Shrine Game Preview: Vermont Goes for Two Straight

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2017 11:47:08 PM
Modified: 8/4/2017 11:47:19 PM

Castleton, Vt. — New Hampshire won the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl by an average score of 34-10 during a 15-year winning streak that began at the turn of the century.

Perhaps no area did New Hampshire dominate more thoroughly than at the line of scrimmage, as mismatches often appeared to nullify any apparent parity at skill positions.

In what may be the most pronounced byproduct of the six-year-old CHaD East-West game’s siphoning of the New Hampshire Shrine roster, Vermont finally appears to have athletes in the trenches comparable to New Hampshire’s, at least from a size standpoint.

For the first time in recent memory, Vermont actually carries a significant size advantage on the lines, which could be the Green Mountain State’s biggest (no pun intended) asset in its quest to win consecutive Shrine games for the first time since prevailing in three straight contests 40 years ago.

Vermont’s starting offensive line (not including tight end) weighs an average of 272 pounds, 72 pounds heavier than the average New Hampshire defensive lineman. Vermont’s total offensive line weight of 1,599 pounds is 219 more than that of New Hampshire’s O-line, practically the mass of an additional player.

Even after last season’s surprise 50-2 Vermont cakewalk, New Hampshire leads the series, 47-14-2, entering today’s 5:30 p.m. kickoff at Castleton University’s Spartan Stadium.

“They’re definitely bigger than us, so we’re going to have to be quicker off the ball,” said New Hampshire defensive tackle Jacob Merritt, of Newport. “We’re going to have to be disciplined and do whatever we can to get to the quarterback.”

That QB will be Griff Stalcup of Vermont Division II runner-up Burr & Burton, a dropback slinger who fits well in a traditional Vermont spread offense. He’s slated to play both football and baseball at NCAA Division III Bowdoin College in Maine.

Stalcup understands Vermont supporters will salivate over the prospect of seeing him connect with receivers like 6-foot-4 Rice product Alex Bond and Fair Haven’s Dylan Ellis.

But Stalcup also remembers the expectations surrounding a Vermont offense led under center by his older brother, Jake Stalcup, four years ago.

The Green Mountain State thought it might have it best chance in years to dethrone New Hampshire in 2013, but the Granite State instead prevailed, 43-0, at Dartmouth College’s Memorial Field.

“There was a lot of hype for that team, so the fact it was so lopsided was an eye-opener,” Griff Stalcup said of the result that occurred during year two of the CHaD East-West Game.

“Regardless of any other (all-star) game, New Hampshire is still going to put together a great (Shrine) team. And this year they’ll be looking for redemption, because Vermont showed they can win last year. We’re going to have to be ready. It should be a pretty exciting atmosphere.”

Stalcup will receive snaps from Hartford’s Khant Thu (6-3, 295) and be protected by another 300-pounder on the left side in Essex’s Tom Kourebanas (6-5, 300).

While Stalcup is quick with his hands, Thu said working with him hasn’t been much more challenging than hiking to Hartford QB Gavin Farnsworth last fall. The Hurricanes won the D-I title.

“We’ve been working hard all week, a lot of snaps,” Thu said. “It’s only been a week, but we’ve got good chemistry going. The whole team has been doing a lot of stuff off the field, which I think will help.”

New Hampshire counters at QB with Bishop Brady’s Joe Bernard, another pocket passer who will play the same position during a postgraduate year at Bridgton (Maine) Academy this autumn. Bernard’s Giants reached the NHIAA Division III semifinals last season.

New Hampshire may rely more heavily on a running game featuring Stevens’ Richard Bell, a Plymouth State University-bound rumbler who had 955 yards and 19 touchdowns to help carry the Cardinals to the D-III championship. The Granite State’s other starting running back is Taylor Chase, of D-I Nashua North.

If New Hampshire does try to throw often, it will need to contend with a savvy Vermont secondary including Hartford’s Brett Mac-Laren and Windsor’s Hunter Patenaude at cornerback and Woodstock safety Dan Robinson, all starters.

Vermont may appear more poised to throw and New Hampshire to run, but it could all go to pieces once the ball is snapped. After all, the teams as constituted have no film to study of one another nor any history together.

“And we’re both doing pretty well playing possum on what we intend to do,” quipped New Hampshire coach Rob Cathcart, of Trinity. “Both teams are going to be capable of running and throwing, so it’s going to be a feeling-out process.”

Added Vermont coach Bob Lockerby, of D-II champ Bellows Falls: “A lot the game is going to be about adjustments based on what they give us, and that shouldn’t be hard for this team because it’s one of the most selfless groups I’ve ever worked with.”

Lockerby, a Vermont assistant for numerous Shrine games, is also ecstatic that his team appears to have successfully avoided any practice injuries. He said at least one has occurred each of the other times he’s been involved.

“Unless we get hurt during the walk-through (this morning), we should be good to go,” he said.

Jared Pendak can be reached at or 603-727-3225.

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