It's a different year with different players and different coaches, but the storyline leading up to Saturday's 60th Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl hasn't changed: Can Vermont find a way to upset New Hampshire, or at least make it a competitive game?
New Hampshire will bring a 12-game winning streak into Saturday's contest, and has outscored Vermont 433-145 in those 12 games. New Hampshire leads the overall series 44-13-2.
New Hampshire head coach Ray Kershaw (Mascoma Regional) said he has warned his team about the danger of being overconfident.
“They do know not to take them lightly,” Kershaw said. “I tell them that every single day. I tell them it's not going to be handed to them.”
Saturday's game will be played at Dartmouth's Memorial Field. The opening kickoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., and all proceeds benefit the Shriners' Hospitals for Children.
“Different set of circumstances,” Vermont coach Jason Thomas (Burr & Burton) said. “I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't have my guys ready to go and believing they could win.”
Goffstown's Connor Benjamin will lead the New Hampshire offense. Benjamin played running back in the New Hampshire CHaD All-Star Game, but will be New Hampshire's starting quarterback Saturday. He was a quarterback during his junior and senior seasons at Goffstown.
Exeter's Tyler Grant, Concord's Tolbert Nemo, Trinity of Manchester's Romeo Masuku and Manchester Memorial's Jared Ombati are among New Hampshire's running backs.
“Our backfield has a lot of speed and a lot of depth,” Benjamin said.
Vermont will have to deal with a New Hampshire defense led by Portsmouth defensive lineman Ricky Holt, who will play at the University of New Hampshire.
Vermont fans are hoping quarterback Jake Stalcup can guide their team to victory.
Stalcup, a three-year starter for Thomas at Burr and Burton, was named Vermont's Gatorade Player of the Year in 2011, when he tossed 31 touchdown passes as a junior. Stalcup passed for 2,613 yards and 31 TDs last fall. He will play for Middlebury College this season.
Stalcup will direct a fast-paced spread offense that Thomas learned from Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly while both were assistant coaches at UNH.
“I think the game will be won or lost up front,” Thomas said. “If we can't protect the QB, keep him upright so he can get the ball off, the skill kids aren't going to matter.
“We feel like we have to score points against these guys for sure. New Hampshire is big and athletic. I imagine they'll be a very difficult team to stop.”
New Hampshire set a record for points scored by one team when it won last year's game 62-24.
“Both teams have been working hard and it's going to be a tough game,” Benjamin said. “Regardless of who wins, this game is all about fund-raising. It's for kids who can't do what we do.”