After suffering a heartbreaking defeat at home last weekend to conference opponent Becker College 35-21, the Spartan football team lost out on any hopes of making it to a playoff game.
But although players, fans and coaches were frustrated and saddened about the outcome, they knew that there was still one more very important game to end the season, and it just happened to be for the Annual “Maple Sap Bucket Trophy,” on Castleton’s Senior Day, and against the 2015 ECFC conference champions and rival, the Norwich University Cadets.
Norwich (5-4, 5-0 ECFC) clinched the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference regular season title and a playoff game by upsetting Husson University last weekend 20-17.
But a jam packed Castleton crowd full of family, friends, classmates, professors, formers players and alum entered Spartan Stadium to cheer on their team and were looking forward to seeing Castleton (6-3, 4-2 ECFC) hang onto the “Maple Sap Bucket Trophy” for the second straight season, and show Norwich that they deserved to be going to the playoffs.
And Castleton did just that, in with a 31-13 convincing win. They did so in part by getting another great defensive effort from seniors like Leo Audy, Derek McAdoo, who had two interceptions, and Jay Morgan and Brett Denning who combined for several sacks.
It was a very emotional day for many Castleton players as they strapped up their helmets and put on their Green and White jersey for the last time
“Excitement really was the only emotion I felt before the game,” senior Defensive Back Eric Mimnaugh said. “Nothing but excitement for one last time out there with these guys … I will miss this team. I was supposed to graduate last year, but leaving with this class and the guys I came in with just felt right.”
Senior Captain Jay Morgan was also reflective about the game, and his career at Castleton.
“There is nothing like playing for the Sap Bucket,” Morgan said. “Our whole team was fired up all game and we just played with more heart. The hard work, sticking with it, battling through the tough times, I’m going to miss all of it! It’s been an absolute pleasure being a Spartan,” he said.
It was Norwich who hit the scoreboard first on the opening drive when quarterback Philippe Bazinet ran up midfield for 37 yards that led to a Quincy Williams one-yard rushing touchdown to put the Cadets out in front 7-0. But after that, it was all Castleton, as gun slinger senior quarterback George Busharis was brilliant on the afternoon and his final game going 14-22 for 207 yards and two touchdowns, both to local senior Clye Machia, who caught the four-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 1:04 left in the first quarter.
Freshman phenom running back Moe Harris made the Castleton single season rushing record books as he ran for 137 yards on 29 carries for a touchdown, putting him at 1,065 for the season and the first Spartan in history to have done so. Junior cornerback Tyler Higley also made the record book for Castleton as he recorded his seventh interception of the year setting the single season record for interceptions.
Castleton ended the finals seconds of play when they subbed out the senior class and awarded them with a standing ovation in front of the home crowd as the Spartans secured the coveted “Maple Sap Bucket Trophy.”
“We were able to be successful and come out and be the dictator and punch them in the mouth from the opening whistle until the clock struck zero,” senior captain offensive lineman Jordan Tolar said. “Coming out before the game and seeing the crowd, we got excited as a team and personally I knew it would be my last one and so I just wanted to enjoy it and keep the bucket in Castleton, and that’s what we did.”
Senior Defensive Lineman Brett Denning was also ecstatic, but was at a loss for words when trying to describe what he was feeling.
“I don’t really know how to put everything into words,” Denning said. “Today was an extremely emotional day from top to bottom. Before the game I thought a little bit about how this was my last game, but I mostly thought about the Sap Bucket and keeping it in Castleton for a third time in four years.”
Castleton finished the 2015 season at 7-3, 5-2 in the ECFC for the second straight year, and will look to replace 21 seniors next year.