Rice Memorial and Woodstock are seeking to defend their crowns. But first they’ll need to survive this weekend to advance to their respective title-games.
Here’s a quick look at the semifinal matchups in Division II and III:
* Bellows Falls at Rice Memorial: These teams will meet for the fifth time since the start of the 2011 season. Saturday’s tilt is also a rematch of last year’s final, won by the Green Knights to cap a perfect season.
“We’ve seen a lot of each other, that’s for sure,” Rice coach Neil Brodeur said.
Familiarity is one pre-game storyline. Another is the health of Rice.
“I’ve always said you have to have your best players on the field,” Brodeur said, “and we are a healthy team right now.”
That includes Tommy Fitzgerald, who returned to the field against Milton in last week’s regular-season finale. Brodeur said Fitzgerald might see action at quarterback, wide receiver and running back.
Since Fitzgerald’s injury in Week 2, Chris Jansen (475 rushing yards, 23 total touchdowns) and Anthony Phillip (690 rushing yards, 10 scores) have paced Rice’s attack. Matt Maynard has been key on both sides of the ball as a tight end and linebacker.
Ethan Illingworth, Carson Fullam, David Dunbar and Kyle O’Rourke are part of a Bellows Falls team that has steadily improved since the Week 3 loss to Rice.
* Fair Haven at Lyndon: A lack of ball security nearly cost Lyndon in its win at Fair Haven earlier this season. The Vikings don’t expect fumbles to be an issue in the rematch, the team’s first home playoff game since 2001. Lyndon has eyed this portion of the season for a year.
“We felt like we were deserving last year, but didn’t do enough to qualify,” Lyndon coach Dan Nolan said. “That was tough for us, but we’ve been working hard to get to this point for a long time. We want to take advantage of it.”
And that starts with a triple-option offense spearheaded by quarterback James Shufelt, who surpassed the school’s single-season record for rushing yards in last week’s win over St. Johnsbury. The senior has accounted for 1,435 on the ground and 26 total touchdowns, production that has helped the Vikings to an undefeated record against league opponents.
Fair Haven has its own big-time player out of the backfield in Tyler Rice, a transfer from Poultney who has 1,355 yards and 20 touchdowns.
* BFA-Fairfax at Mill River: A rematch of last year’s semifinals, the Minutemen are motivated for some redemption.
“Our players did not forget the feeling of losing there last year,” Mill River coach Art Peterson said. “They are pretty determined that won’t be the outcome this year.”
To do so, Mill River will need to contain Fairfax’s triple-option offense. Matt Larose (15 TDs), Luke Langelier (14 TDs), Liam Sweeney (five TDs) and Nick Coon (five TDs) have shared the wealth in the balanced attack for the Bullets, who have won four in a row since a 2-3 start.
“We struggled in the beginning of the season and now we are finding our way, finding our identity,” said Fairfax coach Mike Williams of a 19-player squad.
Mill River is loaded with seniors in a spread offense paced by quarterback Mark Goyette (1,042 rushing yards) and running back Dan Blanchard (1,513 yards).
* Otter Valley at Woodstock: The Wasps are just two wins away from securing a three-peat. Standing in their way of another title-game spot are the Otters.
Behind brothers Mike Winslow (273 yards, three touchdowns) and John Winslow (213 yards, one touchdown), Otter Valley pushed its winning streak to five games by rolling over Mount Abraham in the quarterfinals.
Woodstock dispatched Oxbow last weekend, another stellar performance on a resume that includes wins over Mill River and Division II’s top seed Lyndon. For the season, Tom Bauman (1,006 rushing yards on 67 carries, 21 touchdowns) and Oliver Kaija (971 rushing yards, 20 total touchdowns) have powered Woodstock.