A Football Odyssey: Two States, Seven Teams and an Autumn of Fun

Sunday, November 25, 2012
It’s not always easy being a football fan in New England.

Sure, denizens invade the bars and sit on the edge of their sofas to root for the Patriots, and high school teams have their followings, but this is a region where people like the game with lowercase letters — football — while the rest of the nation adores FOOTBALL, in bold, capital letters, surrounded by perky cheerleaders, devoted alumni and raucous marching bands.

Despite this blase attitude, college football is the unquestioned hidden gem of New England sports.

For a decent price, you spend a few hours outdoors, often surrounded by gorgeous scenery, watch football — some of it pretty darn good — and you never know when you might see someone who goes on to the NFL: Jay Fiedler and Casey Cramer (Dartmouth), Corey Graham and Jerry Azumah (New Hampshire), Stephen Hauschka (Middlebury) and Joe Dudek (Plymouth State) are among the northern New England alums who went on to play on Sunday.

There are seven NCAA football teams in New Hampshire and Vermont — Castleton State, Norwich and Middlebury in the Green Mountain State and the University of New Hampshire, Dartmouth, Plymouth State and Saint Anselm in the Granite State. This fall, I hopped into my Toyota, filled up my gas tank several times and watched every one of them play at home, criss-crossing more than 1,000 miles to and from my North Thetford home.

For a limited palette, there’s plenty of diversity in there: Three state schools, two elite private institutions, a Catholic school and a military school. Divisions I, II and III are represented. I saw teams ground-and-pound and air it out. The fans ranged from hybrid-driving hippies to grizzled military men. The oldest program has been around since Chester Arthur was president; the most recent was born during the iPhone/Twitter era.

Maybe these teams aren’t pounded into the consciousness of casual fans, but I discovered enthusiastic crowds, unique traditions and boffo stadiums and campuses.

I rated each team based on the fan experience — parking, stadium, band, etc. Not every school received sterling grades, but believe me when I say I had a blast everywhere I went.

Some random conclusions I drew from my odyssey across this great football landscape:

■ Two stretches of Route 4 — between White River Junction and Rutland, and between Concord and the Seacoast — need to be four lanes, like yesterday.

■ So many organic farms have sprouted up the last few years, I don’t know how they all stay in business.

■ New York license plates outnumber Vermont plates — in Vermont.

But this is a football story. So, strap on your helmet and take part in our little society. You don’t know what you’ve been missing.

Castleton 35, Plymouth St. 7

Sept. 1, Spartan Stadium

Castleton, Vt. — When Castleton State College added football in 2009, the school filled a void created when the University of Vermont cancelled the sport in 1974. For the first time in 35 years, high school players in Vermont had a state-school option to further their gridiron education if they wished to stay close to home.

Just look at the roster. No fewer than 12 players at Castleton are either from the Upper Valley or towns within a tight spiral (Springfield, Bellows Falls). You have to wonder how many would still be playing if it weren’t for Castleton.

And this school goes all out for football. As you walk toward Spartan Stadium, you’re greeted by a parking lot filled with tailgaters, many of whom looked as if they’d been there for hours as they grilled food from their truck beds and chatted from canopy chairs. The stadium itself is pretty amazing, a 5,000-seat jewel with wide concourses, multiple vendors and real restrooms — no port-a-potties here, which is more than what some D-I stadiums can say (UNH, I’m looking in your direction).

A football-hungry, green-and-black crowd of almost 3,000 turned out to watch the small-scale version of the Greatest Show on (Field)Turf on Labor Day weekend. Spartans QB Shane Brozowski, a lanky fireballer who can throw a screen or a long bomb with equal deftness, threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns in a rout of Plymouth State. What made this game fun was the clash in styles — Castleton throws on every down, Plymouth throws as often as the moon changes phases. But as Plymouth discovered, it’s hard to run your way back into the game when you’re down 28-7 at the half.

It was also nice to see so many departed high school stars from the Upper Valley — including Mick Wong (Hartford High running star and now a 5-foot-6 linebacker), Bandon Bergeron (Hartford), Cody TanCreti (Windsor) — shine at the next level.

Leaving the stadium, I noticed some of the tailgaters were back in action — assuming they had ever left to watch the game. The game may have been over, butfor some, the day was just beginning.

