Canes-Toppers, Act II: Hartford, St. Jay Meet in Title Rematch

  • Colchester High School's Zack Morin (17) gets brought down for a sack by Hartford High School's Mehdi Orogi (56) on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017, during a game between Colchester and Hartford in White River Junction, Vt. Hartford won, 53-13. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

West Lebanon — Teams change over the course of a 2½-month high school football season. Hartford High and St. Johnsbury Academy are about to find out how much in the biggest moment of the campaign.

For the second straight November, the Hurricanes and Hilltoppers will collide in the VPA Division I championship game at Rutland High School. Top-seeded St. Johnsbury (10-0) and No. 2 Hartford (9-1) were only three points apart when the met in their Sept. 1 season opener, a 22-19 Hilltopper win, and they are bound to be different animals when they hit the turf at 5 p.m. this evening.

In the Canes’ corner: offensive versatility. Senior Tyler Hamilton has turned into a dual run-throw threat despite the fact that he hadn’t any significant varsity experience behind center before the year started. He leads the Upper Valley with 1,008 yards through the air, having created a good pitch-catch arrangement with wideout Austin Gaudette (611 receiving yards, six TDs). Kody Rhoads, Nick Porter (team-best 1,025 yards), Hunter Perkins and Zach Burek provide multiple running options, and Hamilton (829 rushing yards) is quite capable of hoofing it when required.

To Hartford’s credit, the Hurricanes have improved areas of early-season weakness. The penalty issues — Hartford had 13 flags for 125 yards in losses in the week 1 defeat — are less of an issue now. As always seems to be the case with coach Matt Trombly’s crew, the offensive and defensive lines that were young and inexperienced in September have become reliable parts of the team come November.

Much of what the Hilltoppers do goes through the arm of Jake Cady, St. Jay’s junior quarterback. Cady has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes this season (152-for-218) for 2,072 yards and 19 touchdowns against just five interceptions. Six-foot-2 senior wideout Jasper Rankin has been his favorite target, with Ranking snagging 59 of those throws for 1,012 yards and 11 TDs. Cady starred in the September win in White River Junction, running for 110 yards and two scores while also throwing 103 yards.

Senior middle linebacker Matthew Roy (team-best 53.5 tackles, sophomore strong safety Nick Guckin and senior outside backer Derek Holbrook front a capable defense. St. Johnsbury held eight of its previous 10 foes to 14 points or fewer en route to an undefeated campaign.

Hartford has stacked up state football championships like so much cordwood over the past three decades. Last November’s 24-14 defeat of St. Jay gave the Canes six crowns since 2007 and a dozen since 1982.

The Hilltoppers are seeking their first VPA football championship a 7-0 defeat of Fair Haven in the 1994 D-II finale. St. Johnsbury also reached the D-I title game in 2014, dropping a 28-7 decision to Middlebury.

— Greg Fennell