New Hampshire makes it 14 in a row over Vermont in Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl
Merrimack Valley's Cole Martin (25) and St. Thomas Aquinas's Jake Geppert celebrate a New Hampshire touchdown during the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl all-star football game in Hanover on Aug. 2, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
Concord's Marc Gaudet (14) raises his helmet toward the end of the National Anthem before the start of the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl all-star football game in Hanover on Aug. 2, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
Concord's Marc Gaudet (14) runs upfield as St. Thomas Aquinas's Mayden Middleton kicks off the ball in the first half in the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl all-star football game in Hanover on Aug. 2, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
HANOVER – The swarming, stifling defense showed up, as expected. But New Hampshire’s Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl offense wasn’t about to let one side of the ball soak in all of the spotlight.
Bolstered by an up-tempo, explosive passing game that complemented an unrelenting defense, the Granite State seized control of the 61st Shrine Game early and never returned it, thumping Vermont, 42-6, at Dartmouth’s Memorial Field for its 14th straight Shrine victory.
It was balance on display, just the kind Coach David Jackson envisioned when the team was coming together.
“We weren’t going to sell out and just be great on defense, we weren’t going to take everybody that we wanted on offense and not have what we needed for defense,” he said. “We spent a lot of time picking what we thought was a pretty good team.”
It was the offense that put the game out of reach, bombarding an overmatched Vermont secondary with an air attack from its first drive of the game. New Hampshire’s first series began at the Vermont 43-yard line and ended two plays later, with Nashua South quarterback Trevor Knight (12-for-20, 209 yards, three touchdowns) finding an open Nick Vailas of Bedford (two catches, 38 yards, two touchdowns) down the sideline for a 37-yard score.
New Hampshire’s next drive went 62 yards but had the same ending, with Knight stepping up in the pocket and hitting Cole Martin down the left sideline for a 28-yard strike and a 13-0 lead with 4:52 left in the first quarter.
Martin, like Vailas, was all alone, which the former Merrimack Valley standout found curious.
“I was just thinking, ‘How am I wide open right now?’ ” said Martin, who caught three passes for 62 yards. “I was just like ‘What is going on?’ … It was just an amazing feeling. Finishing my high school career with a touchdown in the Shrine game, it was awesome.”
The third drive followed the formula, with a touchdown coming on a 1-yard pass to Vailas in the back of the end zone with 1:34 left in the first to finish a drive that featured another long hookup – a 41-yard pass from Knight to Winnacunnet’s Alec Boucher (four catches, 92 yards) – and had Knight poised early to shatter the Shrine record of six touchdown passes in a game.
“We knew we could play up-tempo like that, but coming out here, we don’t know (how we’d play),” Knight said. “It was good to get that first punch, put them on their heels a little bit.”
When the passing took a break, New Hampshire’s running attack filled in. Salem’s Jason Martinez (eight carries, 111 yards) broke a 60-yard run en route to a 2-yard carry that made it 26-0, and after Vermont scored its lone touchdown of the game, he added another score on a 1-yard run with 1:26 to go in the half.
“We thought if we came out sharp and focused, that we could pretty much move the ball through whatever they didn’t want to take away,” Jackson said. “If they were going to try to take away the run, we knew we had weapons and kids that make great decisions in pass protection and we’d kill them with the pass. Vice versa, if they sunk everyone into coverage, we’d get them with the run.”
The defense, led by captain and outside linebacker Marc Gaudet of Concord, came in with an eagerness to show of its collective talent – and the opponent did little to diminish it.
“We were fired up because Vermont, they came in, they were talking to us, they were trying to get in our heads,” Gaudet said. “(They) had guys at the banquet saying ‘Vermont’s going to take this one.’ … They made a bad decision, because that made us mad.”
If New Hampshire was angry, the stats showed it. While the offense piled up the points early, the defense made sure Vermont wouldn’t have an answer. When the first quarter ended, New Hampshire had run 11 plays for 221 yards. Vermont had run 15 – for 2.
“We had our defense in a perfect way today,” said Gaudet, who also ran four times for 22 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown for New Hampshire’s final score. “The quarterback fumbled the snap on the first play he was so scared. We were hooting and hollering, we were yelling, and they were just shaking. It was crazy.”
The stats told the story of a decisive victory in the trenches. New Hampshire finished with three sacks for 15 yards, as well as 15 tackles for a loss – one of which was Jared Kuehl’s safety on the fifth play of the second half. Kyle Reisert had the most impressive game with nine tackles and three for loss, while Gaudet had seven tackles (1.5 for loss) and Merrimack Valley’s Ryan Head, the starter at right defensive end, totaled four tackles.
“I think we put a lot together,” Head said. “It’s a ton of fun. You don’t have to worry about anything. I do my job and I know the guy next to me and the guy behind me is doing his job. … Everyone kind of clicks and it goes together real smooth.”
There wasn’t going to be any testing of the record books – after the first-half flourish, New Hampshire took its foot off the gas and cruised to just a nine-point second half. But there had been more than enough damage done to that point to ensure that the overall result would be the same as it has been in recent years.
For the 14th straight year, New Hampshire had said all it needed to say in the annual showdown.
“I think we made the perfect statement,” Gaudet said. “We came out, we flied around, and the scoreboard showed it.”
(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or email@example.com or on Twitter @dbonifant.)