By Tris Wykes

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – The visiting bus horn sounded repeatedly for almost a minute following Friday’s Vermont Interscholastic Football League regional semifinal. The Windsor Yellowjackets wanted everyone the area awash in the sound of their 48-36 victory over Hartford.

The Hurricanes’ players and coaches gathered at one end of the field for the final time, the beeping distant and irritating. This strange brand of play, 7-on-7 touch, doesn’t suit their program in the slightest, but the loss still stung.

Windsor High’s Austin Gauld runs after a catch.

“We’re certainly a different team when the pads are on and we’re playing in Division I,” said Hartford coach Matt Trombly, whose 8-2 team lost twice this season to the Division III Yellowjackets. “This is a different type of game and one we’re not accustomed to, but at least we got to play and got a playoff game at the end. We were fortunate to have anything.”

Mandated statewide because of Covid-19 worries, touch football proved unsatisfying to many but has proved a boon to agile squads. The Hurricanes are built to pound the ball on the ground, not wing it in the air. Windsor, meanwhile, is loaded with the type of nimble, multi-sport athletes perfectly suited to the backyard brand.

“They were faster when the big guys were on the field,” Trombly said, referring to a rule that requires “linemen” to play the first and third quarters. “But we had a tough time stopping them with our skill kids, too.”

Windsor (9-1) shot out to a 21-0 lead after a quarter, Jordan Place throwing two touchdown passes to John Cook and another to Jordan Hart. Kaleb Swett kicked an extra point, missed another and Place connected with Hart for a 2-point conversion. 

Windsor High’s Caden Lockwood points the way after an interception.

“Our big guys were in pretty good position most of the night, but they were a step too slow and we struggled to keep up,” Trombly said. “We typically throw the ball maybe 10 times a game and now we have to throw it more like 60 times. 

“But it is what it is. We did the best to embrace it and put our kids in the best position possible.”

The Yellowjackets built a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter, Maison Fortin throwing to Place and Swett kicking the first of his four extra points. Hartford finally woke up and scored two of the next three touchdowns, Cole Jasmin throwing them to Jacob Seaver, sandwiched around a Fortin scoring toss to Jackson Davis. Kobe Peach kicked both extra points for the hosts, who trailed, 35-14, at intermission. 

“You get down a little bit and the clock runs continuously, so that’s a bear and a big hurdle to overcome, especially if you’re struggling on defense,” said Trombly, noting that 45 seconds are allowed to elapse from the end of one play to the next. “You just have to call plays on the fly and hope kids get in the right spots.”

Hartford pulled within 35-22 after Colin Veilleux threw both a 10-yard touchdown pass and a 2-point conversation to Connor Tierney with 7 minutes, 44 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Windsor’s Place answered with a 5-yard scoring throw to Cook. A conversion pass attempt failed, leaving the Yellowjackets up, 41-22, with 4:32 in the stanza.

Hartford High’s Evan Lynds (21) pursues Windsor’s Owen Abrahamsen.

Hartford scored once at the end of the third quarter, on another Veilleux-to-Tierney hookup, and again midway through the fourth frame when Jasmin found Jacob Dwinell from 9 yards. Peach kicked both extra points, finishing the season perfect on kicks at home. 

Down just 41-36 with seven minutes remaining, the Hurricanes found the clock to be their biggest enemy. Windsor consumed four minutes on its next drive and closed out the night’s scoring when Place hit Owen Abrahamsen for a 35-yard touchdown. Swett intercepted a subsequent Jasmin pass to seal the visitors’ victory.

Windsor advances to play Brattleboro in the regional final. Hartford is left to wonder if this season’s pass-happy experiment will be an odd memory by this time next year.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” Trombly said. “That’s a long time away and a lot things can change from now and then. If we have come back to this style, we have to be positive about it.”

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Windsor High coach Greg Balch and quarterback Jordan Place confer on the sidelines.