Albert J. marro / Staff PhotoS
Norwich kick-off returner Tyrstan Colaire (81 in photo at top) sprints to the outside during Saturday’s game against Castleton State in Spartan Stadium. The Cadets won 31-13. Below, Castleton’s Elias LaCount (32) sprints toward the goaline after shaking off Norwich’s Stephen Gilmore.CASTLETON — There must have been some soul searching, spiced with a little fire and brimstone, in the Norwich locker room at halftime with the Cadets trailing Castleton 13-7. The Cadets outscored Castleton 24-0 in the second half for a 31-13 victory in the annual Maple Sap Bucket Game on Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
“We challenged the seniors,” Norwich coach Mark Murnyack said. “We didn’t think we played particularly well in the first half and we were only down by six points.
“Credit Castleton. They played hard. We knew they would. It’s a rivalry.”
The Spartans were still very much in the game late in the fourth quarter, but then linebacker Andy Mangin changed everything. The Cadets were clinging to a 17-13 lead when he intercepted Castleton quarterback Tyler Higley and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. When Wes Medeiros added the point it ballooned the lead to 24-13 with 5:57 remaining.
Lightning really does strike twice. Mangin, who never had an interception all year, picked off Higley again with 4:49 remaining and legged it 37 yards to a score. Two picks. Two touchdowns for the junior in less than a minute. Game over.
“On the first one I knew that a slant was coming and I kind of read the quarterback’s eyes and then I took it to the house,” Mangin said.
Mangin explained the halftime deficit saying, “We came out a little flat.”
They were not flat on the opening series of the game. They marched 65 yards to a score. Al Georgio capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run and Medeiros kicked the point, giving the Cadets the lead just 1:43 into the game.
The Spartans closed the lead on a 22-yard field goal by Robert Lineberger.
The Spartans took that 13-7 lead into halftime after Higley scored from a yard out and Lineberger knocked another field goal, this one from 27 yards.
After the Cadets went down the field so easily on the game’s opening possession, the Spartan defense stiffened. They turned the Cadets away on one drive when Leo Audy recovered a fumble on Castleton’s 6-yard line.
But the second half was all Norwich and it began with a 28-yard field goal by Medeiros.
Quarterback Keyen Foley, who was the centerpiece of the Cadet offense, had a 10-yard TD run that put the Cadets in the lead.
Mangin did the rest.
Foley, a junior from California, did not become the starter until the third game of the season. He riddled the Castleton defense as the game’s leading rusher with 159 yards on 22 carries. Georgio added 112 yards on 24 carries and tied the program record with his 17th touchdown of the season.
“Foley has been the starter for eight games now and he keeps getting better,” Murnyack said.
It was with great joy that Norwich captains Luis Delgado and Ethan Hanks went out to midfield to receive the Maple Sap Bucket from Castleton Athletic Director Deanna Tyson. The Cadets lost the Bucket last year for the only time in the five-year series.
U-32 graduate Elias LaCount grew up watching the Cadets play football and playing against them has special meaning for the Castleton running back.
“I watched Norwich as a kid. I was playing against my childhood idols,” LaCount said.
“It means a lot,” Castleton linebacker Mick Wong said of the game. “Vermont isn’t known for football so to be able to play in a rivalry like this is important to us.”
A couple of years ago Wong, now a senior, went to the coaching staff and offered to help the defense by moving from running to linebacker.
He has been a mainstay and leading tackler of the defense ever since. He had eight tackles and a pass break-up on this day.
“It’s been fun for me. But I will always be a running back at heart,” Wong said.
Norwich linebacker Matt LeFevre was disruptive to Higley and his offense all day. He had a game-high 15 tackles along with a pass break-up.
And his fellow linebacker Mangin was immense. He did much more than make his two game-changing picks for touchdowns. He also had 11 tackles with two sacks.
Todd Carr led Castleton in tackles with 13 and Audy, a Mill River product, had 12 tackles, his fumble recovery and two quarterback hurries.
Four interceptions marred Higley’s performance but the freshman from Brattleboro did throw for 208 yards while completing 20 of 47 passes. His top receiver was Kevin Alberque who again brought the crowd to its feet with scintillating moves and hard-earned yards after his catches.
Dan Gogan had the other two interceptions of Higley.
It was a big win for Norwich as it enabled the Cadets to finish the regular season at 7-3 and put them in line for an ECAC Bowl game. The Cadets are likely to learn of that on Monday.
“We were flying,” Mangin said of the Cadets’ second-half showing. “We definitely turned it around. Everyone stepped up.”
Castleton finishes the season at 1-9.
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