’s semifinal. Senior Matt Ocker will occupy Avery’s strong-side guard position tomorrow.

Led by seniors Chris Koloski and Dulac, the line’s acute downfield blocking allowed four different Hartford running backs to score on rushes of 40 yards or longer in the first game against BFA. That set the tone for a season full of big plays from scrimmage for the Canes.

“When you have linemen who do a good job blocking and running backs who know how to make people miss, you’re going to have some big gainers in there,” Stone said. “We’ve also had some long drives. I think last week we had one that was 19 plays and 90-something yards, so that’s a testament to them as well.”

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