A Perfect Storm
Wasps’ Hopes Rest on Thunder-and-Lightning Duo
Running and defensive backs coach Mike Jabour, left, talks to Will Gault, center, as he's stretched by Nate Fegard during football practice at Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock, Vt. on November 5, 2013. The team will face off against Mill River in the state championship in Rutland on Saturday. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Nehemiah Wood, right, and Sam Cole run a play during football practice at Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock, Vt. on November 5, 2013. The team will face off against Mill River in the state championship in Rutland on Saturday. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock — The Woodstock Union High football team’s final practice of the year Friday was confined to the gymnasium because of cold precipitation during the school day that rendered its field a mess. Trying to contain Woodstock rushing tandem Tom Baumann and Oliver Kaija has been just as sloppy for opponents all year.
Kaija and Baumann, both Reading, Vt., residents and teammates since the third grade, have enjoyed stellar seasons during their final year in the green-and-white.
Heading into this morning’s Vermont Division III state championship game against Mill River at Rutland High School (11 a.m.), the pair has combined for 2,185 yards and 40 touchdowns on just 211 carries, a 10.3-yard average that is the biggest reason why Woodstock (10-0) has outscored foes an aggregate 473-141 and is on the verge of a third consecutive title.
While complementing each other since before they were old enough to shop for their own trapper keepers, Baumann and Kaija have brought unique skill sets to the field as teammates. A successful sprinter for the Wasps’ track and field team in the spring, Baumann (1,097 yards, 21 touchdowns) is most explosive when he gets to the outside. Kaija (1,088 yards, 19 touchdowns), a halfback-turned-fullback, rumbles up the middle much in the same vein as his immediate predecessor, former 1,000-yard rusher Ed Doton.
Unlike Friday’s mixed rain and snow, Woodstock coach Ramsey Worrell considers the tandem the perfect storm.
“You can call them thunder and lightning,” said Worrell, who has the Wasps one win away from a second straight undefeated season in his first year after taking over for retired 31-year mentor Jim McLaughlin. “Tom runs with finesse, Oliver runs with power, but they both run with speed and a lot of will and determination to get where they need to go.”
The second-ranked Minutemen (9-1) have their own set of 1,000-yard rushers in running back Dan Blanchard and quarterback back Mark Goyotte, the former boasting more than 1,500 yards on the ground. Goyotte can also throw well, especially to his hulking favorite target, 6-foot-6, 280-pound tight end Tyler Pitts.
Mill River’s only loss came against the Wasps in Week 5, a 42-28 setback in North Clarendon that marked the only time a D-III opponent fell to Woodstock by fewer than three scores. The 28 points the Minutemen put up were also a high among D-III Wasp foes, and the most overall after 31 from Lyndon, which plays for the D-II title today.
On Sept. 28, Woodstock led 35-14 in the second half before allowing Mill River to score two of the game’s last three touchdowns to pull closer. Woodstock safety Zach Cole’s big fourth-down hit on Pitts near midfield stopped the behemoth from moving the chains and shifted momentum back to the Wasps in the fourth quarter.
Woodstock knows they’ll have to be equally physical today against a motivated Mill River team, whose proud senior class would relish spoiling Woodstock’s potential three-peat.
“If you don’t wrap these guys up, they’re going to run right through arm tackles and end up in the end zone,” Cole said before Friday’s practice. “They’re big and fast and hit hard, so we’ve got to match that like we know how. We’ve been playing this season for 14 weeks now (including training camp), so you’re not going to see our game plan change too much at this point, just fine-tuning some things.”
A versatile senior, Cole has played almost every position on offense this season. Following an injury to Sam Zonay in the first Mill River game, he converted his primary position from halfback to tight end and has been a great fit blocking for Baumann, Kaija, twin brother Sam Cole (359 yards, three touchdowns) and Nikolai Davis (347 yards, three scores). Zach Cole also contributed as a receiver against Lyndon with four catches for 52 yards and a touchdown as Woodstock beat the Vikings 41-32 in a Week 7 battle of unbeatens.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever have a guy like Zach again, who can literally play every position on the field,” Worrell said. “You barely even have to teach him what to do, you just put him somewhere and he picks it up.”
While Woodstock’s wing-T offense naturally caters to rushing first and foremost, Wasps quarterback Nehemiah Wood (21-of-50, 370 yards, eight touchdown passes) is too good to allow defenses to simply stack the box.
Wood had his only two-touchdown game of the year against the Minutemen, hitting Zonay and Tyler Anstruther for scores. His eight pass attempts against Mill River were tied for his second most against any team.
While the 6-4, 210-pound Wood doesn’t mind facilitating a run-first offense — “This team allows me to be a part of something bigger than myself,” he said — he’d be happy to air it out again today if necessary.
“We’re prepared to throw, like we always are,” the QB said. “If we need to put it in the air, we’ll be ready to execute.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.