Champlain Valley began its football schedule this year with its lone blemish on the season, a 38-28 loss to Burr and Burton Academy.
Now, the No. 3 Redhawks have an opportunity to avenge that setback with a rematch at No. 2 Burr and Burton in Manchester this Saturday, Nov. 4, at 1 p.m.
After that opening game, CVU has won the rest of the way and outscoring its opponents 308-35. The Redhawks have a perfect (5-0) record at home, dominating the scoreboard 209-7 in Hinesburg with wins over Essex, Burlington-South Burlington, Rutland, St. Johnsbury and Essex again in the playoffs.
However impressive those stats may be, it doesn’t mean a lot in the playoffs. As assistant coach Sam Fontaine said, “When it comes to playoffs, everything becomes different. Records don’t matter. You can’t take a play for granted.”
CVU 21, Middlebury 14
The Redhawks ended the regular season in much the same way it ended the whole season last year, playing the Middlebury Tigers.
“Our goal was for our defense to cause their offense to go three and out to start the game,” said coach Rahn Fleming.
Mission accomplished. Twice. Middlebury managed less than 5 yards on its first two possessions. And the Redhawks managed to score twice to open the game with a 14-0 lead.
Just before the first quarter ended, Middlebury got on the scoreboard to pull back to 14-7.
CVU’s early lead could have been much more than that but the Redhawks scored three apparent touchdowns only to have them nullified by penalties.
Ollie Cheer hit wide receiver Billy Bates sprinting down the field. As Brian Rutherford sprinted to provide blocking, he appeared to block a Tiger defender in the back.
It was a call Fleming disagreed with, while understanding how it was difficult for the official to see from his angle of perspective that it was a legitimate block and not in the back.
“A couple of plays later Jacob Bose disappeared into a sea of defenders and popped up on the other side, but without his helmet, and he crossed the goal line,” Fleming said.
Because the officials could not see who pulled Bose’s helmet off, they had to call it back.
“We had to score three times to get one touchdown,” Fleming said, adding that his team didn’t get disheartened by the scoring reversals, instead: “We decided we will put the ball in the end zone as many times as we have to.”
He admitted: “There’s probably not a coach on the planet that agrees with a penalty when it’s called.”
Cheer threaded a remarkable 5-yard pass through a forest of linebackers to Jacob Armstrong, who fell into the end zone for the Redhawks’ third score. It was Armstrong’s second touchdown of the night.
Middlebury managed to make the outcome tight late in the game when a CVU snap sailed over the punter’s head, and the Tiger’s recovered the ball inside the 20-yard line. They managed to score in two plays to pull within a touchdown at 21-14.
With less than 3 and a half minutes remaining, the Redhawks were able to hang on for the win.
Since the game was a rematch from last year’s title game, the Tigers might have come into the contest with a chip on their shoulders and carrying a grudge, but Fleming said the game didn’t feel like there was any holdover from the previous year.
“Both teams were playing good clean football,” he said. In a state where “the list of teams is short and the memories are long” it was important for both teams to keep their minds in the game.
No. 3 CVU 45, No. 6 Essex 0
Champlain Valley’s first game of the playoffs was a rematch from earlier this year against the Essex Hornets. The Redhawks dominated Essex 28-0 in the first contest on Sept. 30.
In the bonus season a month later, the Redhawks stung the Hornets even worse, initiating its playoff quest with a 45-0 drubbing this past Saturday, Oct. 28.
“We wanted that game to be a demonstration of who we are to ourselves,” Fleming said. He felt like his team did that, “scoring early and scoring often.”
The morning of the game it rained hard but the precipitation stopped before kickoff. The coach said he saw players on both teams slipping a few times, but players didn’t seem to have trouble with the ball slipping out of their hands. That’s one of the blessings of not having to play in the rain — it’s so much easier to keep the ball dry.
Asher Vaughn seems to have recovered from an injury to his hamstring. The injury may have helped his running back, Fleming said. He appears to have modified his running style.
“He’s less prone to running over people and is looking for the open space,” Fleming said, reveling in Vaughn’s ability to accelerate when he finds the merest sliver of daylight.
Vaughn finished with 10 carries for 77 yards. He rushed for touchdowns from 26 yards out and from 4 yards.
Fleming also reveled in his whole team’s play — offense, defense and special teams — conceding that they didn’t play flawless ball, but they came close.
Looking forward to the Burr and Burton rematch for all the marbles this Saturday, Fleming said, “Our intention is to go to Manchester and bring home what we left there in the first game, but of course intentions don’t mean anything without actions.”
For most of this week, the team has practices scheduled at the Shelburne Field House and at Virtue Field at the University of Vermont because those both have artificial turf like the Redhawks will play on at Burr and Burton.
But for their last practice on Friday, the team will be back practicing on the grass at CVU. Fleming wants his seniors to have one last chance to play on their home field.
If they win at Manchester, their final game will be on the field at Rutland High in the state title game on Nov. 11.