Access/Parking: 5. Plenty of spaces, even with a decent crowd.

Stadium: 5. This is Division III? UNH would kill for a stadium this nice. Seating capacity is 5,000, but the slopes on both sides provide for any overflow. No track, so fans are closer to the action. Tickets are $10; pricey for D-III, but definitely worth it.

Concessions: 4. Two different vendors, with a nice variety of food, including pulled-pork sandwiches and homemade fries. Game-time temps were in the 80s, and everyone was out of water by the start of the third quarter.

Band/Cheerleaders: 3.5. Small, but energetic. They shed their hot, bulky outfits after halftime for green caps and T-shirts. Best part was when they played Jaws theme whenever Plymouth faced fourth down. Halftime show was kinda short, which was understandable considering the heat.

Game Program: 5. A thick yearbook with plenty of stats and pictures, all for $3.

Fans: 4. A very State-U crowd: Middle-class, enthusiastic, unpretentious and happy that football season was here.

The Team: 4. Castleton is an entertaining team, and a slew of Upper Valley natives gives the roster some familiar names.

Campus/Town: 3.5. Plenty of brick buildings, and Castleton seems like a nice town.

Final Rating: 4.5. If you want a super-concentrated version of the classic college football experience, Castleton is your place. With this program, the Spartans scored a TD on their first possession.

Fun Fact: Castleton was founded in 1787, making it Vermont’s oldest college.

Fun Spot: A slope on the visitors’ side features hedges that spell out “CASTLETON.”

Norwich 20, WPI 3

Sept. 15, Sabine Field

Northfield, Vt. — After watching my first game at the only military school on my autumn journey, I can’t think of Norwich football without thinking about the Corps of Cadets, who make game day unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

Donning white hats, white shirts and bayonets, they march onto the field before the game as the band strikes up a tune. Later, they dash toward the Sabine Field entrance — located behind one of the end zones — while engaged in the world’s longest “CHAAAAAARGE” chant.

Next, they line up in two rows as the 100-strong Norwich team storms onto the field through the main gate.

But the best is saved for after the opening kickoff. The Corps of Cadets line up and stand behind each end zone, two massive white waves that shout encouragement to the home team — or derisive remarks toward the visitors, in today’s case Worcester Polytechnic Institute. At times, they perform pushups to keep themselves warm — with the temperature around 60 degrees and a stiff breeze, autumn was announcing its presence.

The military atmosphere is front and center at Norwich, as reflected in the homecoming crowd of 5,150 — which beats two 2011 Dartmouth crowds and one UNH gathering from last year. The fans expect old-school, smash-em-up football, and were upset at the referee when he flagged a Norwich player 15 yards for an open-field hit on a defenseless receiver — even as the player was being chewed out by the coach in full view of the fans.

As befitting for an older, more conservative fanbase, Norwich relies on running and defense, and both grabbed the moment in a fairly easy win over WPI. The halftime score was 6-0, thanks to a TD by the Cadets’ Matt Simonelli — a 240-pound defensive lineman who scooped up a loose ball and rumbled 44 yards toward the end zone.

Norwich operated out of the shotgun, with four wideouts and no tight end, almost like a 1980s run-and-shoot — only without the shoot. Shifty QB Kris Sabourin ran for 104 yards and running back Danny Triplett, at Sabourin’s side on almost every play, ran for 147 yards and two TDs.

Parking: 1. Had to hunt for a space, but homecoming — a HUGE deal at this school — was likely a factor.

Stadium: 2.5. Typical D-III stadium: A big grandstand on one side of the field and small bleachers on the other. Majestic entranceway. Tickets were $5 for any seat in the house.

Concessions: 2.5. One vendor, with standard ballpark fare. Pizza was hot ’n fresh.

Band/Cheerleaders: 4. It’s a military band, so it better be good. And it was.

Program: 1.5. Simple four-page sheet with roster and notes. But it was free with the ticket.

Fans: 4. 5,000 for a D-III game? Wow. Fans were older and more conservative, as you’d expect for Norwich … until the opening whistle. Then they really got into the game. Definitely the most passionate in Vermont.

The Team: 3. It took a while for Norwich to get its running game going, but everything was clicking by the third quarter.

