NH Shrine team girds for Vt.'s ground attack
CASTLETON, Vt. — Fourteen years ago, Mount St. Joseph quarterback Mike Keenan set the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl record for pass attempts (49), completed passes (30), touchdown passes (six) and passing yards (352) to help Vermont upset New Hampshire, 47-40.
Many coaches must have thought that game provided a blueprint that showed how an underdog Vermont team could knock off New Hampshire in the annual high school football all-star game, because since then Vermont has usually tried to beat New Hampshire with an air assault. The results have been disastrous.
New Hampshire will enter Saturday’s 61st annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl with a 13-game winning streak. Vermont hasn’t posted a victory since that 2000 game, and few games since then have been close.
The Green Mountain State’s futility was highlighted in 2010. Vermont attempted a record 55 passes that year — in a game that used 12-minute quarters instead of the usual 15 — but still came away with a 34-20 loss.
Vermont will try a different approach in this year’s contest, which will be played Saturday (5:30 p.m.) at Dartmouth College’s Memorial Field. Instead of using a pass-happy offense, Vermont coach Mike Williams will attempt to bleed the clock with an option running game similar to the one he uses at Bellows Free Academy-Fairfax.
“We have to eat clock, move the chains and keep their offense off the field,” Williams said. “It’s a different offensive philosophy than Vermont has used in the past, but the triple option — that’s all I know.”
Nashua South quarterback Trevor Knight will be operating New Hampshire’s spread offense. Knight passed for 1,791 yards and 19 touchdowns (two interceptions) in 10 games during his senior season. He also ran for 1,536 yards and 19 TDs.
Knight’s weapons include receivers Alec Boucher (Winnacunnet of Hampton), Nick Vailas (Bedford) and Jake Geppert (St. Thomas of Dover), and running backs Jason Martinez (Salem) and Shawn Cavallaro (Hanover).
Knight and Cavallaro are two of six New Hampshire players who will be on the University of New Hampshire roster this fall. The others are Jared Kuehl (Plymouth Regional), Kyle Reisert (Plymouth Regional), Hayden Middleton (St. Thomas) and Martinez.
“We’re not focusing on the past,” Knight said. “We’re just trying to get ready for battle. We want to score as much as we can, and hold them to as little as we can.”
Linebackers Marc Gaudet (Concord), Eric Waddington (Dover) and Alex Parenteau (Keene) may be the strength of New Hampshire’s defense.
“I don’t think you can make a living just dropping back and throwing it,” New Hampshire coach Dave Jackson said. “They’ll want to keep the clock moving and I’m sure they’ll do some things to aggravate us. There’s some issues with the option. It’s not like we just expect to go out and push them all over the field.”
Running back Tanner Contois is the Vermont player to keep an eye on Saturday. Contois, Vermont’s Gatorade Player of the Year last season, rushed for 2,361 yards and 22 touchdowns on 199 carries as a senior, when he helped South Burlington reach the Division I championship game. Contois also caught 21 passes for 563 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Contois suffered a torn ACL on the first play of Middlebury’s 26-6 victory over South Burlington in the Division I title game.
“I think we have enough experienced starters to know we can’t take anybody lightly,” Parenteau said. “You can’t overlook anyone.”
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Game Notes: The net proceeds from the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl benefit the Shrine Hospitals in Boston, Montreal and Springfield, Mass. Tickets can be purchased at the gate for $15. ... New Hampshire leads the series 45-13-2. ... Both teams practiced at Castleton State College. ...
New Hampshire’s original roster (before replacements) had to include 12 players from Division I, 12 from Division II and 12 from Division III. Vermont had to select 18 players from Division I, 12 from Division II and six from Division III.