P/sunny
75°
P/sunny
Hi 74° | Lo 52°

Canes Bounce On

Hartford Thumps Essex; Rematch With Middlebury Next

  • Hartford quarterback Greg Shinn takes advantage of an opening in the Essex defense during their game in White River Junction, Friday, October 25, 2013. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Hartford quarterback Greg Shinn takes advantage of an opening in the Essex defense during their game in White River Junction, Friday, October 25, 2013.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cameron Gaudette of Hartford is on his mark as Cody Greene of Essex makes a catch in White River Junction, Friday, October 25, 2013. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Cameron Gaudette of Hartford is on his mark as Cody Greene of Essex makes a catch in White River Junction, Friday, October 25, 2013.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford quarterback Greg Shinn takes advantage of an opening in the Essex defense during their game in White River Junction, Friday, October 25, 2013. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Cameron Gaudette of Hartford is on his mark as Cody Greene of Essex makes a catch in White River Junction, Friday, October 25, 2013. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

White River Junction — Already down 20-0 as the first quarter of last night’s Vermont Division I football quarterfinal was about to expire, Essex slotback Cody Greene stretched all he could to get the Hornets’ offense going.

On a third-and-10 from the Essex 49-yard line, Greene stepped back from his spot on the right side of the line to receive a screen pass from quarterback Brendan Gleason, but the throw was out of his leaping reach. That’s when Hartford defensive end Taylor Thompson introduced himself with a helmet to Greene’s sternum, driving the receiver to the Hartford High School turf with enough violence to draw a gasp from the home crowd.

After a beat, Greene bounced up and returned to the game. It was one of the few bounces that went the fifth-seeded Hornets’ way in a 46-14 loss to the fourth-ranked Hurricanes on Friday night.

If there was a bounce to be had, it generally went Hartford’s way. Three simple trap plays turned into three long runs for Hurricane fullback John Bielecki on an eventual 201-yard rushing night. The junior fumbled the football twice, but it ricocheted right back into Hartford hands both times, including his own once.

The Hartford defense intercepted Essex passes twice, including one that bounced off two Canes before settling unexpectedly into linebacker Justin Loseby’s hands. And the Hurricanes bounced all over Essex’s defense, building a 46-0 lead before turning the game over to the bench.

“We played OK,” Hartford coach Mike Stone said. “Execution-wise, our offensive line is doing a pretty good job now. We’ve got backs doing what they’re supposed to do, we’re blocking well and the split ends are doing their job.

“It took us a long time for our offensive line to actually have three or four weeks where they were together. We always had some injuries that required kids to move from one spot to another, and you just never jell. In this offense, you really need that.”

The Canes (6-2 league, 7-2 overall) visit No. 1 Middlebury in next Friday’s semifinals. The Tigers — who routed No. 8 St. Johnsbury, 48-6, in their tournament opener — blanked Hartford 23-0 on Sept. 6 to end the Hurricanes’ 27-game winning streak.

Stone didn’t need to ride one horse to victory, and he largely hasn’t had to rely on one back in any game this year. While Bielecki (two touchdowns) got the yards this time, Patrick Libuda (three TDs) and Nolan Viens (two TDs) also scored for Hartford, which rushed 59 times for 400 yards.

“I just keep reading what’s ahead of me, read my lead blockers and I go,” Bielecki said. “If I see some open field, I’m gone.”

Essex (5-4 league and overall) could attest to that right off the bat.

A simple trap play proved to be Bielecki’s best friend. Stone called it on Hartford’s first play from scrimmage, a 34-yard Bielecki gallop that set up a 2-yard Libuda TD halfway through the first quarter. Stone signaled for it again on the second play of the Hurricanes’ next drive; Bielecki hauled the handoff 42 yards deep into Essex territory. The junior drew the next three calls as well, capping the march with a 7-yard score and a 14-0 lead.

“It has a lot of do with how people are trying to stop us,” Stone said. “Last week (a 49-14 win over Rutland), we were able to run the ball off-tackle very well. (Essex) came out in a defense that obviously was prepared to shut down the off-tackle area, and we tried to use the same look and give the ball to the fullback, essentially. It’s pretty basic.”

So is the notion of turning opponents’ mistakes into points.

When the Hornets’ Elliot Boutin fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Hartford marched to a 20-0 lead on a 26-yard Viens dash. Punting following Thompson’s pancake of Greene, the Hornets had no answer for a seven-play, 78-yard Hurricane march that included a 60-yard Greg Shinn pass to Nick Terino and ended with a 1-yard Libuda TD run.

Lineman Patrick McGrath blocked an Essex punt for another change of possession, and Loseby picked off backup quarterback Joey Robertson just before halftime on a throw that McGrath tipped and Shinn popped into the air before Loseby made the grab. Bielecki put the game out of reach with a 59-yard dash on another trap play to open the third quarter, Libuda danced from a yard out for his third score and Viens converted a fourth down for a 13-yard TD to start the fourth for the rest of the Canes’ offense.

The win extended Hartford’s bounce back from a surprise 19-18 defeat at St. Johnsbury three weeks ago and sets up a semifinal rematch with Middlebury that Stone is pleased to get.

“The amount of road games we’ve had this year, it’s just another game for us,” Stone joked. “Get on the bus and travel.”

Expect a little more bounce in Hartford’s step until then.

Audibles: Hartford knocked Gleason, the Hornets’ staring QB, out of the game late in the second quarter as he completed a short pass. Gleason returned two plays later but yielded QB duties to Robertson the rest of the night. … Viens rushed for 69 yards, and Libuda added 51 to leave him just 13 yards shy of 1,000 for the year. … Brett MacLaren earned the recovery of Boutin’s kick return fumble. Dylan Rice made a leaping interception of Robertson for the Hornets’ third turnover. … Terino was 4-for-7 on PAT kicks for the Canes. … Robertson was 8-for-15 for 116 yards and a TD to Greene in relief of Gleason. Robertson also scored on a 2-yard run for Essex.

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