DILLON COUTURE of Wakefield (61) battles a Vermont lineman during Shrine Bowl action on Saturday in Hanover. (click for larger version)
August 06, 2012HANOVER — There may have a few firsts in Saturday's Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, but one thing remained the same and that was the dominance of New Hampshire's top football players.
The Granite State toyed with its rivals from Vermont for three quarters, allowing the Green Mountain boys to keep things close, but four unanswered touchdowns in the second half helped seal the New Hampshire win, its 12th in a row, 62-24.
The game featured the most points ever scored by one team in the Shrine Game history, eclipsing the previous mark of 47, put up by Vermont the last time they won the game, back in 2000.
The game also featured the first ever delay in the 59-year history. As the teams were preparing to take the field for the second half, a thunderstorm moved through the area and with lightning clearly visible, the teams were held off the field for the safety of the players.
All told, with the 30-minute halftime and a 90-minute weather delay, the teams were off the field for two hours before resuming play.
The Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl features the top recently-graduated football players from all around the state and this year there were four local kids who made the cut.
Plymouth's Nick Reisert started at linebacker and his high school teammate Cole Brooker started at strong safety. Conor Donovan of Inter-Lakes got the nod at linebacker and also handled the punting and kickoff duties for New Hampshire. Wakefield's Dillon Couture of Spaulding High School started at defensive end.
And right out of the gate it was the defense and the special teams that got to shine, as the offense didn't see the field early in the game.
After Vermont received the kickoff, New Hampshire's defense pushed them back two yards and forced a punt, which Souhegan's Chris Chininis returned 61 yards for a touchdown and Dan Gorman of Hanover split the uprights for the extra point. Brooker was in on the first play, forcing an incomplete pass with solid defensive coverage.
Vermont ran just three plays on the next drive before Mike Leonard of Trinity picked off a tipped pass and returned it 28 yards and Gorman added the extra point for a 14-0 New Hampshire lead less than three minutes into the game.
Vermont did manage its first first down of the game on the next possession, but Tom Cifrino of St. Thomas forced a fumble and New Hampshire got the ball back and moved down the field. The Vermont defense finally tightened up a bit and a couple of penalties put the Granite State in a fourth and goal situation at the 21-yard line. The call went to Donovan and the former Laker booted a 38-yard field goal with 5:31 to go in the first quarter, giving New Hampshire the 17-0 lead.
Vermont answered almost immediately, getting a 79-yard touchdown pass 33 seconds later to cut the lead to 17-7. Both teams punted the ball away on their next possessions and New Hampshire took control of the ball in the final minute of the first quarter and the drive ran into the second quarter and Jerickson Fedrick of Salem ran the ball in from one-yard out. The Gorman extra point made it 24-7 with 12:15 to play in the half.
Reisert made his presence felt on Vermont's next possession, as he pounced on a fumble to get New Hampshire the ball back. While the 603 kids couldn't convert, the defense also held Vermont again and New Hampshire went up 31-7 on a touchdown pass from Evan Bidgood of Timberlane to a wide-open Thaddeus Brown of Manchester Central.
Vermont came storming back, however, getting a 32-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 31-14 with 2:18 to go in the half. The Green Mountain boys then forced New Hampshire to punt and got a great punt return, setting them up deep in the offensive zone and Vermont scored on a four-yard pass with 36 seconds to go in the half, cutting the lead to 31-21.
New Hampshire answered with two quick passes by Bidgood, one to Aaron Martin of Manchester West and the other to Brown, putting them at the seven-yard line, where Donovan booted a 22-yard field goal with no time on the clock to give New Hampshire a 34-21 halftime lead.
Brooker led the team in tackles in the first half, as he had five in the first 30 minutes of play.
After halftime and the weather delay, Vermont's defense forced New Hampshire to punt on its first possession and then put through a field goal to cut the lead to 34-24.
New Hampshire then just turned it on, scoring one touchdown in the third quarter and three more in the fourth quarter to run away with the 62-24 win.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126