MIDDLEBURY — Seniors from Middlebury, Otter Valley and Mount Abraham union high schools played well in and enjoyed Saturday’s 11th Annual North-South All-Star Football Game, hosted by Middlebury College.
The four Tigers and two Otters may have enjoyed the game a little more than the Eagle representative, as their South team erupted after a scoreless first half to claim a 35-8 victory.
The offensive star among the local athletes was Middlebury’s Marshall Hastings, who ripped off first-half punt returns of 58 and 25 yards and returned the second-half kickoff 37 yards to help set up the game’s first touchdown.
Although given little running room out of the backfield in a spread offense, Hastings also rushed 14 times for 36 yards, including a tackle-breaking 16-yard run that was the South squad’s longest first-half gain.
Hastings said he was happy to take advantage of his chance to make his presence felt in a game that also serves as a tryout for the Vermont Shrine team.
“That was something I was worried about. You don’t have a season to make an impact, you just have one game,” Hastings said. “So I knew I had to give my all and I was able to do it and come up with some big plays.”
The other half-dozen area athletes among the 88 seniors at the game all made their presence felt. Tiger defensive lineman Joey Zeno recorded five tackles and his big second-half hit on North QB Drew Nick (a radio broadcaster in the press booth theorized it must have loosened Nick’s dentures) led to the second interception of the game by Hartford’s Kyle Wilson.
Tiger lineman Austin Quesnel and Otter lineman Rob Fjeld both recovered North fumbles; Mount Abe’s Ian Shaw lined up in the North defensive secondary and recorded three tackles, one saving a touchdown; Tiger Pat Foley batted away a key third-down pass as the North was threatening to take the lead; and Otter lineman Cody Randall rushed the North QBs effectively.
“Marshall ran really well,” said MUHS coach Dennis Smith, who assisted the South. “All the boys played really well.”
What the local athletes also appreciated was a chance to line up with and get to know their season-long adversaries. Zeno said the Tigers even made friends with the Hurricanes who bested them in the Division I final the week before.
“The Hartford kids, we played them in the championship game, everybody disliked each other, and (we) came here and came together and made a lot of good friends,” Zeno said.
Quesnel said it took a practice or two for the South team to unite, but the team had gelled by the end of the week.
“It was really fun meeting your competitors, everybody you wanted to kill all year,” Quesnel said. “I think it came together really good.”
It also took a while for the offenses to gel, unlike the past two years: In 2009 at Middlebury and in 2010 at Castleton, the teams combined for 100 points or more in each game. On Saturday, the teams combined for one first down in the first quarter, on a pass from Hartford QB Tucker Stone to Hurricane teammate Troy Bell.
But even though with a stiff wind in the South’s favor helping the South start four drives in North territory, the best the South could muster was a blocked field goal.
The second quarter opened with Hastings’ remarkable 58-yard punt return in which he broke and eluded tackles before being forced out of bounds at the North 22. But the South failed to capitalize either on that return or on Hastings’ later 25-yard punt return to the North 36.
The South managed just two first downs in the half, one on a 5-yard Hastings run, and one on a short run by Mill River’s Adam Mackey that followed Hastings’ 16-yard burst on 2nd-and-20. After Foley helped snuff the best North chance by breaking up a pass on third-and-four from the South 25, a bad snap ruined a long field goal attempt as the half ended at 0-0.
SECOND HALF TURNAROUND
The game changed in the second half. After Hastings returned a short kickoff to the North 41, Fair Haven QB Robert Coloutti (5 for 12, 83 yards) helped lead the South to the end zone. Coloutti completed fourth- and third-down passes to Burr & Burton’s Jake Oliver to move the South to the North 4.
On second-and-goal from the 7, Hastings reversed field and broke a tackle to put the ball on the 1. Mackey pounded in on the next play, and the point-after made it 7-0.
That score triggered the South onslaught. On the team’s next possession, Shaw stopped one long Bell gainer, but three plays later Bell capped a 47-yard march with a 20-yard run. After a bad snap, it was 13-0.
Wilson’s first interception gave the South the ball back at midfield, and soon it was 21-0, as Coloutti hit Slater teammate Levi Ellis three times in a 51-yard drive, including an 8-yard score. After another bad snap on the point-after kick, Stone picked up the loose ball and hit Hastings for a two-point conversion at 2:39 of the third. Not including that toss, Stone finished 5 for 8 for 55 yards.
On the South’s first play of the fourth, Bell (11 carries, 142 yards) broke an off-tackle play for a 42-yard score, and it was 28-8.
North Country quarterback Tre Sanville and running back Nick Leclair led a North 60-yard march that made it 28-8 at 11:34. Leclair (10 carries, 64 yards) ran three times for 48 yards on the drive, and Sanville finished it with a 2-yard sneak.
Windsor’s Matt Rafus capped the scoring with a 26-yard run in the late going.
Hastings said the Tigers enjoyed ending their season playing essentially a successful home game, but that the friendships may have meant even more.
“All these kids from all over the state going from enemies to teammates, we had a great team, and it was a lot of fun,” Hastings said.
“I didn’t know that this group of kids could come together like that, a bunch of teams that play each other all season and pretty much dislike each other come together and have pretty much the best game of the season,” Zeno said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]