Wasps edge Mill River in thriller
By JAMIE NORTON
CORRESPONDENT | November 10,2013
Albert J. Marro / Staff Photos
Woodstock’s Tom Baumann (right in top photo), sweeps around the corner during Saturday’s D-III title game at Alumni Field in Rutland. Woodstock won 20-19 in overtime. Below and left, Mill River’s Tyler Pitts (80) catches a pass in front of Woodstock defender Sam Cole (45) while, to the right, Woodstock running back Zach Cole lurches forward in an effort to garner more yards.
The hopes and dreams of the two biggest football teams in Division III rode on the legs of one of the smallest players on the field during Saturday’s title bout between No. 1 Woodstock and No. 2 Mill River.
Woodstock sophomore kicker Nikolai Davis, who boasts a stature of 5-foot-4 and 160 lbs., knew what was riding on the next moment. A 30-game winning streak. A second straight undefeated season. A third straight D-III title. The game was tied in overtime following senior fullback Oliver Kaija’s second touchdown of the game, and a successful extra point kick would keep the championship trophy in the Wasps’ firm grasp.
“(I thought) ‘I hope I make it,’” Davis said afterwards. “I was really scared.”
“I didn’t want him thinking about it,” Woodstock coach Ramsey Worrell said. “I asked him what his favorite food was. He said, ‘Potatoes’ – and mine was bacon. I wanted to take his mind off of it.”
You say, “Potato.” I say, “State championship.”
Davis split the uprights, and Wasps suppporters at Rutland High School’s Alumni Field erupted as Woodstock celebrated another perfect season with a 20-19 win.
“This was special for me,” said Worrell after leading the Wasps to their 10th football championship – and third in a row – in just his first year as head coach. “I won’t ever forget this game, I won’t ever forget this group of seniors, and I won’t ever forget this team. It’s one of those moments you’ll remember forever.”
“I don’t think it’s really hit us yet, but I can tell you that this one is a lot sweeter than last year,” said Kaija, who led Woodstock back from a two-touchdown halftime deficit with 124 rushing yards – 80 of which he obtained after the intermission. “Last year, it was almost a given that we were going to win – people were expecting us to. Coming out here (this year) and earning everything we got, you have to do that against a team like Mill River. Just earning it, grinding in the trenches, fighting for every yard, that’s what this was really about.”
Kaija earned 42 of those yards on a momentum-shifting, 60-yard, 12-play drive in the third quarter that culminated with his 3-yard touchdown scamper. That made it 13-6 with 3:12 remaining in the penultimate regulation frame, and Worrell said Davis was down on himself after missing the point-after kick.
“That was in his head a little bit,” Worrell said. “I wanted to get that out of his head.”
Davis got a chance at redemption in the fourth quarter, and this time, he didn’t miss. With 4:12 remaining in regulation, halfback Sam Cole took the handoff from quarterback Nehemiah Wood and tumbled over the line and into the end zone to bring the Wasps to within a point, 13-12. Davis then booted the ball through the uprights to tie a game that Woodstock had trailed since the first quarter.
“Thirteen points isn’t very much,” Worrell said of the deficit his team had faced going into the second half. “We haven’t scored less than 30 points all year, so I knew we were capable of (coming back). We just needed to stick our blocks (and) create some sort of running game up the middle.”
The Minutemen, meanwhile, did everything they could against a stingy Woodstock defense. Quarterback Mark Goyette didn’t have many opportunities to pass the ball, so he ran it himself several times throughout the game. Dan Blanchard and Izaak Young both made progress on the ground, and Blanchard got the game off to a great start for the Minutemen with an astounding 87-yard touchdown run down the right side of the field just 3:12 into the game. He finished with a team-high 123 rushing yards.
Mill River got its second score of the game after recovering a fumbled punt return by Woodstock and turning it into a 53-yard touchdown pass from Lincoln Pritchard to Goyette on a trick play. Ethan Burkett’s extra-point kick made it 13-0 at that point.
“It was a great momentum pickup, and it gave us some momentum going into the half,” Mill River coach Art Peterson said. “But you’ve got to play the whole football game, and you’ve got to be clean. In the second half, we just weren’t. We just couldn’t sustain anything offensively in the second half.”
“We had a hard time blocking people all day,” Worrell said. “That’s a testament to their defense and their determination ... After halftime, we fixed some blocking errors, we started running some different formations, and then it just came down to will and determination: Sticking on your block and just grinding it, grinding it, grinding it.”
“What makes a man’s character is how he responds to adversity,” he said. “We’re not used to being down, but we got back in there and we just started scrapping. That’s what Woodstock football is. We’re always undersized, we’re always a little bit smaller, maybe not the most athletic, but we do what we’re coached, and we scrap.”
The Wasps certainly did so in overtime.
High School football overtime rules grant each team a 1st-and-10 opportunity on the opponent’s 10-yard line. The coin toss gave Mill River the first crack, and after losing 5 yards on Goyette’s keeper, the Minutemen put it into the end zone with a 15-yard run by Blanchard. The extra-point kick, however, was missed.
That opened the door for Woodstock if it could just find a way across the goal line against the Minutemen’s big, strong defensive line.
“The idea was to stop them and kick a field goal, not let them score and then have to score (a touchdown) again,” Worrell said. “It came down to fourth down – that was big.”
The Wasps got three short gains, including Tom Baumann’s 4-yard burst to the 1-yard line, before Kaija muscled his way through the line and home to tie the game at 19-all.
Then all eyes were on Davis.
“He’s so clutch,” Kaija said of his pint-sized sophomore teammate.
“We’ve got battlers, man,” Worrell said of his 11-0 team that has now won 31 straight games en route to a “three-peat.” “They’ve been tested before, and they’ve responded. This is an experienced, mature group of kids, and they handled it great. We talked all week about composure, and I thought they had it.”
“We’re obviously very disappointed,” said Peterson, whose team lost only twice this year – both to the Wasps. “We felt we had the game in hand ... We would’ve liked to have had that extra point back, but that’s football. It came down to so little between us, and we’re just disappointed to lose. But that’s life.”