Eagles’ grit pins Winooski, 28-8

BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham/Vergennes football team on Saturday shrugged off a slow start, several early mistakes and a second-half monsoon to defeat visiting Winooski, 28-8.
The 2-0 Eagles are tied for first place in Division II with 2013 finalists Woodstock and Mill River.
Coach Ernie Senecal said tougher tests lie ahead, starting with 2013 No. 3 seed BFA-Fairfax in Bristol at 1 p.m. this Saturday. Fairfax is 1-1 after a 54-42 home loss on Saturday to Otter Valley, a game in which two Bullet backs each ran for 150 yards. 
“Next week is going to be a very tough match for us,” Senecal said. “They’re a strong team, and they have a lot of experience from last year.”
But Senecal likes his Eagles’ grit. At U-32 the week before, they trailed by 22-8 at the half, and won, 26-22, after a series of big second-half plays. On Saturday, Winooski’s Brandon Bigelow bolted 85 yards for a score on the Spartans’ first play from scrimmage, and the conversion made it 8-0.
Then, in the first half alone, the Eagles fumbled three times, allowed the Spartans to recover an onsides kick and committed two delay-of-game penalties.
But after Bigelow’s run, they also allowed just 136 more yards, and they scored on three straight second-half possessions in heavy rain and strong wind.
Senecal listed all the things that went wrong, but said his team overcame it all.
“The weather conditions were bad. We turned the ball over a little bit. We gave up a big play. We talked about coming out strong, and not letting them stay in the ballgame long, and we did just about the opposite,” Senecal said. “We weren’t clicking offensively. We didn’t quite get our running game going for a while. But there’s pretty good character on the team. They kept on pulling themselves together.”
The first good sign came after Bigelow’s run and the Spartans’ recovery of the following onsides kick. The Eagles gave up eight yards on first down, but then stuffed three straight plays and took over on downs. Nose tackle Matt Mullin tackled Bigelow for a loss on second down to set the tone.
Defense and miscues ruled for a while. The teams opened the second quarter by fumbling on consecutive plays, with Winooski taking over on their 33. A Bigelow reverse for 30 yards soon put the Spartans at the Eagle 33.
But tackles by Mullin and Anthony Robideau and a pass break-up by Anthony Warner stopped Winooski there, and one play later it was 8-6. The Spartans, knowing the Eagles ran well inside vs. U-32, kept stacking the middle, and Mount Abe sprung a flanker reverse on them.
Junior Jeb Hodsden raced 67 yards down the left sideline, shrugging off two tackles, and the Eagles were on the board at 7:50 of the second quarter. The rush failed, and Winooski still led.
The Spartans ground out a couple first downs, but the Eagles took over at their 31 with 2:21 to go. Sparked by a 36-yard Ryan Paquin run, they reached the Winooski 12, but a fumble killed the threat.
The Eagles had a couple more miscues in their system, including letting Winooski recover another onsides kick to open the second half. But Paquin recovered a Bigelow fumble, and Mount Abe took over at its 31 and marched 69 yards to take the lead. The big plays were a 23-yard Hodsden reverse, a 14-yard Warner run on fourth and five from the Spartan 32, and Paquin’s 15-yard touchdown run to make it 12-8.
Then it was the Eagles’ turn to recover an onsides kick, and they moved and scored again. After a penalty put them back on their 31, runs by Paquin and Warner gave them fourth and four at the Winooski 48. It was time for the reverse to Hodsden again, and he lugged it to the Spartan 5. From there, quarterback Joey Payea went wide right and dove into the end zone at 0:10 of the third period. Paquin converted the run, and it was 20-8.
Soon afterward, it was 28-8. Robideau drilled Bigelow, the ball popped loose, and Bradley Sturtevant recovered it at the Winooski 28. Two Paquin runs later, the first one of 27 yards and the second of one, and the Eagles had their third straight scoring drive. Warner ran in the points-after, and it was 28-8.
Down the stretch, Hodsden, Wyatt Gracie and Mullin made defensive plays to help preserve the shutout, even after a couple late miscues put Spartans deep in Eagle territory. 
The Eagles gained 367 yards, all on the ground — neither team completed a pass. Hodsden picked up 133 yards on three attempts; Paquin, 137 yards on 12 carries; and Warner, 62 yards on 11 attempts.
Most of Winooski’s 221 yards came from Bigelow (12 carries, 113 yards). Jordan Ritchie (16 for 57 yards) also ran well.
Senecal was happy with a defense that pitched a second-half shutout for the second straight week.
 “Defensively, after that first big play, and then they had a reverse that worked pretty good, we shut them down pretty well, I thought,” he said.
Senecal would like to see quicker starts, and at some point he said the passing game will have to at least catch opponents’ attention.
“In two games we have not completed a pass,” he said. “We need to be able to execute a couple pass plays so at least we’re a threat.”
But, Senecal said, the big picture looks positive as the team looks for another post-season berth.
“We’re feeling good. We’re 2-0 for the first time in a long time,” he said. “I like where we’re at. There’s a great work ethic.”

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