Campus/Town: 5. Drop-dead gorgeous, with well-maintianed, Ivy-coated buildings.

Final rating: 4. A solid, enjoyable Division III football experience, topped with a killer pregame show.

Fun Fact: Norwich, which first fielded a football team in 1893, plays in the eight-team Eastern Collegiate Football Conference. None of the other schools in the league had a football team 15 years ago.

Fun Spot: An anchor behind one of the end zones is dedicated to all Norwich alums who served in the Navy or U.S. Marine Corps since 1919.

Middlebury 42, Bowdoin 18

Sept. 22, Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium

Middlebury, Vt. — One step into Middlebury College’s Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium and you get the sensation that everything’s gonna be alright.

First of all, Alumni Stadium has the most gorgeous backdrop of any sports venue I’ve ever seen. During breaks in the action — and even during the action — it’s very easy to be distracted by the Green Mountains and the endless Vermont woods. Not surprisingly, the background scenery is played up on the inside cover of the team’s program.

The fans are generally mellow and laid-back. They leisurely walk in and out of the stadium (admission is free). Tailgaters camp out on the green in front of the stadium, chatting and sipping wine. (By the way, nothing says college football like a large During halftime, fans walk out, do some more tailgating, then return for the second-half kickoff, often feeling a little more spirited. Spectators are frequently accompanied by their well-behaved dogs.

A good natured public-address announcer filled the lack of band or cheerleaders with some cheeky commentary:

■ After a loooong conference between the officials: “Whatever happened, it’s third and 9.”

■ After a penalty that caused a shower of yellow laundry to cascade the field: “Now we have a gaggle of flags on the field.”

■ As kids played ball on field at halftime: “Our teams will be returning soon, so we have to ask for an end to this fine halftime show.”

He also balanced the levity with plenty of information. He delivered scores for other Middlebury events and NESCAC football games, something you often don’t see at other sporting events, especially in the iPhone age.

Middlebury quarterback McCallum Foote got off to a sluggish start, with several passes going over or behind his receivers. But he soon settled down and threw for 285 yards and five TDs in a 42-18 season-opening romp of Bowdoin. (One way NESCAC emulates the Ivies: Its season starts a few weeks after everyone else’s. Heck, Middlebury’s season opener happened a week after Norwich’s Homecoming game).

Parking: 4. Fairly easy … Even easier if you park farther from the stadium.

Stadium: 4. Breathtaking location makes up for hard cement steps that double as seats. Bring a cushion! Admission was free.

Concessions: 1. I was given incorrect change for a stale hot dog and bottled water, and the woman got uptight when I told her I paid with a $10 instead of a $5.

Band/Cheerleaders: 2. No band, cheerleaders nor halftime show. This would be a fail at other schools, but it somehow fits in well with the laid-back atmosphere here.

Program: 5. A big fat book for only $3, chock-full of articles celebrating Middlebury’s long football history.

Fans: 4. Very laid back.

The Team: 4. NESCAC football is a half-level above what you’ll see in other D-III leagues in New England. The players are a little bigger and faster. It’s not D-I, but the difference is noticeable.

Campus/Town: 4. I’ve been to Middlebury many times, and it has yet to disappoint. I’m ashamed I didn’t do dinner at the Waybury Inn, but at least I hit Monroe Street Books.

Final Rating: 4. If you’re looking for a mellow, but enjoyable experience — not to mention some quality football — this is the place. If you go to a game, you may want to call up some Eagles or Jackson Browne on your iPhone.

Neat Spot: The bronze statue of the Middlebury Panther next to the stadium. According to the team’s website, it “rests upon a great glacial boulder, supposedly the largest single piece of stone moved in Vermont since the Ice Age.”

Neat Fact: Former Middlebury kicker Steven Hauschka now plies his trade for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

UNH 34, Delaware 14

Sept. 29, Cowell Stadium

Durham, N.H. — Let’s just get this out of the way: Cowell Stadium is not a pleasant place. OK, that might be too nice a remark; it’s a dump.

Cowell Stadium is hidden behind UNH’s Lundholm Gymnasium, almost as if the school’s ashamed of the place (it probably is). You have to trudge through a narrow hallway inside the field house to access the stadium. The paint is peeling everywhere. At a game I attended last year, one of the crossbars was tilted to the left, and someone used a rope to pull down the right end of the bar and balance the goal post every time a team attempted a field goal or an extra point. Thanks to a track, the field looks a mile away, even if you have front-row seats. Port-a-potties line the place.

