This & That

There are 52 Fridays in 2019. The one about to arrive will see the biggest area athletic crowd of the year gather at Brown Field in Springfield to witness what many people hope is the best and most competitive Bellows Falls vs. Springfield football game in a decade. I asked Cosmo athletic director Rich Saypack last Friday night what time he thought I should arrive to get a good parking space that evening. He told me, “Early Thursday.” Believe me, something can be said for that.

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Terrier Jeb Lober running the football with teammate Jed Monier making room with his blocking. Photo by Doug MacPhee

Friday night will mark the 10th game between these two longtime rivals since the Cosmos last claimed victory in 2009. The longtime series is relatively close with the Terriers holding the all-time advantage 56-43-4. Unfortunately nothing has been close lately. There have some strong Cosmo efforts early in games, including last year, but the average score in the current Bellows Falls nine-game win streak is 48-7. Those numbers come from the eight games in that streak, which were actually played on the field. Springfield forfeited the 2012 game when they fielded a junior varsity team late in the season – a move that, from this vantage point, helped build the program to where it is today.

Who is the favorite this time around? One has to say Bellows Falls, but both teams are much better than I thought they would be.

Back in August, before anyone kicked off, I thought Springfield would finish higher in Division III than Bellows Falls would in Division II. This was likely to be the Cosmos’ best season in a long time because they had a good sized senior class that was getting stronger both physically and on the field every year. On the other hand, the Terriers had lost so many linemen I thought they would be in a dogfight for a top four spot in the division and had as good a chance to finish fifth or sixth as fourth. It looked to me that anything above fourth was out of the question.

Then when play started, both teams gave their fans more than I expected. The Cosmos now sit 4-1 and BF 3-2, and I can see a scenario in which either one of them reaches their respective title game and finds a way to win. Both have strengths and both have weaknesses; but with a little bit of luck, both teams can overcome the odds despite where they both sit today. They both are in good shape, but the players on each of the two teams believe they should have won more games than they have so far.

Both teams could have won last week, but Springfield came closer than Bellows Falls did. I believe Springfield has some of the most instinctively creative offensive players I have seen in a long time, and this helps them compete. However, I still think Bellows Falls is deeper. Either team can win this week, but the Murph Meter – an invention of radio shows I am on creating a percentage chance of something happening – says this game goes 50-6 in Bellows Falls’ favor. I am not sure the meter would have given the Cosmos even a 5% chance in any year since 2010. Speaking like a true coach, the Cosmos will need more breaks than their visitors will this Friday to claim a trip to the winners’ circle, but it certainly could happen.

By the way, when Springfield last won, they put together a streak of their own. From 2006 through 2009, the Cosmos won four in a row. The scores were much closer than the 48-7 Bellows Falls’ numbers when hunting camp buddies Mike Hatt and Bob Lockerby were squaring off. There were times before that streak that Lockerby did have Hatt’s number so don’t feel that internal rivalry was all one-way.

The Bellows Falls vs. Springfield rivalry has certainly survived the test of time. The rivalry goes back over 100 years, and no one alive has seen every game. If you are a serious fan of either side, Friday evening is a can’t miss destination. Hopefully, you are exercise conscious though because it might be a good-sized walk from where you park. But I believe you are somewhat carried away with your hometown colors if you don’t think this will be an encounter that proves to be in doubt until deep in the second half.

Last Friday night, when Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax scored in the waning minutes of the first half, I let down my guard with the Cosmos trailing 14-0 and said, “I have to change my mind. Springfield doesn’t have a chance against BF.”

Then close to a miracle happened. Springfield struck gold when a long swing pass from Jacob Stepler found Brady Clark on an unimaginable play, which brought a “What did I just see?” moment to many in attendance. In a matter of seconds, Springfield had more than halved the score and was in a battle until the final seconds which they eventually lost 22-16. This big moment even made coach Todd Aiken stand up and take notice. The second year mentor who had served as an assistant for some time before taking over the head coaching job said of his team, “They don’t give up. There have been times in the past when things go like that and we have kind of folded. Now we have a mature group of guys who push through adversity.”

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Brady Clark (34) has been a steady performer both offensively and defensively for the Cosmos this season. Photo by Doug MacPhee

Aiken went on, showing that he realizes that major growth has taken place, but there is still room for more development. He said following the heartbreaking contest, “Two really good football teams just gave it their all. In the end, they just made fewer mistakes than we did tonight.”

Bellows Falls fell in their home turf contest with Union 32 last Saturday. The final count was 42-29, but the game was much closer than that. Terrier coach Bob Lockerby knows his team’s pass defense must improve if the Terriers have a chance to play for a title this fall or even possibly come away a winner this weekend. He told me, “I’m just looking for us to play four quarters of consistent football. This game should be a great one. I am sure both teams believe they can win this game.”

Are you wondering what the fans think? I have been attending both teams’ games the past two weeks and a number of said fans have approached the question about the game with me. I can’t speak for all of the fans on either side obviously, but I can tell you the overwhelming majority of Bellows Falls fans have basically said, “I wasn’t born yesterday. There is no way Springfield wins this game.”

On the other hand, several Springfield fans have approached the conversation on the other side of the ball. They realize they have a pretty good team and have asked, “Can we compete with the Bellows Falls team? Can we make it close and could we win?” They respect the growth their team has shown and are humming Dusty Springfield’s long ago tune of “Wishing and Hoping,” without using the words.

Friday night’s weather forecast shows a real nip in the air as is a familiar one traditionally for when these two schools have gotten together. More times than not, this rivalry game was played on the first Saturday in November or the last Saturday in October.

I have been around long enough and seen, called on radio, and written about close to half of these get-togethers and understand that you can throw out the records when the two schools meet. Recently, the records have meant a lot in determining the outcomes. This year is one when there is much up in the air, including, I believe, the final result.

 

As for the Fall Mountain Wildcats, Orion Binney’s team is now 2-2 after Fall Mountain dominated Farmington last weekend on the road 49-0. The next four weeks determine whether Fall Mountain has grown to the point where they are good enough to become a playoff team. Binney’s teams have shown growth in his three seasons, and this is the season to either knock on the playoff door or sneak in.

The Wildcats host Bishop Brady of Concord Friday night, and a win would put them in a driver’s seat for the post season. Even if the Wildcats lose to Brady, they stand a decent chance still of making the grade.

Binney was excited about his team’s defense in the Farmington encounter, saying, “We have been playing physically well and growing as a unit.”

Six separate Wildcats tallied touchdowns with Izack Westover scoring two and Morgan Wilbur, Isiaiah Silva, Wyatt Ward, Layton Stevens, and Aaron Blair adding one each with Luke Gay connecting with Wyatt through the air for his score.

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