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Topsy-Turvy Division I Lacking Playoff Favorite

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 10/26/2018 12:02:04 AM
Modified: 10/26/2018 12:02:16 AM

White River Junction — Vermont Division I high school football is having an unusual year — it appears there is no team to beat as the playoffs arrive.

Every football season typically offers one or two clear-cut favorites. This season, every team in the D-I tournament has a record of 6-2 or 5-3.

“It’s been one of the craziest years since I have been around,” Hartford head football coach Matt Trombly said.

The postseason starts tonight, as Trombly’s third-ranked Hurricanes (5-3) host sixth-ranked St. Johnsbury (6-2) at Hartford High School. The Hurricanes fell to the Hilltoppers last season in the state championship, 33-32. Hartford traveled into Hilltopper territory in the opening week of the current campaign and won, 35-33.

“I think that it’s a huge game for us,” Hartford starting quarterback Cole Jasmin said. “We obviously have some rivalry with this team because of last year, but we’re a team that’s built to play with the best.

“We’d like nothing better to make a statement in the beginning of playoffs, and there’s no better team to make a statement with. It’s a great opportunity for our team.”

It’s been topsy-turvy all over the league this fall.

Rice had a share of the D-I lead heading into the fifth week of the season earlier this month. Rutland overtook the top spot and went into last week’s play as the only team at 6-1.

Rutland, Hartford and Rice held the top three positions heading into last weekend. Rutland fell to the Burlington-South Burlington in overtime; Hartford lost to Essex, who did not make playoffs; and Rice dropped a 28-8 contest to Colchester, who grabbed the eighth and final playoff seed. All of the final-week chaos moved Mount Mansfield from fourth to first and dropped Rice — which was atop the standings six weeks of the year — down to fourth.

Rice head coach Neil Brodeur looks at the playoff scenario, and playoffs in general, differently. The closeness in the standings certainly does not change anything about how he goes into the postseason; his method is to take care of his own business and see how the pieces fall.

“I think if you want to win a state championship, you need to play the best teams and take care of business yourself and not worry about other teams and how the bracket might play out,” Brodeur said. “I think when you start doing that, you get caught in the weeds and in the noise of the season and lose focus with what you need to be doing with your own club.”

Rutland head coach Mike Norman, on the other hand, fell in line with Trombly, both seeing the parity that this season has brought.

“In the past, there have been one or two teams that beat everybody, and that’s just not the case this year,” Norman said.

“The old cliche that anyone can win or be beaten any given night is really appropriate this season. If we played Hartford 10 times, like many of these teams, it would come out 50-50.”

Hartford has been riddled with injuries this fall, so much so that they started a freshman, Brandon Potter, at cornerback for the injured Nick Porter, who is also one of the Canes’ key running backs. Potter played against Mount Mansfield in an 18-14 win two weeks ago. Luckily for the Hurricanes, Potter and other young athletes are stepping up.

“Our motto is ‘next man up,’ ” Trombly said. “You are only one play away from being in. (Potter) went in without skipping a beat.”

Jasmin is proud of how his team has stepped up to the task of filling the shoes of key players in a season of uncertainty.

“We have filled our key players who have been injured,” Jasmin said. “Obviously, Nick Porter is a big loss, but we filled it in great and he’s getting better, so I feel like we will be good to go.”




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