Two decades of dominance meet nearly two decades of drought in today’s Division III high school football championship game.
The class of Division III with nine crowns since 1996, top-seeded and unbeaten Woodstock (10-0) will defend its 30-game winning streak and cap a three-peat when action kicks off at 11 a.m. at Rutland High School for the first game of a championship tripleheader.
No. 2 Mill River (9-1) is playing for the school’s first team crown in any sport, boys or girls, since snagging its only football title in 1994.
“It’s a long history of frustration,” Mill River coach Art Peterson said. “This is an opportunity for this group to leave their mark on the state and at the school.”
The big, physical Minutemen — at 6-foot-6, 270 pounds tight end Tyler Pitts is a big target in any division, but not even the biggest player on his own team — reached the final with a 40-6 semifinal win over BFA-Fairfax. Their only setback this year was a 42-28 home loss to Woodstock on Sept. 28.
“We know them well. We’ve had a good week at practice,” Peterson said. “Our kids are primed and ready to play great on Saturday.”
First-year Woodstock coach Ramsey Worrell, finding success with the Wing-T offense like his predecessor Jim McLaughlin, had a different take on the final week of the season, when championship demands and turning the clock back make daylight fleeting.
“You never know if you had enough time,” Worrell said.
What he does have is a squad laden with 14 seniors, many of whom played significant roles in the past two championships, that cruised to the final with a 34-0 win against Otter Valley in the semis.
Fullback Oliver Kaija (130 carries, 1,103 yards, 19 TDs) and halfback Tom Baumann (81 carries, 1,102 yards, 22 TDs) are the one-two punch at the heart of the Wasps’ offense, specializing in misdirection and angle-blocking. It’s worked against opponents large and small.
“We approach (the final) the same way we’ve approached all these other games,” Worrell said. “For the most part we’re always undersized at Woodstock. That’s why we run the offense we run.”
Mill River counters with a sturdy offensive line that paved the way for more than 1,000 rushing yards for both running back Dan Blanchard (1,696 yards) and quarterback Mark Goyette.
Both Peterson and Worrell found flaws in their teams’ performances in the regular-season clash, Mill River in the first half and Woodstock in the second. There isn’t room for either team to make mistakes with a trophy up for grabs.
“Defense is what wins these football games this time of year. I think it hinges on defense,” Worrell said. “We’re experienced, they’re experienced, they’re hungry. You only get one shot at this and I’m sure they know that, too.”