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New rule could close gap between New Hampshire, Vermont in Shrine football game

  • New Hampshire Shrine team coach Ray Kershaw addresses the squad following practice at Castleton State College in Castleton, Vt., on July 31, 2013. (Valley News — James M. Patterson)

    New Hampshire Shrine team coach Ray Kershaw addresses the squad following practice at Castleton State College in Castleton, Vt., on July 31, 2013. (Valley News — James M. Patterson)

  • New Hampshire Shrine team coach Ray Kershaw addresses the squad following practice at Castleton State College in Castleton, Vt., on July 31, 2013. (Valley News — James M. Patterson)

    New Hampshire Shrine team coach Ray Kershaw addresses the squad following practice at Castleton State College in Castleton, Vt., on July 31, 2013. (Valley News — James M. Patterson)

  • Kearsarge's Oliver Gallo (right) runs a relay with a teammate on the New Hampshire Shrine Bowl team at the close of practice at Castleton State College in Castleton, Vt., on July 31, 2013. (Valley News — James M. Patterson)

    Kearsarge's Oliver Gallo (right) runs a relay with a teammate on the New Hampshire Shrine Bowl team at the close of practice at Castleton State College in Castleton, Vt., on July 31, 2013. (Valley News — James M. Patterson)

  • New Hampshire Shrine team coach Ray Kershaw addresses the squad following practice at Castleton State College in Castleton, Vt., on July 31, 2013. (Valley News — James M. Patterson)
  • New Hampshire Shrine team coach Ray Kershaw addresses the squad following practice at Castleton State College in Castleton, Vt., on July 31, 2013. (Valley News — James M. Patterson)
  • Kearsarge's Oliver Gallo (right) runs a relay with a teammate on the New Hampshire Shrine Bowl team at the close of practice at Castleton State College in Castleton, Vt., on July 31, 2013. (Valley News — James M. Patterson)

The winning streak stands at 12 years, and to be honest, the games haven’t even been close. New Hampshire has outscored Vermont 433-145 in the last 12 Shrine Maple Sugar Bowls, including last year’s 62-24 win that set a record for most points scored in a game by one team.

In an attempt to level the playing field, the game’s organizers changed the rules for the 60th Maple Sugar Bowl, which is set to kick off today at 5:30 p.m. in Hanover at Dartmouth’s Memorial Field. In the past, New Hampshire could choose nine players from Division I, eight from D-II, six from D-III and D-IV, four from D-V and three from D-VI. This year, however, New Hampshire Coach Ray Kershaw, who is from D-VI Mascoma, had to pick six players from each of the six divisions and could choose no more than two players from any one school.

“I like the rule because it’s fair to all the divisions and gives everybody a chance to play,” Kershaw said. “But at the same time, there are a lot of kids from the upper divisions to choose from, so that’s where it hurts a bit.”

Vermont, which fielded 34 varsity football teams last fall compared with the 56 in New Hampshire, doesn’t have to follow the same rules. There are three divisions in Vermont and its Shrine coach, Jason Thomas of Burr & Burton Academy in Manchester, could choose 18 from D-I, 12 from D-II and six from D-III, and could have as many as four players from any one school.

Thomas has said he doesn’t like the rule because it gives New Hampshire a built-in excuse if it was to lose this year. That may be true, but since Kershaw is from D-VI, he isn’t likely to use that excuse. And the Mascoma head man is quite happy with the team he composed and how they’ve been preparing during the last week at Castleton State College in Vermont.

“I’m very pleased with how practices have been going and all the kids are well-behaved and very polite, just a great group of kids,” Kershaw said. “And as far as ability, it’s incredible. All of the players, not just a couple, have shown tremendous ability and understanding.”

Not only do the best players in the lower divisions have the talent to contribute in an all-star game like this, they have plenty of motivation, maybe even more than players from the big schools.

“I think coming from (D-V or D-VI), you do have something to prove,” said Ollie Gallo, a product of D-V Kearsarge. “I know I feel like I have something to prove.”

Spread vs. Wing

The two teams will approach offense from opposite ends of the spectrum. Vermont will use a spread formation and feature the passing game, while New Hampshire will try to pound the ball on the ground out of a double wing.

Vermont’s Thomas began learning the spread offense when he was the wide receivers coach at the University of New Hampshire and worked under then-offensive coordinator Chip Kelly, who later used his spread attack to bring Oregon to the top of the college football world and eventually land himself a job in the NFL. Thomas was able to take that foundation and apply it at Burr & Burton, where he’s led the team to three playoff berths in his five years at the school, including a D-II championship game appearance in 2011.

Thomas’s spread will be in capable, and familiar, hands. Jake Stalcup, a three-year starter at Burr & Burton, is expected to be Vermont’s starting quarterback today. The 6-foot-4 Stalcup, who will go on to play at Middlebury College, passed for 2,613 yards and 31 touchdowns last year and was intercepted just nine times.

“We’ve been watching some film (of Burr & Burton), it was interesting to see them,” said Gallo, who will be at free safety for New Hampshire. “(Stalcup) is a pretty impressive player.”

Stalcup will have a familiar target to pinpoint, wide receiver Chris Redding, who caught 71 passes for 1,160 yards and 15 touchdowns last fall for Burr & Burton and will walk on at UNH. The last time Vermont won a Shrine game, 47-40 back in 2000, it was led by a quarterback-receiver tandem from the same school, Mount St. Joseph’s Mike Keenan and Pat McCormack. Keenan still holds the Maple Sugar Bowl records for passing yards (352), touchdowns (six), completions (30) and attempts (49).

The Granite State will counter with offensive bulk and depth, starting with an o-line of Portsmouth’s Kurtis Leonard, Winnacunnet’s Jordan Cutting and Christian Dyer, Nashua South’s Christian Stack and Concord’s Seth Gosse. Gosse wasn’t on the original roster, but he was called on to replace Bedford’s Will McInerny, who wasn’t 100 percent healthy.

“Seth has been incredible,” Kershaw said. “He’s quick, he’s aggressive and he’s been a leader out there. I’m so glad we have him.”

Goffstown’s Connor Benjamin is expected to start at quarterback for New Hampshire. Benjamin will have a deep backfield behind him that will include Exeter’s Tyler Grant, Trinity’s Romeo Masuku, Kearsarge’s Jordan Barthol and another Concord High product, Tolbert Nemo.

“When (Nemo) has been in there and getting his reps, the kids hate trying to catch him. And the way he moves, he’s really spun some kids around,” Kershaw said. “We’re having a lot of fun with him.”

Capital area connections

In addition to Gosse, Nemo, Barthol and Gallo, the other local players on the New Hampshire roster are Bishop Brady’s Evan Hall, Winnisquam’s Austin Hunt and Pembroke’s Chris Ford. And Kershaw had positive things to say about all of them.

∎ On Hall (linebacker): “He’s a super kid and he’s absolutely giving it all he has out there. He’s doing a great job with our defense.”

∎ On Hunt (linebacker): “He’s really smart, you can just see he knows the game inside and out, and he’s already made some great plays.”

∎ On Ford (defensive tackle): “He is hard to stop and really gives us a great look out there. He makes our offensive line work so hard, and when they can stop him, that’s when we can feel comfortable with what the offensive line is doing.”

Laconia’s Graham Nyhan also has an interesting local connection. His grandfather, Daniel Nyhan, represented St. John High School in the 1958 Shrine game, and his father, Daniel “Chip” Nyhan, represented Bishop Brady in the 1984 game. Graham’s appearance in this year’s contest makes the Nyhans the first family to send three generations of players to the Maple Sugar Bowl.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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