Hartford wins a thrill at St Johnsbury
By John Seaver
For the 2nd year in a row the Hilltoppers and Hurricanes met in the first week of the regular season after playing each other in the title game the year before. Hartford took the title in 2016 but St Johnsbury came into this game as the defending champions after holding on to beat the Canes 33-32 last November. The Hilltoppers also won this regular season match up at Hartford to open last season. Given the history between these two teams, motivation was not going to be an issue.
And these two teams did not disappoint today as the back and forth battle went right down to the wire with the Hurricanes coming out on top 35-33 in a thriller to kick off the 2018 Vermont High School football season.
The Hurricanes started strong, forcing the Hilltoppers high powered offense to punt on their first two possessions. Meanwhile the Hartford offensive attack looked in mid season form as they scored on 74 and 94 yard drives to open up a 14-0 lead on their first two possessions. RB Zachery Burek scored the first TD from 3 yards out and QB Cole Jasmin 1 yard TD sneak converted the 2nd scoring drive.
St J senior QB Jake Cady was not going to be shut down for long as he hit Renwick Smith on a 74 yard touchdown on the first play of the next drive. The Hurricanes drove the ball all the way to the St J 1 on the next possession but couldn't punch it in and turned the ball over on downs at the 1 yard line with 2 minutes left in the half. Cady then marched his team down the field for the game tying touchdown and suddenly the game was tied heading to the half.
St Johnsbury kept the momentum by scoring early in the 3rd quarter to take their first lead of the game 21-14. Hunter Palmeri intercepted a Cole Jasmin pass and two plays later hauled in a 7 yard TD catch from Cady.
After a Hartford punt St J was marching down the field with the lead and the momentum but the Canes defense forced a fumble that Sophmore Alex Bushway recovered at the Hurricane 26. Hartford senior running back Nick Porter then ripped off a 62 yard run to set up the Canes at the Hilltopper 12 yard line. Reece Thompson finished off the drive with a tough 2 yard TD run. A Kobe Peach extra point tied the game at 21 with 3 minutes left in the 3rd.
The Canes D stiffened again turning over St J on downs and taking over on their own 43 yard line. Sophmore QB Cole Jasmin finished a 57 yard scoring drive with his 2nd 1 yard TD sneak to give the Canes the lead back 28-21. The Hilltoppers once again marched down the field for what looked like the tying score with 7:19 to play. But coach Rich Alercio decided to go for 2 instead of the game tying extra point. The Hilltoppers failed to convert and the Hurricanes held a slim 28-27 lead.
After the game Hartford Coach Matt Trombly said "A key to the game was to hold the ball and keep their offense off the field." That was never more important than the ensuing Hartford drive as they took possession at their own 22 yard line and used running backs Porter, Burek and Reece Thompson to pound the ball and kill the clock. Porter finished the 78 yard 5 minute drive with a 7 yard sweep right for the TD and after another Peach extra point (he was 5-5 for the game) The Canes had a 35-27 lead with just over 2 minutes to play.
Cady and the Hilltoppers were not done however as they marched down the field gaining yards in chunks with the big play a 62 yard screen pass to Nick Guckin. Cady then hit his favorite target Renwick Smith for a 5 yard TD to make it 35-33 with just over a minute to play. However, the two point conversion failed again giving the Canes a huge 35-33 road win.
Coach Trombly, clearly pleased with his teams play after the game added "All preseason there was a lot of uncertainty of who we were and how we were going to be. Today they came out together and played Hartford style football. Nothing fancy, no tricks, just we are coming right at ya, old school smash mouth football."
The Canes offense amassed 554 yards with Nick Porter (225 yards, 1 TD) and Zachary Burek (164 yards, 1 TD) leading the way.
Oddly enough during halftime the St Johnsbury PA played the Scorpions "Rock you like a Hurricane". Hartford AD Jeff Moreno could not be reached for comment on whether or not he hacked into the St J system.
Category 5 Hurricane Player of the Game: Senior RB/DB Nick Porter. Porter ran hard all game scoring once and gaining 225 yards on the ground.
The Canes next visit Middlebury Friday night. The Tigers lost their opening game to Colchester last night.
Follow me on Twitter @John_K_Seaver for in game updates and scores.