Shrine Bowl experience positive for Vermont football team despite loss

CASTLETON — The Vermont Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl team had a lot going for it this past Saturday at Castleton State College.
Vermont took a 12-7 lead after three quarters, faced a New Hampshire opponent missing some top players due to an in-state East-West all-star game, deployed a defense that held its foe to negative rushing yardage, and enjoyed the services of seven members of the two-time Division I champion Middlebury Union High School squad.
But Vermont’s first win since 2000 was not meant to be: New Hampshire took the lead with a long trick-play touchdown as the final quarter opened, and then tacked on two scores on long passes to pull away for a 27-12 victory and extend its lead in the series to 47-13-2.
MUHS Head Coach Dennis Smith oversaw the Vermont team that on Saturday played one of the few close games vs. New Hampshire in recent memory. Smith said he was disappointed, but glad the Green Mountain State gave its neighbor a run for its money.
“We had chances to win the game, and they made plays, too. So, you know, it was a great game. And what it comes down to is being a good game so it grows interest again,” Smith said. “It’s not a matter of whether Vermont is going to lose, it’s whether they are going to be competitive enough to keep the fans coming. That’s what has to happen. People don’t want to go if they know it’s going to be 42-0.”
Ultimately, Smith said, the Vermont team made a few too many mistakes. A pass in the end zone was dropped that could have made it 19-7, late in the third quarter Vermont botched a handoff on a kickoff return and was pinned on its 4-yard line, and the team saw a penalty erase the recovery of a fumbled punt on the New Hampshire 4-yard line.
“There were many little things in the game,” Smith said.
New Hampshire took a 7-0 lead on the first of Kyle Gaudet’s three touchdown receptions — a 90-yard bomb from Connor DiCesare that became the longest in Shrine history. MUHS quarterback Austin Robinson then scored on a 1-yard plunge to cap a 37-yard march in the first half’s final minute to make the score 7-6 at the half after the kick missed.
Robinson struggled to throw the ball (one-for-13) under a heavy pass rush, but ran the MUHS triple offense effectively. Fullbacks John Bielicki of Hartford (74 yards on 14 carries) and Luke Langelier of Fairfax (11 carries, 53 yards) did most of the damage on the ground, and Langelier pushed the ball to the one to set up Robinson’s score.
“We got to where we could establish the run, especially to our left side,” Smith said. “We just didn’t have time to throw the ball. They had a great rush.”
In the third period, Otter Valley nose tackle Adam Sherwin recovered a New Hampshire fumble at the N.H. 37. On fourth-and-seven, Robinson tossed a 34-yard score to Rice’s Anthony Philips, and Vermont led, 12-7, after the two-point conversion failed.
New Hampshire then failed to move, in part because of a sack by Tiger defensive end Justin Stone, but on fourth-and-long at the Vermont 40 on the first play of the fourth quarter the Vermonters were surprised.
Gaudet caught a pass in the flat and lateraled to Dennis Bishop, who lugged the ball the remaining distance to give New Hampshire the lead, which became 15-12 with a two-point conversion.
Gaudet added TD catches of 17 and 57 yards as New Hampshire pulled away to win by 15.
Also suiting up for Vermont were OV’s John Winslow at safety and kicker and Tigers Bobby Ritter at cornerback, Connor Quinn at cornerback and safety, Lucas Plouffe at offensive tackle, Nathan Lalonde at linebacker and extra point kicker and Cullen Hathaway at halfback.
“Everybody did great. Everybody got playing time,” Smith said.
Smith said the members of the team bonded during the grueling triple sessions leading up to Saturday’s game.
“It was a wonderful week. Everybody has a lot of wonderful memories from it. Even the kids you maybe have little grudges with because of rivalries and stuff, everybody just got along,” Smith said. “It was just a great experience, all in all.”
Attendance for Saturday’s game was announced at 4,150, with the proceeds going to support Shrine hospitals for children. That cause is dear to Smith and his family members’ hearts: A back operation performed by a specialist at a Philadelphia Shrine hospital made a major difference for his 16-year-old daughter, Lily, after a previous procedure went awry.
And according to the Shrine game website, in the previous 61 years before this past Saturday the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl has raised $4.5 million to support Shrine hospitals.
“It’s all for the cause for the Shriners, is what it comes down to,” Smith said. “It’s not only being the coach of 36 great football players, but also it’s a way to raise money for Shriners’ hospitals, not only for what they’ve done for my family, but for what they do for all kids. It’s something we’ll always remember. It would have been nice to win the game, but in the end it’s all for a good cause.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to add the name of Nathan Lalonde of the MUHS Tigers as a member of the Vermont team, which we didn’t include in the original story.
VERMONT’S JOHN WINSLOW, a standout at Otter Valley Union High School, kicks off for his team in this past Saturday’s Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl game in Castleton.

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