Hartford takes lumps in football opener

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/2/2022 11:11:59 PM
Modified: 9/3/2022 5:08:50 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Murphy’s law, in essence, states that if anything can go wrong, it will.

In Friday night’s season opener, St. Johnsbury quarterback Quinn Murphy made that adage a reality for the Hartford High football team. He accounted for all seven of his team’s touchdowns — five through the air, two on the ground — in the Hilltoppers’ 49-14 win over the Hurricanes.

“The whole group played well,” Hartford coach Matt Trombly said. “We tried to rally to it, and we just made a lot of mistakes.

“He’s a great quarterback. He got the ball in space and let their athletes make plays, and they made more plays than we did tonight.”

The opening sequence could not have been less of an indication of how the rest of the night would go. St. Johnsbury was called for a pair of false starts on its first drive and turned the ball over on downs on its own 27-yard line. On Hartford’s first offensive play of the season, junior quarterback Brayden Trombly — the coach’s son — threw deep middle to junior Ezra Mock in the back of the end zone for an early 7-0 lead.

That turned out to be the only defensive stop the Hurricanes made all night. The Hilltoppers scored on seven of their eight remaining possessions, the only exception coming at the end of the first half when they received the ball with just 10 seconds left.

Matt Trombly, whose team defeated St. Johnsbury, 41-9, last season, said he expected the Hilltoppers to run more than they did — the visitors only had 13 rushing attempts all night, with 10 of them by Murphy himself.

Murphy went to work immediately after St. Johnsbury fell behind. He hit Caleb Ponti for a 33-yard gain on the first play of the next drive, then connected with Carter Bunnell for 40 to set up a 5-yard pass to Alejandro Orozco. Hartford then drove inside the Hilltoppers’ 10 before three straight pre-snap penalties derailed the Hurricanes and they failed to convert on fourth-and-long.

After an incompletion on St. Johnsbury’s next play, Murphy completed his next 14 passes, three of which went for touchdowns, as the Hilltoppers’ lead kept growing. Hartford did get one score back in the second quarter, pulling within seven points at the time, with long runs by junior Brody Tyburski and Mock leading to a 2-yard score from senior Sean Keliher. But the hosts never found the end zone again.

“We tried to make different coverage adjustments on different fronts with their down linemen,” Trombly said. “But with an athletic quarterback like that, when he gets out on the edge and can make people miss, it’s tough to cover.”

With the Hurricanes down, 28-14, late in the first half, a Hilltoppers kickoff deflected off a Hartford helmet and St. Johnsbury recovered, putting an already-tiring defense right back on the field. The Hilltoppers scored again eight plays later and took a three-touchdown lead into the break.

Every time the Canes’ offense showed a sign of life in the second half, it suffered another self-inflicted wound.

Senior Trenton Bird, who would later leave the game with an apparent leg injury, cost himself the chance to return a kickoff when his knee touched the grass as he fielded the ball. Early in the fourth quarter, a series of penalties and backward plays turned a first down at the St. Johnsbury 14 into a fourth-and-39.

Murphy completed 33 of 45 passes for 354 yards and five touchdowns without an interception. He also rushed for 66 yards on 10 carries and two more scores. For Hartford, Tyburski led the way with 95 rushing yards on 14 carries, and Brayden Trombly was just 3-of-9 passing for 59 yards and a touchdown.

The Hurricanes (0-1) hit the road next week to play defending VPA Division I state champion Essex.

“We’re still a really young team,” Matt Trombly said. “People forget about that, based on how we finished the year last year. The core of our group are just juniors, so it’s still a learning process for them. What they need to do to prepare week to week and what it looks like on a Friday night, I think will be a difference.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

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