Tiger football set for Rebel rematch in state championship game

RUTLAND — The state’s two best high school football teams will meet on Saturday night in Rutland for the Vermont Division I championship, undefeated top seed Middlebury (10-0) and No. 2 South Burlington, which at 9-1 has lost only to the Tigers.
Game time on Rutland High School’s turf field has been set for 5 p.m.; it will follow earlier clashes for the D-III title between No. 1 Woodstock and No. 2 Mill River and for the D-II crown between No. 1 Lyndon and No. 2 Rice. The forecast as of midweek called for calm, but seasonally chilly weather.
Saturday’s main event is a rematch of an Oct. 11 shootout at MUHS won by the Tigers, 42-20. On that evening, the teams combined for 912 yards of total offense, 478 for the Tigers and 434 for the Rebels.
A critical difference in the contest proved to be turnovers, four, all by the Rebels. Austin Robinson recovered a fumble by Rebel standout tailback Tanner Contois in the Tiger end zone, and Bobby Ritter, Connor Quinn and Sam Usilton picked off passes tossed by SBHS quarterback Hunter Riehle.
But Riehle still completed 15-of-27 passes for 163 yards, while Contois rushed for 256 yards on 27 carries, including an 80-yard touchdown that helped the Rebels take a 14-13 second-quarter lead. The Tigers know that dealing with the elusive, yet surprisingly strong, Contois will be Job One on Saturday.
“We’ve just got to slow him down. He’s a great player, and they’re a great team,” said senior offensive lineman and linebacker Josh Stearns after the Tigers defeated Hartford this past Friday. “We’ve just got to contain them, and we’ve got to execute on offense and keep putting up points.”
The Tigers did not have trouble doing that back in October. Fullback Jake Trautwein in particular had a big day, busting loose for 223 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries. Robinson at quarterback was also effective in fewer rushes, lugging the ball six times for 116 yards, including an 88-yard TD run. Robinson also completed two for four passes for a net of 18 yards, including a seven-yard TD pass to Nathan Peck.
Coach Dennis Smith said after the Hartford game he is confident in his no-huddle offense, which he said has the speed to be a threat outside and the passing game to complement its power running inside.
“I think we’ve just gotten better and better as the year has gone on,” Smith said. “Plus we’ve added things to what we’ve been doing just to spread the field out more. Teams have to defend us all over the place.”
He also acknowledged the Tigers will have to defend Contois all over the field if the Tigers are to take their first D-I title since defeating Hartford, 3-0, in 2002, and what would be the program’s ninth D-I or D-II championship since 1970.
“It’s athletes on athletes,” Smith said. “It’s make plays, don’t make mistakes, and contain Contois for as much as you can.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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