The last game of the 2018 high school football season has the potential to be a track meet.
The principle running backs in Saturday’s Division I championship, Rutland High School’s Dakota Peters and Mount Mansfield’s Jehric Hackney, have combined for more than 3,000 yards. Put them on the artificial turf of Rutland High School’s Alumni Field and, as Mount Mansfield coach Marty Richards says, “It might come down to the last possession.”
Statistically, the state championship game day is as promising as it could be, with three No. 1 seeds (Mount Mansfield, Burr and Burton in D-II and Woodstock in D-III) facing off against the No. 2 seeds (Rutland, Fair Haven and Poultney).
The Division III game is up first at 11 a.m., followed by D-II at 2 p.m. and D-I at 5 p.m.
Peters’ and Hackney’s stats are nearly identical.
Peters has 1,563 yards and Hackney 1,514 and both average around 7 yards per carry. Peters’ totals (including 22 touchdowns) were compiled in just nine games. Hackney has crossed the goal line 19 times.
“This is going to be a good football game,” said Richards, whose team vies for its first title while Rutland goes for its 11th in the championship game era (beginning in 1970).
“I saw Rutland against St. Johnsbury and I’ve seen them on film a lot. They have size and speed but we have size and speed too,” Richards said.
MMU’s Asa Carlson is a three-plus-years starter at quarterback while Rutland’s Ryan Moore took over late last year when Jared Miglorie went down and has been there ever since.
Moore has 2,179 yards of total offense, 705 rushing with 12 touchdowns and 1,474 passing with 15 TD passes and five interceptions. Carlson has 864 passing yards and 14 touchdowns.
Carlson, like Moore, is an effective runner in the MMU spread offense and has 421 yards.
“They can sling it and they do a good job after they catch it. They are kind of a combination of Rice, Burlington/South Burlington, and St. Johnsbury,” said Rutland coach Mike Norman, who could leave Alumni with his ninth title in his 25th season.
“Their quarterback and running back are outstanding.”
Carlson and Hackney combined for 305 yards and five rushing touchdowns in a one-sided semifinal win over Middlebury.
“We try to take what the defense give us,” said Richards. “We’ve been able to score in different ways. We’ve been able to have some long drives but we’ve been explosive too.”
Peters had a career-high 320 yards and four touchdowns in Rutland’s semis rout of St. Johnsbury. Moore passed for 197 yards but only threw once in the second half.
This is the last go-’round for MMU’s 18 seniors, several of them basketball players who lost to Rutland in last year’s D-I basketball championship.
It’s also the last game for 15 seniors on a Rutland squad that began the year as a great unknown with just a few returning starters.
“We had a lot of new faces. All the credit goes to the kids,” said Norman. “They figured it out. Our seniors have stepped up and have been good leaders and the team chemistry has been solid and everything has fallen into place.”
It’s been four years since defending champion Fair Haven last beat Burr and Burton but coach Brian Grady has a much shorter memory than that. He and his Slaters are keeping their focus on cleaning up after this year’s 48-14 loss to the Bulldogs in Week 4 as they prepare for Saturday’s rematch.
BBA had its way on offense and hounded Slaters quarterback Cam Coloutti with blitzes that sacked him six times. He threw for a season-low 218 yards and for a passer with more than 3,000 in 10 games this season, that’s a big deal.
“They were out-executing us on defense,” Grady said this week.
Bulldogs quarterback Joey McCoy had three rushing touchdowns and three passing in that BBA victory.
“Their whole team is dangerous as runners. They are athletes. We have to be able to adapt,” Grady said. “We didn’t stop them running the ball outside when we played them.
“You have to be fundamentally sound on defense. You can’t just take one guy away.”
McCoy, Jake Baker, Jake Nicholson and John Morgantini are big playmakers, with McCoy passing for 20 touchdowns and running for seven and Baker running for 20 and catching five TD passes.
Fair Haven wears some different faces than the last time the teams met. One of them on defense is Jesse Tucker and one of his jobs is to hold the edge and turn BBA running plays back toward the middle while Joe Gannon does the same on the other end.
Fair Haven is going for its third straight win as it defends the title the Slaters captured with a seven-game winning streak last year.
BBA has won its last three games to take its last title, in 2015.
Fair Haven, 8-2, crushed Bellows Falls last week, 44-6 in the rematch of a game the Slaters won by a point in Week 7. BBA ripped Milton in the semifinals, 41-12.
Coloutti threw the go-ahead pass to Aubrey Ramey in the first minute against BF, then they connected again late in the game.
Ramey is one in a talented stable of Fair Haven wideouts and they have a strong running game as well led by Aaron Szabo, who will also be a key piece of the Slaters defense.
“They aren’t any different than us,” Grady said of the BBA defense. “You can’t just take one guy away.”
These are two of the most prolific offenses in the state; BBA has outscored its opponents 476-116 and Fair Haven 464-197.
The question is, what will Poultney do when the Blue Devils aren’t handing off up the middle to Jacob Allen?
Allen has been the pillar of the Poultney offense all season but unless the Blue Devils can find a way to spread out the Wasps, this could go in the direction of the teams’ first game, which Woodstock won 50-13 in Woodstock in Week 6.
Poultney lost outside threat Levi Allen for the season prior to that game and Blue Devils quarterback Caden Capman (ankle) also sat out so in a sense Poultney gets a fresh start.
“We just have to play really hard on offense and hard on defense,” said Poultney lineman Jacob McMahon after last week’s semis victory over BFA-Fairfax.
“The first time we played them we had a lot of injuries ... and I think we’re a mush stronger team and healthier team now.”
Woodstock is a senior-led team that fell short in the states to Windsor in overtime last year.
Poultney is playing for its first crown since 2007 and regardless of Saturday’s outcome, Poultney will be a preseason favorite in D-III when the Blue Devils return much of this squad next year.
Woodstock won its last title in 2013.
McMahon is part of a big front line that plays both ways and it will need to be productive against a Wasps team that allows only nine points on defense and averages 48 on offense.
Woodstock has a big stable of playmakers, including seniors Ben Marsicovetere, Charlie Amato, Harrison Nunes, Micah Schlabach, Jed Astbury and Caden White.
Woodstock has not scored fewer than 48 points since Week 2.
Allen carries the load for Poultney and is spelled when Capman runs outside or big Heith Mason bangs it inside. The Devils throw infrequently and may have to throw more to keep the Woodstock defense from crowding the box.
Moving the first-down sticks and running the clock is 7-2 Poultney’s best chance for an upset against the 8-0 Wasps.
“We need to stop their run, do our jobs, be aggressive to the ball and contain them,” Poultney coach Dave Capman said. “They are probably quicker than we are so we have to contain them and make them run to our big guys.”