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VanTassel, N.H. earn Shrine win

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Winnisquam's Dakota VanTassel (left) blocks a Vermont defender during action in the 61st Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl Saturday night at Dartmouth College. The Granite State breezed to a 42-6 victory. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
August 04, 2014
HANOVER It didn't take long for New Hampshire to set the tone. For the 14th year in a row, the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl title was staying in the Granite State.

Team New Hampshire scored just 2:41 into the first quarter and never looked back, scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter en route to a dominating 42-6 win over Vermont in the 61st edition of the historic rivalry held at Dartmouth College's Memorial Field on Saturday night. Vermont hasn't won in the series since 2000, and the lopsided results have N.H. winning all but three times since 1981 (1988, 1998, 2000).

Despite the dominating performance and history that the Granite State has managed to put together over the years, the talk at practice all week leading up to the game didn't focus on anything but the present, according to the players on the roster.

"The plan was just to go out and get a 'W," explained Gilford High School quarterback Jack Athanas, one of three Lakes Region performers on the squad. "We didn't talk at all about the history or the streak or anything like that."

Golden Eagle teammate Drake Parker echoed that sentiment.

"This was our game, we played for us," the hulking lineman said.

Winnisquam Regional High School's Dakota VanTassel became the second player in program history to take part in the Shrine Game, one year after Austin Hunt competed for the Granite State squad.

"I can't think of a better way to end my career," said VanTassel. "Everything about the atmosphere was great."

New Hampshire jumped out to a 7-0 lead with 9:19 left in the first quarter, as Nashua South star quarterback Trevor Knight, headed to play at UNH this fall, tossed the first of his three touchdown passes, this of the 37-yard variety to Nick Vailas of Bedford.

The damage was just getting started though, as Knight followed with a 28-yard TD toss to Merrimack Valley's Cole Martin for a 13-0 advantage just 4:27 later. Knight closed out the trifecta of TD passes with 1:34 left in the first quarter, as he hit Vailas again, this time from just one yard out for a commanding 20-0 lead. Knight finished the game 12 of 20 passing for 209 yards and the three TDs.

"I've never been part of a program that was so dominant right out of the gates," admitted VanTassel.

It was 26-0 when bruising tailback Jason Martinez of Salem rumbled in from two yards out early in the second quarter, though Vermont did manage to get on the scoreboard for the first time since 2012 when James Shufelt III hit Joseph Couture for a 24-yard TD pass with 5:29 left in the half. But Martinez (eight carries, 111 yards) answered with his second TD of the frame, and New Hampshire took a commanding 33-6 lead into halftime.

The second half was the time to shine for the local players. After Plymouth's Jared Kuehl made a tackle in the Vermont end zone for a safety early in the third, Athanas and Parker made their debuts with 11:21 left in the period. It was fitting that the duo entered together, with Athanas at quarterback taking snaps from Parker at center.

"I've been taking snaps from Drake since fourth grade," said Athanas. "To end it like that in our final game, that was a dream come true. I knew going in that I would get my chance to play in the second half. I just had to play my game. I wasn't nervous; I was on this team for a reason."

Parker said after a week of practice at Dartmouth, he was chomping at the bit to get into the game come third quarter action.

"It was pure excitement," the offensive lineman explained. "After hitting guys on my own team all week, I was ready to hit somebody from Vermont."

Athanas, who played the majority of the second half under center, finished his outing by completing five of his nine passes for 35 yards, including a 20-yard completion.

"The experience was unbelievable," the southpaw signal caller said. "My dad's been taking me to this game since third or fourth grade so I've been dreaming of playing here for a long time. I had the time of my life this week."

VanTassel made his debut on the last series of the third quarter, as he joined Parker along the offensive line at right tackle. The Winnisquam star also saw some time on defense in the fourth quarter at defensive end.

"It's such a prestigious game that you want to get in and show what you're made of," said VanTassel. "It really shows what you're made out of playing against competition like this. We all pushed each other really hard."

The future looks bright for all three locals, with all doing very different things this fall. Athanas will study business at UNH, while Parker plans to study engineering at Florida Institute of Technology. VanTassel is counting down the final days until he leaves for basic training for the Army National Guard.

NOTES: It wasn't quite as bad as the 2013 game for Vermont, as the Green Mountain State did manage to get on the scoreboard this year compared to the 43-0 defeat a year ago... The last time Vermont won was 2000, when a record-breaking performance from quarterback Michael Keenan (352 yards, six TDs) led the squad to a wild 47-40 victory... New Hampshire held a 21-8 advantage in first downs on the evening, as well as a whopping 470-131 edge in total offensive yards... With N.H. proving to be a quick-striking offense, Vermont held an advantage in time of possession (28:34-19:26)... Here's what the program book had as capsules for each of the three local players... Jack Athanas: When I was informed that I had been selected to play in the 2014 Shrine Bowl, I was elated. Making the shrine game has always been a dream of mine ever since I started going to the games with my dad as a young boy. I am the first person in my family to make the Shrine Team and only the fourth person to make the team from my high school. So, this is a great honor and privilege for me. I am excited to represent my school and my state in this wonderful event. I feel honored to have this opportunity and I will certainly embrace the entire experience... Drake Parker: I was extremely excited to be selected for the 2014 Shrine Team. It is an honor to represent my family, school and town. I was also excited to have the opportunity to play one more game of high school football. I think the shrine program supports a great cause, and I'm proud to be part of it... Dakota VanTassel: When I heard I was going to be playing in the Maple Sugar Shrine Bowl I was excited. It was one of my dreams to play in this game ever since I started playing football. I'm only the second person in the history of my school to make it so I want to represent my school as best as I can. I couldn't have done it without my coaches and team helping me along the way.

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