If you like high-scoring football, you owe it to yourself to watch the Essex High School football team this season.
The Hornets employ a fast-paced, high-octane offensive attack that combines a lethal passing game with timely running plays, and lights up scoreboards like fireworks in the sky on an early July night. Essex’s no-huddle, spread formation is entertaining to watch.
Unless, of course, you are standing on the opposing sideline.
Friday night, visitors from Mount Mansfield had the misfortune of running into the Essex offensive juggernaut, and the result was lopsided.
Powered by quarterback Joey Picard’s 407 total yards and eight total touchdowns, the Hornets (4-0) raced out to a 40-0 halftime lead en route to an 61-23 victory.
Most of Picard’s damage was done through the air, as he connected on 18-of-34 passes for 326 yards and seven touchdowns — four of them going to James Olsen, who set a school record for receiving touchdowns.
Olsen had touchdown catches of six and 72 yards in the first half, and scores of 25 and nine yards in the second half.
Complementing the passing duo of Picard and Olsen, running back Tyler Warren added 87 yards on the ground and 41 more through the air, along with a touchdown.
“It all starts up front, the boys up front really grind each other all week long and prepare for Friday night,” said Picard of his offensive line. “Without them, our spread offense wouldn’t work at all.”
Olsen also had words of praise for his offensive teammates.
“It just feels so great when Joey is slinging the ball around, the receivers are catching it and nobody is touching him because of the offensive line. It just feels great,” Olsen said.
The Cougars’ offense didn’t find their rhythm until the second half, when they were much more competitive.
MMU scored first in the third quarter on a 6-yard touchdown run by Kyle Dunphey, which was set up by Luke Dolans’ 56-yard punt return.
Then, after picking off Picard for the second of three times, the Cougars trimmed the lead to 40-16 on a 3-yard touchdown run by Matthew Merchant. Later in the third quarter. Joshua Cann had a 20-yard run in the fourth quarter for MMU.
Ryan Forbes hauled in a 30-yard touchdown reception and Wille McSoley was on the receiving end of a 4-yard scoring strike from Picard. Both of those scores came in the second quarter.
Despite the relatively easy win, the Essex boys seemed grounded afterward, and realized they have plenty of challenges ahead, including a potentially difficult game at Rutland next week, and encounters with BFA-St. Albans and South Burlington later in the season.
Warren said the Hornets have plenty of challenges ahead.
“We’ve got to work hard every day in practice. We’ve got Rutland next week, and they’re a big-time opponent and we’ve got to work hard like we would for any big-time opponent,” Warren said.
“It’s going to take a lot of mental focus,” Picard said. “We know that we can play well but we also know that it won’t always go our way, so we’ve got to be able to flush that, and get to the next play, get to the next series, and drive it down the field.”
MMU fell to 1-3 on the year, and is back in action next week when it hosts Colchester.