Nov. 5, 2009
By Mal Boright
The two teams lost one game each in the autumn’s Division 2 football battles, but Mount Mansfield Union High (7-2 overall, 6-1 division) nudged (8-1, 6-1) Champlain Valley Union High for the second seed in the four-team playoffs that begin Friday night.
The difference was likely Mount Mansfield’s 34-14 victory over Division 1 second seed Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans a couple of weeks ago. The higher placement gives the Cougars the home field advantage, so the two will clash at 7 p.m. on Friday under the lights at Burlington High. MMU’s athletic fields are under construction.
It will be a significant test for the Redhawks, who wound up their initial Division 2 campaign with a 31-20 home triumph over 3-6 Fair Haven Union High on Saturday afternoon.
The Cougars lost two of their first three games but have then put together a five-game win streak to close out the regular season. The defeats were at the hands of Division 1 unbeaten powerhouse Essex High in the opener and Middlebury, 13-7, on the third weekend.
Running back Ian Shaw leads a punishing ground game, running for more than 145 yards in at least five outings, including a 270-yard bonanza in a 54-44 triumph over North Country Union.
The Redhawks unleashed some punishing ground pounding of their own in running past the Slaters on Saturday in the final home contest of the year. But for a while in the first half, it was a tale of two noses, hard and soft, both on the CVU side of the ball.
For the first 2 minutes and 43 seconds, it was no contest.
The Redhawks took the opening kickoff to their 40. On the first play from scrimmage, scat back J.P. Benoit bolted off the right side of the line, into the clear and on into the end zone, a 60-yard scamper. Brian Cherhoniak booted the first of his four points-after.
Moments later, on the Slaters’ second play at their 30, Konnor Fleming picked off a Jessie Maynard pass and returned it 40 yards to the Fair Haven 12. After two carries for 7 yards, Benoit blasted in from the 5 to put CVU up 14-0 after the reliable Cherhoniak’s kick.
Less than three minutes gone. The Hawks appeared on their way to a blowout.
But Fair Haven, a school with a long and proud football tradition (and foghorn voices from followers) was not about to sink quietly into the good turf.
The Slaters, striking on the ground and through the air, immediately put together a 60-yard scoring drive, gaining the end zone on a 15-yard, fourth down sortie around left end by halfback Evan Amery (11 carries, 91 yards). A pass try for two points was dropped.
Additional troubles followed for the now-on-their heels Redhawks, when the squib kickoff was fumbled and recovered by Fair Haven at the CVU 45.
The Slaters went for the big enchilada and got it, a 45-yard scoring strike from Maynard to end Levi Ellis. Fullback David Atkins crashed over the middle for the two-point conversion and, with 2:31 left in the quarter, the score was knotted at 14.
But after holding Fair Haven at the CVU 20 early in the second period, the Redhawks finally got back a measure of control, tearing off a 75-yard scoring march. A Fleming 45-yard burst up the middle was a key play of the drive, topped off by the quarterback’s 1-yard dive into the end zone following a 14-yard power pop by fullback Morris Crawford.
A fumble recovery by CVU’s Cameron Fitzgerald got the ball back at midfield with just over a minute left in the half. Fleming’s keepers for 14 and 23 yards helped the Redhawks work to the Fair Haven 10, setting up a 27-yard field goal by Cherhoniak for a 24-14 halftime lead.
Fleming had his best running day in a few weeks, picking up 115 yards in 13 lugs.
The Redhawks’ defense was bolstered by the late first half return of defensive end Matt Long, sacker extraordinaire, who had been gripped by flu part of the week. That helped the now hardnosed CVU defense put the clamps on the Slaters.
After linebackers Eric Palmer and Drew Nick stuffed a fourth down plunge by the Slaters’ Atkins at their 29, CVU used nine plays to get into the end zone again, freshman back Tyler Barnes literally rolling in from the 1.
Fair Haven got the final score with 3:50 remaining in the game, a 7-yard keeper by Maynard. CVU lineman Dale Conger halted Atkins’ crash for the two-point conversion.
The Slaters did show a serious aerial game, Maynard hitting on 12 of 23 passes for 191 yards. He was intercepted twice.
FHU 14 0 0 6 – 20
CVU 14 10 7 0 – 31
First downs 13 9
Rushing yards 129 250
Passing yards 191 6
Return yards 44 113
Comp-Att-Int 2-23-2 2-7-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 1-11 0-0
Punts-Avg 2-32 3-32
Fumbles-lost 2-1 4-2
Penalties-yards 4-20 4-40