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Championship reflections: Windsor football small, mighty

  • Windsor head coach Greg Balch, center, huddles up with his team and other coaches after winning the VPA Division III title game in Rutland, Vt., on Nov. 13, 2021. The championship, which was the Yellowjackets' first since 2017, wrapped up an undefeated season for the team. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Geoff Hansen

  • Keegan Batchelder, left, hands the ball off to Ben Gilbert while they run a drill during the first football practice of the season at Windsor High School in Windsor, Vt., on Monday, August 16, 2021. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / report for america file — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/18/2021 9:37:54 PM
Modified: 11/18/2021 9:37:49 PM

The Windsor High football team began the 2021 season with barely enough players to fill an offensive and defensive roster.

Of course, the positions didn’t line up perfectly and many athletes played both sides of the ball, and that’s not even accounting for a punter, kicker and other special teams positions. Just 22 players were on the Yellowjackets’ roster when fall practices got underway. That number increased to 26 after the season started, and it was still a far cry from the 30 to 33 that coach Greg Balch was used to having.

That didn’t stop Windsor from steamrolling every obstacle in its path en route to a perfect 11-0 season and its first VPA Division III title since 2017.

“I don’t think we knew as a coaching staff exactly what to expect,” Balch said. “We knew we had some very good players, but we also knew we had a very small roster. It was hard to tell what other teams might have coming back and to have any set expectations.”

After playing exclusively 7-on-7 football in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, Windsor hit the ground running upon returning to 11-on-11 this fall. Balch’s Yellowjackets did not play a preseason scrimmage and took a gradual approach to conditioning to limit injuries and fatigue, which they could ill afford with such a small group.

The Yellowjackets put up 50-plus points in their first two victories over Mill River and Oxbow, respectively, and the blowouts only continued from there. Springfield, Otter Valley and Poultney were the next victims, with a forfeit win over Missisquoi included as well.

Windsor used a well-balanced rushing attack all season long — five Yellowjackets had touchdown runs in each of the first two games. Because Windsor was nearly always comfortably ahead, junior quarterback Maison Fortin never threw more than 10 passes in a game.

The run game was led by senior Ben Gilbert, who scored 18 touchdowns and had 1,005 rushing yards on just under 10 yards per carry. Fortin ran for 654 yards and 12 touchdowns, and juniors Logan Worrall and Travis McAllister were also reliable options.

Fortin was still effective when called upon to throw, with 12 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.

“Four games in, I said to one of my coaches, ‘I think we’re going undefeated this year,’ ” Fortin said. “He told me not to get my hopes up, but I knew deep down that our team was special.”

The Yellowjackets’ only semi-close game in the regular season was a shootout win over BFA-Fairfax, their eventual opponent in the state championship game. Windsor raced out to a 27-point halftime lead on Oct. 16, but the Bullets closed the gap to six in the third quarter before the Yellowjackets pulled away to win, 54-35.

“Once we played BFA during the regular season and beat them, put up a lot of points against them, we knew we had a really good team and could perform well,” Gilbert said.

Windsor closed the regular season by beating rival Woodstock and entered the playoffs as the clear-cut No. 1 seed. After dispatching Poultney in the first round, the Yellowjackets rematched with Woodstock in the semifinals, and this time the Wasps were ready. Windsor led by just eight at halftime and seven after the third quarter before scoring a key insurance touchdown in the fourth and winning, 26-13.

The title game in Rutland was a rout from the beginning. The Yellowjackets scored three touchdowns in the first eight minutes, and with the rain only intensifying as the afternoon progressed, BFA-Fairfax had to take to the air in less-than-ideal conditions. Windsor left no doubt that it was the best team in Division III with a 53-7 victory that went to a running clock in the fourth quarter.

“Everybody was pulling for everyone,” Balch said.

“They came to the first practice in August focused on winning games and not focused on any kind of individual accolades. The small roster probably helped build that camaraderie and teamwork.”

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




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