What’s New Hampshire’s No. 1 concern entering the 60th Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl?
Perhaps it’s guarding against overconfidence.
In recent years the game’s outcome has been as predictable as a fixed fight. New Hampshire brings a 12-game winning streak into this year’s contest and has outscored Vermont 433-145 during that span. New Hampshire leads the overall series 44-13-2.
“They do know not to take them lightly,” New Hampshire coach Ray Kershaw (Canaan’s Mascoma Valley Regional High) said of his players. “I tell them that every single day. I tell them it’s not going to be handed to them.”
The Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl features high school players from Vermont and New Hampshire who graduated this year, and benefits the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
This year’s game will be played Saturday at Dartmouth’s Memorial Field, with a 5:30 p.m. kickoff. It’s the first time the game will be held at night.
“Different year. Different team. Different set of circumstances,” said Vermont coach Jason Thomas, who coaches Burr & Burton Academy of Manchester, Vt. “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t have my guys ready to go.”
Goffstown’s Connor Benjamin will lead the New Hampshire offense. Benjamin played running back in the June 29 New Hampshire CHaD East-West All-Star Game, but Saturday he’ll be at quarterback, the position he played during his junior and senior seasons at Goffstown.
Exeter’s Tyler Grant, Concord’s Tolbert Nemo, Trinity of Manchester’s Romeo Masuku and Manchester Memorial’s Jared Ombati are among New Hampshire’s running backs. Grant, who will suit up for Bowdoin College this fall, was the 2012 New Hampshire Union Leader All-State Player of the Year.
“Our backfield has a lot of speed and a lot of depth,” Benjamin said.
Vermont will have to deal with a New Hampshire defense led by Portsmouth defensive lineman Rick Holt, who will play at the University of New Hampshire. Holt was named the MVP in the CHaD Game.
Could this be the year Vermont ends New Hampshire’s winning streak? There are a couple things working in Vermont’s favor:
No. 1: The requirement regarding how New Hampshire must select its roster changed this year. Kershaw’s initial roster had to include six players from each of last season’s six divisions, meaning there are fewer players from the larger schools of Division I and Division II — and more from Division V and Division VI — this year. New Hampshire can have no more than two players from any school.
Vermont, which has three divisions for football, must choose 18 players from Division I, 12 from Division II and six from Division III. Vermont can have as many as four players from one school.
No. 2: Thomas has a quarterback who may be able to help Vermont pull off an upset even if it’s a high-scoring contest.
Jake Stalcup, a three-year starter for Thomas at Burr & Burton, was named Vermont’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2011, when he tossed 31 touchdown passes as a junior. Stalcup, who will play at Middlebury College, passed for 2,613 yards and 31 TDs last season. He was intercepted nine times.
Stalcup will direct a fast-paced spread offense that Thomas learned from Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly while both were assistant coaches at the University of New Hampshire.
“I think the game will be won or lost up front,” Thomas said. “If we can’t protect the QB, keep him upright so he can get the ball off, the skill kids aren’t going to matter.
“We feel like we have to score points against these guys for sure. New Hampshire is big and athletic. I imagine they’ll be a very difficult team to stop.”
New Hampshire set a record for points scored by one team when it won last year’s game, 62-24.
“Both teams have been working hard, and it’s going to be a tough game,” Benjamin said. “Regardless of who wins, this game is all about fund-raising. It’s for kids who can’t do what we do.”