Extra Special: Overtime Thriller Gives Wasps Third Straight Title
Woodstock's Bradley Lewis, center, hugs a teammate following their win over Mill River in the Vermont Division III Championship game in Rutland, Vt. on November 9, 2013. Woodstock won the game 20-19 in overtime. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
Woodstock's Oliver Kaija outruns a Mill River defender during their Vermont Division III Championship game in Rutland, Vt. on November 9, 2013. Woodstock won the game 20-19 in overtime. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
Woodstock teammates hoist up kicker Nikolai Davis, center, following his last-second extra-point that sealed their win over Mill River in the Vermont Division III Championship game in Rutland, Vt., on Nov. 9, 2013. Woodstock won the game 20-19 in overtime. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
Rutland — With the Vermont Division III football championship on the line in overtime on Saturday, Woodstock coach Ramsey Worrell wanted sophomore kicker Nikolai Davis to think about anything besides the outcome of the game resting squarely on his foot.
So the coach brought up his favorite non-football subject — food — and it worked.
Following an impromptu discussion with Worrell comparing their most cherished edible items, Davis’ PAT sailed high over the uprights at Rutland High School’s Alumni Field to give the Wasps a 20-19 win over Mill River and their third consecutive state crown.
Oliver Kaija scored from a yard out on fourth down to tie the game in overtime for the Wasps (11-0), who overcame a 13-0 halftime deficit to clinch their 31st consecutive victory, second straight undefeated season and 10th title overall.
Sensing his first-year varsity kicker was nervous following the game-tying score, Worrell racked his brain on the fly for something non-football related to talk about with Davis just before he lined up for the biggest kick of his life.
“I ended up asking him what his favorite food was,” Worrell recalled after the game. “He stopped to think about it and said, ‘potatoes.’ I think it was just enough. I said ‘mine’s bacon, now get out there.’ ”
It was a do-whatever-works kind of day for Woodstock, whose normally surefire rushing attack was limited to 166 yards — 52 in the first half. It wasn’t until tough-as-nails Kaija (32 carries, 134 yards, two touchdowns) finally found a rhythm in the second half that things began tilting in the Wasps’ favor.
The Minutemen’s 13-0 halftime lead was nothing short of surprising after Woodstock beat its first 10 opponents by an average score of 47-14. That included a 42-28 win at Mill River in Week 5 that was 35-14 before the substitutes went in.
Mill River’s trick 54-yard scoring pass from wide receiver Lincoln Pritchard to quarterback Mark Goyette with 37 seconds left in the first half made it 13-0 and sent shock waves through a Woodstock team that hadn’t been shut out in a half, nor trailed by more than one score, all season.
Despite the shocking score, Woodstock never lost its confidence.
“Momentum wise, we were a little shaken up. We’re not used to having to come back,” Worrell said. “But 13 points isn’t that much, and we’ve got battlers. We’ve got guys who are battle tested. When you’re down, it comes down to heart. It becomes a game of will. That’s what the conversation was about at halftime.”
Kaija sparked the Wasps with relentless running in the third quarter, and senior Sam Cole added a score late in the fourth to force overtime.
In the extra session, Mill River’s Dan Blanchard put the Minutemen on top with a 15-yard scoring run. But the Minutemen left the door open for Woodstock when senior kicker Ethan Burkett drove his PAT attempt into Woodstock’s front line to keep the score at 19-13.
“This is just a gritty team, man,” said Kaija, who finished the year with more than 1,200 yards and 21 scores. “Coaches saw a trap that we could exploit in the second half, and we didn’t mind running for 4-5 yards at a time. Mill River is a solid team, a big team that wanted to come in here and take our heads off.
“We might have been undersized, but like other Woodstock teams in the past, we might not have the biggest guys or the best athletes, but we always play intense and gritty football.”
Starting from the 10-yard line for their overtime possession, Cole picked up four yards on first down for the Wasps and Kaija got two on second down. Tom Baumann stretched to the outside to get to the 1-yard line on third down, setting up Kaija’s plunge up the middle for the tying score and Davis’ winning PAT.
“I was scared, but I just tried to stick to my routine,” said Davis, who didn’t play football as a freshman. “I just take a couple steps toward the ball and visualize it going over the goalpost.”
Spotting Mill River the 13-0 lead at the break, the Wasps finally found their groove as the third quarrer opened. Held to negative yards from scrimmage in the first half, Baumann converted a key third-and-four with a run to the outside and Kaija carried it nine times for 42 yards during Woodstock’s 12-play, 60-yard scoring march. Hit in the backfield on second-and-goal from the 2, Kaija broke free and spun into the corner of the end zone to get Woodstock on the board with 3:24 left in the third quarter. Davis pushed the PAT wide to keep it 13-6.
Woodstock got the ball back midway through the fourth quarter and moved for the tying score.
Taking over at the Minutemen 37, Woodstock QB Nehemiah Wood found Baumann for 16 yards before Kaija’s 7-yard run set up first and goal at the 6. Two plays later, Sam Cole brought it in from 3 yards out, and Davis was true on the PAT with 4:12 remaining to set up the overtime heroics.
“This is a special championship,” said Worrell, a former Woodstock player who was an assistant under longtime head coach Jim McLaughlin, who retired after last season. “The kids are never going to forget this, and I’m never going to forget this team.”
Extra Points: Davis finished with 56 extra points and a field goal while rushing for 347 yards and two touchdowns as Kaija’s backup. ... Woodstock was penalized just three times for 20 yards. ... Zach Cole’s 17-yard punt return to the Mill River 40-yard line set up the Wasps’ first touchdown ... Baumann, who entered the game with a team-high 1,097 yards and averaging 13.5 yards per carry, was held to just 10 yards on eight carries. ... It was the lowest point total since its last defeat, 20-0 at mount Abraham on Sept. 10, 2011. ... It’s Woodstock’s ninth state championship since 2000. The Wasps’ lone title before the turn of the century came in 1996, when they beat Lyndon in Worrell’s first year as an assistant coach under McLaughlin. It was a 17-14 overtime win.
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.