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Hartford Grinds It Out in Title Game Rematch

  • Hartford High quarterback Cole Jasmin, left, tumbles into the end zone for a fourth-quarter touchdown in the Hurricanes’ 35-33 VPA Division I football win over St. Johnsbury on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in St. Johnsbury, Vt. Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Greg Fennell

  • Hartford High running back Nick Porter (11) reaches for the goal line to score a touchdown in front of St. Johnsbury defender Shawn Guckin, center, with 2½ minutes to play in the Hurricanes’ 35-33 VPA Division I football win over the Hilltoppers in St. Johnsbury, Vt., on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Greg Fennell

  • Hartford High running back Nick Porter (11) takes a hit from St. Johnsbury’s Jacob Lacaillade, bottom, during the second quarter of the Hurricanes’ 35-33 VPA Division I football win over St. Johnsbury on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in St. Johnsbury, Vt. Porter finished the day with 205 yards and a touchdown. Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Greg Fennell

  • Hartford High lineman Nick Cameron, left, pats running back Reece Thompson (46) on the shoulder as the Hurricanes celebrate a 35-33 VPA Division I football win over St. Johnsbury on Saturday in St. Johnsbury, Vt. Valley News — Greg Fennell

  • Hartford High quarterback Cole Joslin (13) turns to hand the football off to running back Nick Porter (11) in the first quarter of the Hurricanes’ 35-33 VPA Division I football win over St. Johnsbury on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in St. Johnsbury, Vt. Joslin was making his first varsity start behind center for Hartford. Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Greg Fennell

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 9/1/2018 11:18:37 PM
Modified: 9/1/2018 11:19:03 PM

St. Johnsbury, Vt. — Hartford brought the steamroller on Saturday, St. Johnsbury the scalpel. Muscle ultimately beat precision by a knife’s edge.

Rumbling behind a big offensive line to more than 500 yards of total offense, the Hurricanes rallied from a 21-14 second-half deficit for a 35-33 VPA Division I football win over St. Johnsbury at the Academy’s Fairbanks Field.

As seems to be an annual rite, Hartford (1-0) had most of its success on the ground, amassing 483 rushing yards and five touchdowns, narrowly outpacing the defending state champion Hilltoppers’ pass-happy attack.

In a game more suited to conclude a season than begin one, Hartford sophomore quarterback Cole Jasmin ran for a pair of 1-yard scores, the latter of which — coming 56 seconds into the fourth quarter — put the Canes (1-0) ahead for good.

When St. Johnsbury (0-1) closed to within a point, Hartford’s Nick Porter answered with a seven-yard touchdown dash with 2:27 left to cap a 22-carry, 205-yard day.

And still that 35-27 lead wasn’t safe. Gunslinging St. Jay quarterback Jake Cady (24-for-37, 361 yards, three passing TDs, one running) raced the champs downfield for a late score with 1:46 to go. Hartford, which took advantage of good luck to avoid the Toppers’ attempt at a go-ahead 2-point conversion earlier in the fourth, used good defense to deny the latter, slapping down a goal-line pass to maintain its advantage.

“We’re a grinding team; we’ve got to grind out the clock,” senior lineman Nick Cameron said. “It’s definitely a good idea that we keep running the clock out because we need to do that. We do it all the time. We have to grind and grind and grind to get where we want to be.”

You can’t score if you don’t have the ball, so Hartford used possession to keep Cady glued to the St. Jay bench as much as possible. The Canes ran 78 offensive plays to the Hilltoppers’ 49, turning that into a 519-416 edge in total yards. Hartford’s five scoring drives covered 74, 92, 74, 57 and 78 yards, respectively.

A team that also lost three solid runners to graduation apparently has developed alternatives. Junior Zachary Burek ran for 155 yards on 22 attempts and scored once. Senior Reece Thompson, a lineman-turned-fullback, also provided a touchdown on a 77-yard afternoon.

“Anytime anyone asked in preseason how everybody looked, my answer was always, ‘We’ll try to find our identity,’ ” Hartford coach Matt Trombly said. “We didn’t have it yet, and our kids didn’t know how good they were yet. They were looking around for some leadership, to find out who we were. Out there, it was pretty evident.”

The last time these teams met, St. Jay walked away from Rutland High School owners of D-I bragging rights after a 33-32 defeat of the Canes. Saturday’s reunion simply picked up the enthralling narrative.

Knowing Cady’s ability to strike quickly, Hartford took to long drives to both strain St. Jay’s defense and keep the senior signal-caller off the field. The Canes converted two fourth-down plays on each of their first two scoring drives, with Burek converting a three-yard TD run and Jasmin sneaking in from the 1.

Cady showed his considerable skills in bringing St. Johnsbury back to a 14-14 tie by halftime. His 74-yard catch-and-run connection to tight end Renwick Smith (nine catches, 230 yards) answered Jasmin’s TD within 18 seconds. The Toppers stuffed Burek on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to kill a late second-quarter Hartford drive, leaving Cady to charge 99 yards in 72 seconds to tie the contest on a four-yard keeper.

“We needed to just step it up and keep blocking, don’t think for a second that we’re going to walk all over them,” Cameron said. “It was definitely a big factor that we kept kicking.”

The Toppers capitalized on Jasmin’s only miscue of the day, taking Hunter Palmeri’s interception of the Hartford QB early in the third quarter and turning it into a 21-14 lead on Cady’s 11-yard pass to Palmeri at the back of the Hurricanes’ end zone. St. Jay sacked Jasmin for a 10-yard loss to produce a Hartford punt, but the hosts gave the ball back when Thompson force a Nick Guckin fumble at the Canes’ 26-yard line moments later.

A 60-yard Porter gallop set up a two-yard Thompson TD with 3:05 left in the third for a 21-21 tie. Jasmin’s second score of the day four minutes later put Hartford ahead for good.

“We are making mistakes, and sometimes you get lucky,” Potter said, “but we’re athletic enough to come back and make real plays when we need to.”

Maintaining the lead took everything Hartford had.

Cady marched St. Johnsbury 72 yards in 13 plays midway through the fourth, connecting with Palmeri from seven yards out for the points. Hilltopper coach Rich Alercio caught the Hartford defense unaware with a two-point try out of a fake kick, but Cady’s throw to a wide-open Trey Alercio fell short.

The visitors drained nearly five minutes off the clock on a 10-play drive, their third possession with double-digit plays, which Potter capped with his late TD. Again St. Johnsbury responded, and again Cady tried for a two-point conclusion. Hartford’s pass rush flushed the QB to the right, and three defensive backs converged on Palmeri to knock down Cady’s last chance at a tie game.

“I know we can keep grinding, and I know the talent that we have,” Potter said. “We’re just a young team. Like Coach said, we need to find our identity, but we have the talent and we have the heart. That’s kind of what Hartford’s all about.”

Audibles: Sophomore Kobe Peach converted all five of his point-after kicks for the Canes. … Between his throwing and his 55 rushing yards, Cady had a hand in every yard St. Johnsbury gained. … The teams combined on 41 first downs. … They also produced just three punts, two for Cady in the first half and one from Cameron in the second. … Hartford hits the road again on Friday, visiting Middlebury.

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

 

 




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