Hurricanes Topple the Hilltoppers
Hartford uses a dominating final 3 Qtrs to beat St Johnsbury 35-20
By John Seaver
The Hurricanes & Hilltoppers have been at the top of Vermont Division 1 football the entire year so Saturday's game at Fairbanks Field was described by many as the game of the year thus far. St J was coming off a shocking 7-0 loss to Rice the week before, their first loss of the season, while Hartford had rolled over everyone on their schedule, coming into the game 5-0. So on a perfect autumn day in St Johnsbury, these two teams were clearly playing for the top spot in D1 football.
The Hilltoppers started fast and seemingly had a 14-0 lead before the national anthem was done playing. The Canes won the toss and deferred, and St Johnsbury wasted no time driving 65 yards in 4 minutes to take a 6-0 lead on an Ethan Roberts 1 yard plunge. After a three & out, the Canes punted and St J had great starting field position at the Canes 36 yard line. On 4th and 1, Mathew Roy broke free for a 27 yard score and with 4:45 left in the first quarter, the Canes found themselves down 14-0. But this would be as good as it would get for the Hilltoppers.
With ST J taking the 14-0 lead into the second quarter, the Hurricanes defense began getting consistent pressure on the Hilltoppers star QB Collin Urie. Hunter Perkins penetrated the Hilltopper offensive line to lay a big hit on Urie causing a fumble. However, Perkins was flagged for what appeared to be a bit of a phantom face mask penalty. On the very next play, Perkins blitzed around the right side and crushed Urie again, this time with no penalty called & the Hilltoppers were forced to punt.
Energized by the defense, the Hurricane offense started to get rolling. QB Gavin Farnsworth hit Tyler Hamilton over the middle for 10 yards and Hunter Perkins carried up the middle for 11 more. Perkins then got the Canes on the scoreboard with a 15 yard rumble up the middle breaking several tackles and dragging a Hilltopper defender into the end zone with him. This brought the Canes to within 14-7 midway thru the 2nd quarter.
On the ensuing St J possession the Hilltoppers drove the ball to the Canes 28 yard line before DE Justin Koloski intercepted a Urie screen pass and returned it to midfield. Koloski fought off a block with his head up and read the play beautifully.
With the momentum clearly on their side, the Hurricane offense quickly went to work. Farnsworth & Hamilton connected for a 43 yard strike to give the Canes first and goal. Farnsworth then finished the drive with a sweep right, diving over a St J defender into the end zone for the halftime score of 14-14.
In the third quarter, both team's defenses settled in causing multiple punts. But the Hurricanes won the field position battle taking advantage of a poor St J punt that gave them the ball at their own 43. Back to back Farnsworth first down runs were followed by some tough inside running by Perkins. After a personal foul call on a tackle of Farnsworth, he had to leave the game for a brief time with a leg injury. The penalty moved the ball to the Hilltopper 15 & with Tyler Hamilton in at QB, Brett MacLaren ran for 12 yards to the three and then pounded it straight up the middle for the go ahead score with under 9 minutes left in the game. The extra point was blocked but Hartford had the lead they would not relinquish 20-14.
On the next Hilltopper drive the Hartford defense continued to harass and pressure QB Collin Urie causing several incompletions and forcing another St J punt. This time, a bad snap gave the Canes the ball at the Hilltopper 35. Farnsworth was back in the game & three plays later he took it 25 yards to pay dirt. Tyler Hamilton scored the 2 point conversion to make it 28-14.
ST J coach Rich Alercio replaced Urie at QB with sophmore Jacob Cady (Urie stayed in the game on defense) but Cady had no more luck getting the Hilltopper offense moving and ST J turned the ball over on downs. Hartford's Brett MacLaren then went to work with a long run down the right sideline to the ST J 9 and later scoring from 5 yards out to give the Canes a commanding 35-14 lead.
Cady got St J a garbage time TD pass to Jasper Rankin (with Perkins slamming him just as he released the pass) at the buzzer to make the final score 35-20 but the Hurricanes dominated this game from the second quarter on at one point scoring 5 straight TD's.
The win gives the Hurricanes (6-0) the inside track for the #1 seed in division 1. ST Johnsbury (5-2) drops their 2nd game in row.
The Category 5 Hurricane Player of the Game: Tough choice as there were several great candidates like QB Gavin Farnsworth, RB/DE Justin Koloski, & RB Brett MacLaren, but I give it to RB/LB Hunter Perkins. Perkins spent the day in the Hilltopper backfield recording a sack and several pressures on St J's best player QB Collin Urie. He also softened up the middle of the St J line with several tough runs between the tackles & the Canes first TD.
Hartford finishes the regular season on the road at Rutland Friday night. St J finishes the season vs local rival Lyndon Institute.
Follow me on Twitter @John_K_Seaver for in game updates.