Yet amazing things happen every fall at this forsaken facility. If the Boston Red Sox epitomize a team that does less with more, UNH epitomizes a team that does more with less.

Despite a poor stadium and a shoestring budget, the Wildcats have reached eight straight NCAA Football Championship Subdivision tournaments and are likely headed to their ninth this year. How coach Sean McDonnell does it is beyond me, but from Labor Day through Thanksgiving, he performs a weekly miracle.

On this day, my first stop on the Granite State swing of my journey, 7,000 or so enthusiasts turned out to watch UNH manhandle Delaware, ranked in the FCS top 10 heading into the game. One week after serving up 64 points in a loss to Old Dominion, the Wildcats’ defense — coached by former Dartmouth head man John Lyons — allowed only 14 to the Fightin’ Blue Hens, seven in garbage time.

What Penn State was to linebackers and USC was to tailbacks, UNH is to quarterbacks. Sophomore Andy Vailas, a Bedford, N.H., native threw for 315 yards and two TDs on this day — and he’s the backup. He took over in Week 2 when starter Sean Goldrich was injured. Both appear to be worthy successors to recent Wildcat passing stars Ricky Santos, R.J. Toman and Kevin Decker.

Both of Valais’ TD were caught by R.J. Harris — who had seven catches for 139 yards and made it look easy even though he battled double coverage all day — as UNH scored 34 straight points after trailing 7-0 at the half. He also ran for 34 yards and another score. Another day at the office for one of FCS’ elite.

If only the Wildcats could do something about that stadium.

Parking: 3. Plenty of spaces, but it costs $10 to park. Welcome to Division I.

Stadium: 1.5. Cowell’s deficiencies are well known, but there’s a new scoreboard, sound system and goal posts. Tickets are pricey, especially if you order online (God bless Ticketmaster).

Concessions: 4. Plenty of vendors and a decent variety. I recommend the French fries that are cut right in front of you while you wait for your order.

Program: 2. Three dollars for a flimsy six-page foldout? Yeesh. There’s also a thicker team yearbook for $7.

Band: 5. I know it’s unfair to compare a D-I band to D-II or D-III, but this was by far the best band I saw all fall.

Fans: 3.5. Gripe time: Fans were still pouring into the stadium during the second quarter, violating my first edict of sports fandom: If you can’t be there at game time, don’t be there at all. Still, good crowd.

The Team: 5. The best football you’ll see above the Massachusetts border.

Campus/Town: 4. UNH and Durham blend very well together.

Final Rating: 4. The high quality of the team overcomes the high prices and poor stadium.

Neat Spot: The classy banners hanging from outside Lundholm Gymnasium (which serves as the back wall for the home grandstand) celebrating the team’s retired numbers, great coaches and league titles.

Neat Fact: The field is named for former UNH athletic director Andy Mooradian, who was also the Wildcats’ coach for a season — he went 0-8 in 1965.

Saint Anselm 48, Pace 21

Oct. 13, Grappone Stadium

Manchester — In a region dominated by NCAA Division I or Division III schools, Division II football is one of those things you’ve heard about, but you wonder if it really exists, and you almost want to go to one of those urban legends websites to see if it’s for real.

Rest assured it exists at Saint Anselm, which revived football in 1998 after a 57-year absence, but has had only one winning season to show for it. St. A is the wild card of this football journey: It’s the only D-II school, the only Catholic school and the only one that plays most of its home games at night. The homecoming game against Pace I attended was the only daytime outing on the Hawks’ four-game home slate.

Although D-II, which offers partial athletic scholarships, would suggest a higher quality of play, that’s not the case heading into this one: Saint Anselm and its opponent, Pace, sported matching 0-6 records, and either team would have had its hands full with Middlebury. But that didn’t stop this game from being entertaining, if erratic (seven combined turnovers).

The Hawks’ Keith Charles ran a kickoff back for a TD, but St. A also fumbled two punt return attempts. In the end, Saint Anselm rolled to its first victory of the year, with help from 267 rushing yards (119 by Charles), a fake punt, a fumble return for a TD and a fake extra-point attempt in the fourth quarter that morphed into a 2-point conversion, although the game was well in hand at that point.

