Top of the mountain
RUTLAND >> The Burr and Burton Academy football team began working on the 2015 season immediately after last year's ended against Fair Haven.
"We had a bitter taste after last year, we worked so hard in the offseason and it's all paid off in the end," said junior quarterback Griffin Stalcup.
Tied at the half, BBA scored three unanswered touchdowns in the final 24 minutes as the Bulldogs won the team's first state title in the VPA era and the first overall since 1948.
"I can't put it into words," said senior Will Tucker, a touchdown scorer in his final game with the Bulldogs. "This means so much to me, to this program, and I have to thank [Coach] Thomas from the bottom of my heart for this opportunity."
Both teams had drives stall in the beginning of the contest before BBA broke through first on an 9-yard touchdown run by Ray Gormley midway through the first quarter.
On Bellows Falls' next possession, they marched down the field with their power running attack, but BBA clamped down when the Terriers reached the red zone. On fourth down from the Bulldogs' 14, BF quarterback Zac Streeter was flushed out of the pocket and brought down by a trio of BBA defenders, giving the ball back to the Bulldogs.
With a few minutes left before halftime, Bellows Falls found the tying touchdown. Starting on BBA's 41 after forcing a punt deep in the Bulldog end, Streeter swiftly moved his Terriers down the field, completing a 28-yard pass to Jahyde Bullard to make it first-and-goal at the seven.
But the Terriers picked the worst time to falter, getting back-to-back false start penalties and forcing them back to the 17-yard line. After a timeout, Streeter threw incomplete on first down, but Bullard and Streeter ran for eight yards on consecutive plays — Streeter nearly got in on third-and-goal — to set up fourth down at the 1. Bullard took the handoff, fumbled at the goal line, but an alert Streeter picked it up and just broke the plane to tie the game at 7-7.
That's how the half ended as Stalcup threw an interception on a Hail Mary in the final seconds of the first half.
"After last year, we were new to it, we had never been undefeated before, we didn't have a final goal," Stalcup said. "This year, we knew that being undefeated wouldn't mean anything unless we won the last one."
BBA got the ball in the second half, driving down the field, helped out by one of Stalcup's longer runs of the year, 24 yards, to get into the red zone. This time, the BF defense stiffened, forcing incompletions on third and fourth down and getting the ball back.
BBA's defense came up big again, forcing a 3-and-out. Starting in plus territory, it took the Bulldogs seven plays to find paydirt, Tucker juking past a defender to get into the end zone.
"I owe everything to our line, our front guys would be the ones to win it for us, and they did," Tucker said.
On the next kickoff, the momentum swung the rest of the way to the Bulldogs. Bullard returned the kick and was blasted by the coverage and fumbled, recovers by the Bulldogs at BF's 41.
"Last week we laid an egg in special teams, kickoff was the worse, [Milton] had the ball at midfield a lot," said BBA coach Jason Thomas. "We pinned them down a lot today, then we came up with the fumble to change the momentum."
That momentum change fired up the BBA sideline.
"We had just scored and getting ready to get back on defense," said Stalcup, a defensive back as well. "But then we got the ball back on the fumble and I knew we were going to score again. At that point, I knew we had something special going."
The big play on the drive came after a holding penalty dropped BBA back to third-and-28. Stalcup went back to throw, surveyed the field, then hit Sean Apps on a throw right at the first down mark for 29 yards.
That play set up Stalcup finding Carter Vickers on a bubble screen on 2nd-and-15 that Vickers caught around the 20 and scooted to the end zone to make it 21-7 at the end of the third quarter.
"Griff is just a football player, he has athletic IQ and he's a super athlete," Thomas said. "Add to that he's one of the hardest workers on this team, it's really fun to watch. He has a competitive fire that is rare."
Stalcup completed 20-of-31 for nearly 200 yards and two touchdowns, along with an interception, his 8th of the year compared to 36 touchdowns.
As the fourth quarter began, Bellows Falls got near midfield, but a great defensive series forced the Terriers to punt. BBA killed about four minutes on its next drive before it punted, leaving the Terriers with five minutes left down 14. On the first play, Streeter rolled right to pass and let fly deep to the middle of the field, where Stalcup was there to undercut the throw for an interception to get BBA the ball back.
"Our offense gets a lot of credit because we score a lot of points, but the defense won this championship today," said Thomas, whose defensive unit allowed less than 50 yards in the second half. "Our kids came to ball, [Remy Albert] was terrific in the middle, plugging it up, not allowing extra yards. I'm so proud of our defense."
Burr and Burton sealed the game for good on the change of possession when on third-and-10, Stalcup zipped a pass to Cody Roberts for a 29-yard touchdown after a broken coverage for a 28-7 advantage with 3:26 to go.
"We practiced that play all week, if the inside safety creeps in on Jay [McCoy], Cody goes right past him," Stalcup said. "It paid off to win a football game."
Thomas said he feels that the Bulldogs should have much more respect as a force with this title.
"If they don't respect us now, that's too bad, we're D-II state champs," Thomas said. "That's not to be arrogant, we're relevant in Vermont high school football. We dominated the run in the second half and pounded it against a tough defense. We matched their physicality, we weren't going to be pushed around."
Streeter was held quiet, throwing for less than 100 yards and two interceptions. The run wasn't all that successful, either, with Bullard earning 36 yards on 17 carries.
"Winning this for the seniors is great, [ridding] that taste in our mouth from last year," Stalcup said. "We know every play could be the last one, you never know."
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