A Woodstock Three-Peat
With Zack Cole holding, Woodstock freshman kicker Nikolai Davis kicks the game-winning field goal ahead of the block attempt by Mill River's Dan Blanchard in the state championship game on Nov. 9, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock's Zack Cole, left, and Oliver Kaija hold up the team's championship trophy after defeating Mill River 20-19 in overtime on Nov. 9, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock back Sam Cole runs upfield against Mill River in the state championship game held on Nov. 9, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
When it comes to Woodstock football, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
After winning his second straight state title and 9th in his 31-year career at Woodstock, veteran coach Jim McLaughlin announced his retirement at the end of last season. Add to that a graduation class of 10 players — incuding three Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl selections — and the words started rumbling around Vermont that the Wasps could be had this season.
Well, don’t believe everything you hear.
Under first-year head coach Ramsey Worrell, the Wasps are once again sitting atop the Division III mountain, having wrapped up a second straight undefeated season and extending their winning streak to 31 games after last Saturday’s thrilling 20-19 overtime win over Mill River.
In other words, when it comes to Woodstock football, not much has changed at all.
Always a run-first offense, the Wasps returned talented runners in seniors Tom Baumann, Oliver Kaija and Zack Cole leading to the conviction that the Wasps would hardly miss a beat in pounding their way through the competition.
As the season started, Worrell, a former Woodstock running back and linebacker, added to that belief with an ominous warning to the rest of the state. “I don’t think there’s a lot of learning, because all of them played.
“Every back I have has played a lot.”
And it showed. Kaija led the team with 23 TDs and 1,222 yards rushing, while Baumann chipped in with 22 touchdowns and 1,107 yards rushing.
Behind that juggernaut, the Wasps averaged 45 points per game — scoring more than 60 points three times. The team was in such control that they went the entire season without recording one 2-point conversion. Meanwhile, on the kicking front, freshman Nikolai Davis had 56 extra points. Davis also rushed for 347 yards during the year, while twin brothers Zach and Sam Cole rushed for 314 and 359 yards respectively.
To show just how dedicated the Wasps were to their running game, Kaija was the team’s leading receiver with just five receptions.
On the defensive side of the ball, Woodstock allowed just over 12 points per game while shutting out its first three opponents of the year. Their closest games were a 9-point victory over Division II Lyndon (41-32) and an earlier 42-28 win over Mill River.
“We want to have a good regular season and make the playoffs,” said Worrell prior to the opener. “Our goal, always, is to play in that last game.”
His Wasps took care of both of those bucket list items. Seeded first after an 8-0 regular season, Woodstock wiped out Oxbow in the first round of the playoffs, 61-13.
The final score of the 34-0 semifinal win over Otter Valley looked more of a high-scoring game than it actually was. From the trench work of junior Will Gault to the linebacker play of Kaija and the pass coverage of defensive back Chris Flynn, the Wasps controlled play from the defensive side of the ball.
“Certainly this was a defensive game,” said Worrell after the victory. “I didn’t think we’d throw a shutout. I think we played sound defense from all 11 guys.”
Once the offense got in gear, the game was over. Kaija scored twice and rushed for 132 yards; Baumann added 75 yards and Sam Cole had 73 yards and a score.
That victory put the Wasps one game away from a title three peat and a perfect season repeat. They didn’t disappoint.
But it sure wasn’t easy.
Trailing, 13-0 at the half to Mill River, Woodstock rallied for two second half scores — one by Kaija and the other by Cole — to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Mill River put a touchdown on the board, but missed the extra point. Woodstock responded with a Kaija one-yard run on fourth down to tie the score. Then, after a quick, impromtu nerve-calming discussion with his coach, sophomore Davis calmly booted the extra point through the uprights for the win and the title.
“This is a special championship,” said Worrell. “The kids are never going to forget this, and I’m never going to forget this team.”