Back in Front of Friendly Fans, Hartford Rolls
A long run by John Bielecki of Hartford is stopped by Aleks Harrison of Brattleboro during their game in White River Junction on Friday September 20, 2013, 2013. Hartford won 34-7. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartford's Cameron Gaudette of tackles Brattleboro's Tanner Freeman during their game in White River Junction on Friday. Hartford won 34-7. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
White River Junction — Easy to forget, but the Hartford High football team hadn’t played a home game in about 10½ months when it took to the field against Brattleboro on Friday night.
The Hurricanes adjusted quickly, rolling over the Colonels behind senior wingback Patrick Libuda’s three-touchdown running, 34-7.
Libuda raced 17 times for 146 yards to lead a Hartford rushing attack that amassed 218 yards — not to mention a 20-0 — lead by halftime. To Hurricane coach Mike Stone, the effort, which included a shutdown performance on defense, showed something else his team is doing quickly: learning.
“Until you play at home, it’s a different feeling,” said Stone, whose squad improved to 2-1 in Vermont Division I play. “It’s nice to have the fans and the whole atmosphere, getting into that routine we use at home.
“We’re growing a little bit, getting a little better. We eliminated the kinds of mistakes that hurt us two weeks ago. We still have a ways to go, but I think we’ll be OK.”
Since Hartford (2-2 overall) last suited up in front of friendly faces, the program won a third straight state title and saw a 27-game winning streak close, the latter coming two weeks ago at Middlebury. The offensive errors that plagued the Canes earlier this season have quickly disappeared, however, which begat Friday’s familiar scenario.
Hartford stopped the Colonels (1-3) on the game’s first drive, then rolled behind the speedy Libuda and Dylan Rice to a pair of first-half scores. Quarterback Greg Shinn also hit paydirt on a short second-quarter run, and Libuda clinched the win with his second and third TDs after the half.
Quickness also ruled in Hartford’s defense. Outside linebackers Nolan Viens and Nick Terino ran down Brattleboro’s attempts to run outside, and middle linebackers John Bielecki, Justin Loseby and Willy Todt plugged the middle. It rendered the visitors’ run game inert — the Colonels had just 30 yards of total offense in the first half and never seriously threatened until breaking Hartford’s shutout bid in the final two minutes.
“Our linebackers … when we grade them out and watch them play, in terms of what they’re supposed to do, they’re really good,” Stone said. “They read real well. They get downhill when they need to.”
Rice got Hartford on the board with 3:24 left in the first quarter, racing around left end on a sweep for a 14-yard touchdown. Rice’s point-after kick hooked wide left; it would be one of the few things that would go awry for Hartford all night.
The Canes couldn’t turn a first-and-goal on the Bratt 10 — courtesy of a bad punt snap — into points, but Hartford had no trouble building its lead regardless. Libuda galloped 31 yards for points midway through the second quarter, breaking a tackle and following wideout Cameron Gaudet’s downfield block to the end zone. That drive took all of 100 seconds; the next, started by a 51-yard Bielecki gallop and capped by Shinn’s 4-yard keeper with 5:10 left in the half, lasted all of 47 ticks.
What also helped for Hartford was having a mostly healthy line. The Canes lost three trenchmen to injury in the 23-0 loss at Middlebury; all returned last night, including quick guard Bailey Nott, a rare starting freshman in Stone’s scheme.
“Tonight was the first time we played with the guys we want to start,” Stone said. “One of them (Nott) was on a gimpy ankle. Hopefully, the injury bug is done.”
If the Colonels weren’t facing enough of a challenge, home cooking burned them shortly after halftime.
Brattleboro drilled the kickoff to open the third quarter off Hartford’s Taylor Thompson, who fell on the football at midfield. Ten plays later, Libuda curled in from the 2 for a 27-0 lead.
Terino then hit a kickoff bullet that ricocheted off Brattleboro’s Matt Forrett, which Hartford’s Brett MacLaren recovered. Working junior Tarun Manthena into the backfield mix, the Canes rolled to their final score in a little less than three minutes, with Libuda doing the honors from the 1.
Hartford finished with 389 yards of offense and an 18-8 edge in first downs. But better than that, they finally got a taste of home. It’s a taste they quickly favored.
“There’s nothing like playing here,” Stone said. “It’s just fun to be here and play like that.”
Audibles: Hartford returns to its early-season theme — road trippin’ — with a visit to BFA-St. Albans on Friday, followed by away game at St. Johnsbury on Oct. 5. With the Bobwhites, Rutland and Mount Mansfield all losing on Friday, Hartford could be as high as fourth place in D-I entering next weekend. … Bielecki added 61 yards on four attempts and Rice had 54 on five carries for the Canes. … Shinn completed four of nine passes for 52 yards and an interception. Each team turned the ball over twice. … Hartford’s Terino had plenty of leg on a 30-yard field goal try in the first quarter, but pushed it wide right. … Adam McPhail scored from a yard out with 1:39 left for Brattleboro’s only touchdown.
Greg Fennell can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3218.
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