Although it was homecoming, there appeared to be very few alums who came home among the announced crowd of 1,204. (Perhaps St. A needs to borrow a page from Norwich’s playbook on how to hold a homecoming.)

Grappone Stadium is one of the nicer facilities I’ve encountered on this journey. A little more atmosphere (band, cheerleaders) and a few more wins could make this place rock all night.

Access/Parking: 5. Plenty of spaces for everyone.

Stadium: 4.5. Grappone Stadium is very nice, although the area underneath the grandstand that houses the concession and souvenir stands lacks a ceiling, and insulation is visible throughout. Seven bucks gets you any seat in the house, including the nice hard-back chairs at the 50-yard-line.

Concessions: 4. Pretty simple fare, but grilled hot dogs and burgers always rule. Most fans were armed with coffee or hot chocolate on a 50-degree day.

Band/Cheerleaders: 1. No band. A dance team arrived, performed a brief halftime show, then vanished.

Game Program: 2. A four-page foldout, but it was only a buck.

Fans: 2.5. Parents, students and little else for a homecoming game. Tailgating was minimal.

The Team: 2.5. Wins have been few and far between for the Hawks, but they soared on this day.

Campus/Town: 4. A beautiful campus, and Manchester is the center of the universe — just ask anyone who lives there.

Final rating: 3. It’s not the first place I’d go to watch a football game, but there’s definitely some potential here.

Fun Fact: Saint Anselm plays in the Northeast-10 Conference, which has 16 teams, including eight football-playing members. Clearly, the league’s forefathers took their math lessons at a Big 10 school.

Neat Spot: Just outside the stadium sits a big stone head, fittingly marked “Stone Head.” It was once mounted on the facade of the New Hampshire state theater in Manchester and donated to the school in 1984.

Western N.E. 23, Plymouth St. 3

Oct. 20, Currier Field

Holderness, N.H. — How many programs have had a roller coaster history like Plymouth State’s? The Panthers have experienced the highest of highs (eight straight New England Football Conference titles from 1981-88) and the lowest of lows (a 1-28 record from 2002-04, including back-to-back winless seasons and 12 shutout losses).

These are not the rosiest of times for PSU, as evidenced by the two times I saw the Panthers in action this season. But if a program can peel itself up from the football dregs to go 33-10 from 2007-10, it can certainly bounce back from its current rut.

Plymouth’s ground-and-pound attack, which struggled against Castleton on opening day, had more problems, mustering only 159 yards of offense in a loss to Western New England, which scored 20 second-half points after a 3-3 halftime deadlock. (By the way, this was first game I attended this fall in which the home team lost.)

PSU’s Ray Boulay, a speedy punt returner from Keene, N.H., is one of the more exciting players I’ve seen this fall, and linebacker Josh Morgan made 11 tackles, all solo. The Panthers executed a couple of nice razzle-dazzle plays in attempt to breathe some life into a struggling offense: a fake-punt pass by punter Nick Cavallo, and a 31-yard halfback option pass by Andrew Foglia (which gave him the most passing yards of any Panther passer).

A few words about penalties: There were 15 of them on this day. Do you ever notice that when the home team is penalized, the fans yell, “let ’em play!” at the officials, and when the visitors are hit for the same infraction, the fans tell the zebras to start studying the rulebook? This was the second time I saw this phenomenon this fall, Norwich being the first.

The biggest strengths of Plymouth State (and I’ll admit to being fond of this place, having covered oodles of NHIAA playoff games here years ago): 1. It does for New Hampshire what Castleton does for Vermont, give in-state kids a viable post-high school football option. 2. Its history. No program on my tour, not UNH in the last decade, not even Dartmouth in the leather helmet days, has ever had a run like PSU’s in the 1980s, complete with an honest-to-god Heisman Trophy candidate (Joe Dudek). You can’t help but get jazzed up by the photos and records splashed throughout the yearbook, and you can’t help but think that if the Panthers did this before, they can do it again.

Access/Parking: 4. You can park at the stadium for $10, or park across the street at the hockey arena for free. Do yourself a favor and get some exercise while saving some money.

