What a time of year it is! Games, games, and more games. Four professional sports are in action at the same time. Last week, there was a day when for the 18th time in history, all four major pro sports had official games on the same day. One friend texted me, “It’s that lucky time of year when all four major sports teams are playing.” I said, “I cannot agree. It’s too much. There is nothing lucky about it. My head hurts.”
The high school play-offs are under way. Locally, we have a number one seed whose status makes sports followers from all over the state curious. For years now, Bellows Falls has been at the top of the Vermont field hockey world. Officially, they were a Division III titlist twice and a Division II titlist last year, making their streak a three-peat. There were whispers each of those seasons that the Purple and White might be in the discussion of being the best team in the Green Mountain State, regardless of division. This year, they petitioned up to Division I and will find out how good they really are in the 2018 play-offs.
This will be the sixth year in a row the Terriers will be the number one seed in whatever division they are competing in. They are the team with a circle around it and that every opponent will be out to defeat. How will it all come out? Certainly we don’t know. What we do know is that this team is now competing with the big guys. Due to the performance of their 14-0 regular season record, they likely would have captured the Division III or II title if that is where they hung their hat this year. They outscored their opponents a whopping 111-2. Upsets do happen, but a birdie tells me that would not have happened to them.
The Division I world is a new one for Bellows Falls. Coach Bethany Coursen has prepared her team the best she could for this ride. She tried to pick up some tougher teams on the regular season schedule, but it was the second year of a two-year scheduling cycle. Although some of her opponents would have been more than willing to step aside, the powers couldn’t accommodate her request. There just weren’t enough dates and teams to orchestrate such a change. Bellows Falls played tough teams in the exhibition season. That is the best challenge they could find.
Coursen’s team’s opening game, a 4-0 victory over Burr & Burton, was the closest game they would play. They won a game by five goals, one by six, six by seven, and on and on. Remember, they only gave up two goals all year and the majority of the players on this offensive juggernaut have played together for at least three years. They averaged just short of eight goals a game.
Coursen realizes competing in the Division I tournament will be a different world. There are four teams who are intriguingly serious challengers. South Burlington, Colchester, Essex, and Rice are a combined 43-6-6 and are regularly accustomed to playing one-goal tense contests with defense shutting down scoring chance after scoring chance. The game in their world changes once there is a goal on the board. Thus, it will be of extreme importance that Bellows Falls scores first. The Terriers have played and defeated the sixth and seventh ranked teams in Division, Rutland (7-0/8-1) and Hartford (8-0/7-0), so the first round match with either Mount Mansfield or Champlain Valley Union should not be a problem. Bellows Falls will host their lone home play-off game Friday, Oct. 26 at 3:30 p.m.
Coursen says, “Obviously in the play-offs, it will be one game at a time. We have not seen most of these northern Division I schools, but we have been working hard to get ready. We are excited to have this challenge. Everyone is starting all over. We are 0-0 and hopefully we come out strong and do well.”
The only other area school who has field hockey is Springfield, and they have the ninth seed in Division II, which earned them a trip to Middlebury Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. The two teams have similar records with the Tigers 1-12 and the Cosmos 2-11.
Football enters the play-off round in all divisions of Vermont this week. Bellows Falls has the highest seed with a third in Vermont Division II, while Springfield is sixth in Division III.
Everyone knows about Bellows Falls’ football right, three yards and a cloud of dust. That is an old saying from teams who tend to run the ball. If you are talking about the Terrier ground game, it would be well more than three yards and a cloud of dust.
It was dust that might have gotten into the eyes of the Union 32 football team last Friday night when the Terriers stole one down the stretch 36-28. U-32 scored to tie the encounter at 28 with 90 seconds to play so the Raiders likely felt somewhat comfortable when Bellows Falls began their possession at their own 10-yard line. Most must have figured: we just have to control the big running play to take this game to overtime. Then Terrier coach Bob Lockerby reached up his sleeve and the rest is history.
The chances Bellows Falls would pass on first down were likely lower than one percent, but that is just what Lockerby chose to do and quarterback Griffin Waryas hooked up with Dylan Clark on a 90-yard pass and run play for the winning score.
“It was a straight fly,” Lockerby says, “and Clark broke two tackles to score. U-32 plays one of the toughest Division II schedules in the state and the loss drops them to sixth so we have to play them again in the play-offs Friday night at Hadley Field at 7 p.m.”
North Country and Milton snuck by U-32 in the final standing mostly because they played an easier schedule. U-32 is clearly the fourth best team in Vermont Division II.
Fall Mountain is the hottest area grid team around, winning three games in a row. Even though the New Hampshire Division IV play-offs don’t begin for another week, the Wildcats really kind of have a play-off game this week. They travel to face second seeded Newfound Saturday, Oct. 26 at 2 p.m. in their final regular game holding down fourth, which is the final play-off spot, one game ahead of Raymond.
Raymond travels to Mascoma for their finale. If the Wildcats can upset Newfound, they will move on to the post season. If they lose, they will have to depend upon Mascoma to defeat Raymond or they would finish in a tie for the final play-off spot, which would go to Raymond by virtue of an opening week 20-12 victory over the Wildcats.
“We played well for the most part, but there were times we showed to be soft. But that is happening less and less every week. We will have to be very consistent to win this week,” Coach Orion Binney said.
Springfield ran into a buzz saw, falling to a strong Poultney team ending their three-game win streak in wonderland. Coach Todd Aiken said of the 33-0 defeat, “We went back to coming out flat, and you can’t do that against that kind of competition. We have to learn how to be more mentally prepared every week.”
The Cosmos have drawn the same first round opponent of a year ago, Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax, but they are much stronger foe this time around. Springfield travels there for a Saturday 1 p.m. kick-off. The Bullets won the regular season meeting between the two teams 34-12. The Green and White are a much stronger football team today than they were then though.
When I attended a Green Mountain versus Leland & Gray girls’ soccer game a week ago, I pictured both teams finishing in the top six positions. Green Mountain won out, but the Rebels were upset by Windsor on Senior Day. Thus, they drop to an eight seed and a very tough road.
Green Mountain opens play this Wednesday versus Enosburg with hopes of winning and hosting either Vergennes or Windsor Saturday at 1 p.m.
Leland & Gray hosts Stowe Wednesday and would likely travel to top seed Thetford with a victory. The Rebels played the Panthers tough at home early this season. Black River drew the 12th seed in Division IV and travels to Richford this Wednesday. Springfield is the 13th seed in Division II and competed in their play-off game Tuesday at Union 32.
Fall Mountain, who was seeded 12th, was also on the road Tuesday in the first round at Gilford.
On the boys’ side, Leland & Gray and Black River both earned number four seeds in Division’s III and IV respectively. They both hosted games on Tuesday. Bellows Falls boys also played Tuesday, in Stowe.
The Presidents met while the Rebels were hosting Thetford. Both would be in action Friday at home at 3 p.m. with a victory. Green Mountain’s boys were also in action Tuesday on the road at Hazen. A win would match them in a Friday encounter with top ranked Hazen.
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