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Green Mountain Three-Peat: Vermont Wins Third Straight Shrine Game

  • Vermont's Seth Balch (14), of Windsor, runs in first quarter against New Hampshire's Michael Staiger (58), of Hanover, during Saturday's Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl in Castleton, Vt. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Vermont's Seth Balch, of Windsor, gets the crowd to yell louder at the conclusion of Saturday's Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl in Castleton, Vt. Vermont won, 24-13, for its third straight victory in the series. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • New Hampshire's Michael Staiger, left, of Hanover, tries to catch Vermont's Seth Balch, of Windsor, during Saturday's Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl in Castleton, Vt. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Vermont's Dakota Page, of Windsor, tries to get a pass that was knocked loose by New Hampshire's Richard Sullivan (10), of Bishop Brady, in the second half of Saturday's Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl in Castleton, Vt. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Vermont's Jake Tucker, Windsor, celebrates his team's 24-13 win over New Hampshire in Saturday's Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl in Castleton, Vt. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Vermont coach Greg Balch, of Windsor, talks to his team at just as the game is ready to start during Saturday's Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl in Castleton, Vt. (Rick Russell photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, August 05, 2018

Castleton, Vt. — All Windsor High quarterback Seth Balch seems to do is win football games. Saturday’s Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl at Castleton University was no different, with a major assist from an All-State talent from 15 minutes up the road.

Tyler Hamilton, the Hartford High quarterback and reigning Gatorade Player of the Year, was unleashed at running back in the second half, turning Vermont stagnant offensive push into a dynamic, multi-dimensional force in a 24-13 win over New Hampshire at the 65th Shrine Game at Spartan Stadium.

He finished the game with 15 carries and 67 yards after halftime — both team highs, with six for first downs — and extended the Green Mountain state’s dominance in the annual All-Star showcase to three straight years.

“That first half was kind of frustrating on offense, honestly,” said Hamilton, who is headed to Bates College to play football and baseball this fall. “But I knew our offensive line was doing well, I could see it the whole game. We just weren’t hitting the holes as hard as we wanted to. Coach (Greg) Balch came over to me during the game and said, ‘Hey, you run for me?’ I said, ‘Yes sir. Whatever you need, I can do it.’ ”

“I’m just glad we continued the winning streak. It’s great for Vermont,” he added. “All these boys are my brothers. All throughout the week, we’ve become really close. It’s a great win for us.”

Vermont outscored New Hampshire 18-6 in the last two quarters, keeping New Hampshire’s defense on the field for nearly the entire half. Vermont out-possessed the Granite State, 18:29 to 5:31, after halftime, thanks in large part to the Balch-Hamilton Upper Valley duo.

The win also let Vermont head coach Greg Balch, Seth’s father and the bench boss at Windsor, off the hook. Vermont has outscored New Hampshire, 93-15, over the last three years. Balch admitted earlier in the week that he’d been made aware that he was the first Vermont head coach in the last several decades to go into Shrine Game with the pressure of a winning streak.

“(Now) it’s someone else’s problem,” Coach Balch said.

It took a while for Vermont to find its offensive groove, making costly first-half mistakes that gave their Twin State opponents a halftime lead.

New Hampshire entered the game having scored two points over their last two contests, both lopsided losses in favor on Vermont. The team changed that on Saturday, when it made Vermont pay for an early turnover — a fumble by Bellows Falls’ Shane Clark on Vermont’s third play of the afternoon — with a 29-yard touchdown run from Hollis-Brookline’s Matt Simco. It was New Hampshire’s first touchdown in three years, a mere 2 minutes and 13 seconds into the first quarter.

Vermont’s Jay McCoy (Burr & Burton) answered in later in the quarter, picking off a pass from New Hampshire quarterback Mike McAlister (Londonderry) and returning it 35 yards for the score. New Hampshire’s quarterback duo — McAlister and Bow’s Matt Harkins — were picked off three times in the loss.

But Vermont’s offense stalled in the second quarter, managing only nine yards on seven plays before Balch hit Mount Anthony’s Will Fischer with a little more than a minute left in the half. New Hampshire led, 7-6 at halftime with Rutland’s Jared Miglorie missed the extra point.

“Early, we were getting a lot of pressure against their offense,” said New Hampshire coach Patrick Riberdy, of Winnisquam High. “That kind of threw our offense out of sync a little bit. … If we could have made a few key blocks and kept the running going, they came with pressure and we didn’t respond real well.”

After halftime, Vermont went to work. It scored on all three second-half possessions, led on the ground by a combined 126 rushing yards on 28 carries by Hamilton and Balch.

“You know what? We didn’t do a whole lot differently (in the second half),” Greg Balch said. “We talked about changing a lot of things but we said, ‘You know what? We’re moving the ball. We’re just not finishing drives.’ Our line felt confident that they could keep getting New Hampshire off the ball. We didn’t change a lot. If you look at it, if anything, we probably got a little bit simpler in the second half, if anything. But we made a couple of nice plays when it counted.”

Vermont took the lead, 12-7, with 5:08 left in the third quarter, with McCoy finishing off a 13-play, 58 yard drive over 6:02 with a wildcat play from 10 yards out. Balch added to it on Vermont’s next possession with 7:29 left in the fourth quarter, faking a handoff to Hamilton before driving left to the pylon from three yards away. Balch scored again in with 1:14 remaining, diving for the end zone to put the game away.

“That’s where it hurt us,” Riberdy said of his team’s second half. “We had a few injuries with depth but we got moved around early, couldn’t handle the pressure and it wore us down.”

Balch finished the game 2-for-9 in the air with 51 passing yards and 59 rushing yards on 13 carries. He finished his varsity career having gone undefeated in back-to-back VPA Division III football championship seasons at Windsor. Balch is headed to Keene State College this fall to play baseball.

Against New Hampshire, with Hamilton as his running back, Vermont’s best looked unstoppable.

“That was the plan all along was to play Tyler as a running back,” Greg Balch said. “We didn’t want to put him in there from the start playing both ways. We wanted to save him as long as we could.

Notes: Hartford’s Kody Rhodes made one carry for minus-four yards for Vermont. Hamilton also finished the game with an interception, playing both free safety and running back for all of the second half. … Windsor’s Dakota Page was credited with two tackles playing linebacker for Vermont. … Hanover’s Graham Penfield made one solo tackle and assisted on another for New Hampshire in the loss. Marauder teammate Michael Staiger made four assisted tackles. … Announced attendance at Spartan Stadium was 5,229. … The game was delayed an hour for a passing thunderstorm, forcing fans to evacuate the stadium until the lightning strikes cleared. Kickoff was at 6:55 p.m. ... Vermont last won three straight games in 1975-77.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.