Stadium: 1.5. Rickety wooden bleachers that were subject to derision from fans at the game I attended. “When I win the Powerball, I’m going to donate stands,” one fan cracked. It’s no wonder several fans sat in lawn chairs behind the south end zone. Admission is $5.

Concessions: 3. Basic stuff, but everything was reasonably priced. The people behind the counter were the friendliest I’ve encountered.

Band/Cheerleaders: 2. No cheerleaders. Small, informal pep band was charming.

Game Program: 4. An eight-page foldout cost $1, and a thicker team yearbook was $2. The yearbook is loaded with photos and info celebrating PSU’s rich football history.

Fans: 2.5. A cross between Castleton and Norwich — passionate, older state-U fans.

The Team: 1.5. The Panthers have seen better days, but they’ve also seen worse days.

Campus/Town: 3. The town and campus are nice, although everything seems condensed, almost like a city school squeezed into a classic college town.

Final Rating: 2. Not the most exciting experience, but a winning team and a packed stadium can change things in a hurry.

Fun Fact: According to the terrific cfbdatawarehouse.com website, Plymouth’s first football team in 1924 played Lebanon High — and lost 40-0. Plymouth’s next team hit the field in 1970.

Neat Spot: A small rock behind the south end zone is graced with a plaque honoring Chares L. Currier, a Plymouth State coach and administrator from the 1970s for whom the field is named.

Brown 28, Dartmouth 24

Nov. 3, Memorial Field

Hanover — And so we end ... at the beginning.

One reason I was excited to join the Valley News in 2003 was the chance to live in an area with a Division I team in my backyard. Especially one with a football team. My first few autumns in the Upper Valley were dotted with frequent trips to Memorial Field to watch Dartmouth take on the likes of Harvard and UNH.

Alas, the Big Green’s frequent losses took their toll as the novelty wore off, and I stopped going to games after the 2006 season. When you’ve fallen behind Lee Corso on the entertainment scale, that’s not a good sign.

But that was then, and the Big Green is at least competitive, if not quite the Green Machine of yore. There was a little more optimism in the air than at my last game six years ago, although Dartmouth suffered a come-from-ahead loss to Brown, which scored two TDs in the fourth quarter to snuff out the Green’s slight Ivy title hopes. It’s scary to think how good quarterback Dalyn Williams is going to be in a couple years. He might be the one to lead Dartmouth out of its Ivy League title drought which is approaching two decades.

Memorial Field has improved by leaps and bounds over the last decade; the Floren Varsity House and the smaller visitor’s section give the place a sense of intimacy while still giving off that Division I FCS feel.

Dartmouth has, by far, the best game-day atmosphere of any team on my journey. There’s just this excitement around town you don’t experience anywhere else, especially now that the team is decent. There’s something about walking down Main Street in Hanover and watching the Dartmouth band perform near the bookstore, gathering a crowd of fans standing in the middle of the street and not caring that they’re holding up traffic.

There’s definitely a throwback atmosphere to a Dartmouth game, especially when you factor in the short season (10 games, one fewer than most FCS teams) and lack of postseason play. Where else will you see fans proudly wearing hats with “CLASS OF 1950” on the front?

The only thing missing on this day was a Keggy sighting (On a cold day, a cold drink might not be popular?), but there’s always next year.

Parking: 3. Little parking at the stadium, but Dartmouth Medical School a quarter-mile away offers plenty of spaces, complete with shuttle-bus transportation.

Stadium: 5. Memorial Field reeks of history so much, you almost expect to see old coaches Bob Blackman or Red Blaik prowling the sidelines. As a Vermont resident, my ticket was a mere $5 thanks to a gameday promotion.

Program: 4. Plenty of articles and info for only $1. Funny, the same program was $3 six years ago.

Concessions: 4. Three different vendors, all with decent variety. Hot drinks were gone by third quarter on a 40-degree day.

Band/Cheerleaders: 4. Sure, the antics are silly, but the band knows how to carry a tune. In a shocking upset, the cheerleaders were the best of any team on this odyssey.

Team: 3. See Plymouth State comment.

Campus/Town: 4.5. Read above.

Fans: 4. 3,400 on a 40-degree day isn’t too bad. Team drew 10,000 for Harvard a couple weeks earlier. Fans are older, passionate, loyal.

Overall: 4. Having a Division I team in your backyard is a privilege, not a right.

Neat Spot: A large plaque in the stadium’s entrance, entitled “The Laureled Sons of Dartmouth,” honors the school’s World War I veterans.

Neat Fact: At 16,000, Memorial Field has the highest seating capacity of any outdoor team sports facility in northern New England.

Unofficial Postseason Awards

Most Bizarre In-Game Entertainment (tie): 1) At UNH, two fans participated in a contest, sponsored by an area bakery chain, in which they caught a loaf of bread from a UNH mascot in the end zone and had to perform a touchdown celebration; the winner was the one judged by fans to have a superior celebration. In this case, it was fan who Gronked his bread by spiking it onto the Wildcat turf. 2) At Saint Anselm, two campus service groups engaged in a tug-of-war at halftime.

Oddest Sight: The woman selling 50/50 tickets a the Norwich game with a tiny dog poking its head from the front of her jacket.

Worst Officiating: At Saint Anselm, the zebras gave a first down to Pace, even though the Setters were a good 3 yards shy of the marker. Later, a St. A pick-six was waved off because of an inadvertent whistle.

Best Fake-Out Play: By the Saint Anselm players, who lined up in front of the fans after their win to sing the school’s alma mater — which also played over the PA system — only no one knew the words. They compensated by holding their helmets high and smiling.

Best TD Celebration: At UNH, a pair of gentlemen in Revolutionary War gear fired a cannon after a Wildcat score. Considering how many points the Cats score, one wonders if the minutemen have ever run out of ammo.

Prettiest (and Ugliest) Drive: Routes 25 and 25A to Plymouth State offered gorgeous foliage — clogged by campaign signs.

Most Unique Custom: At the Middlebury game, the PA announcer asked all military veterans in the stands to stand up and be recognized. Later in the game, he asked the same of all former Middlebury and Bowdoin players.

Best Catch: By the author, after a Vermont National Guard towel landed in my lap after it was tossed by a Castleton cheerleader.

Best Helmets (tie): Dartmouth and Middlebury. The “D on the front of the Big Green helmet is a classic, and so is Middlebury’s Michigan-style striping.


Castleton: The Spartans finished 7-4 and reached the ECAC Northwest Bowl. QB Shane Brozowski ended the season with 3,291 passing yards, a New England Division III record, and his favorite target, Brandon Boyle, set school records with 96 catches, 1,533 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns.

Middlebury: The Panthers finished 7-1, second in NESCAC. Receiver Zach Driscoll set school career marks in receptions (172), yards (2,257) and touchdowns (29). QB McCallum Foote continued to light up the scoreboard and set a school and NESCAC season record with 31 TD passes.

Norwich: The Cadets finished 7-3 (4-2 in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference) and lost to Endicott in the ECAC North Atlantic Bowl. QB Kris Sabourin became Norwich’s all-time leader in TD passes. Late in the season, the school broke ground on Sabine Field renovations.

New Hampshire: Another year, another NCAA playoff berth for the Wildcats (8-3, 6-2 CAA), their ninth straight, and they visit Wofford in the NCAA tourney next weekend. Playing in a time-share, QBs Andy Valais and Sean Goldrich combined for 26 TDs and six intereptions. WR R.J. Harris led the CAA in receiving yards (981) and was one of 11 UNH players named all-CAA.

St. Anselm: One week after defeating Pace, the Hawks served up 81 points in a loss at Merrimack and finished with a 2-8 record. QB Andrew Murphy threw for 612 yards and seven TDs in a season-ending win over Seton Hill (not to be confused with Seton Hall). Justin Bernard had 87 catches for 1,036 yards and 14 TDs.

Plymouth: The Spartans lost their final five games to end at 2-8, 1-6 in the New England Football Conference’s Boyd Division. Andrew Foglia’s 820 rushing yards led PSU’s ground attack. The Spartans are leaving the NEFC for the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference in 2013.

Dartmouth: The Big Green bounced back to defeat Princeton in its season finale to finish 6-4, its third season of .500 or better. QB Dalyn Williams was selected Ivy League rookie of the year.

Dave Bailey can be reached dbailey@vnews.com or 603-727-3218.

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