This past homecoming weekend saw Castleton reclaim the Sap Bucket trophy by defeating Norwich 28-14 at Spartan Stadium.
It was no secret both teams were desperate for a victory both entering the matchup with identical 0-2 records. The game was expected to be a battle.
“It is always a tough game against them,” said Castleton head coach, Tony Volpone beforehand.
But don’t let the final score fool you; this was a dominating victory by the Spartans.
While preparing to face the Cadets, Volpone stressed the importance of defense.
“We need to stop their running game and force them to throw the football, we have to get them behind the sticks.” he said, “We also must stop or contain? their quarterback from running the football because he makes plays with his feet.”
The proof was in the pudding and things seemed to go according to plan for the Spartans.
No player for Norwich, with more than two rushing attempts, averaged more than 2.6 yards per carry all day. Connor Bourque was the Cadets leading rusher with 37 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown. Cadets starting quarterback Phillip Bazinet finished the game with 8 rushes for just 12 yards averaging 1.5 yards per carry. The ‘force them to throw’ approach worked beautifully as Bazinet completed only 4 out of 15 pass attempts for a completion percentage of just 26 percent with zero touchdowns and one interception. Matthew Chaffee took snaps in the fourth quarter for the cadets completing 8 out of 24 pass attempts for 148 yards and one touchdown.
Volpone also shared the key points he wanted the Spartans to emphasize on the offensive side of the ball.
“We need to sustain drives and finish when we are in the red zone. We can’t turn the ball over and give them a short field. We have to create opportunities within the special teams as well,” he said.
Once again, things went swimmingly. The Spartans converted every time they entered the red zone capitalizing 4 times and finished with zero turnovers, while adding a blocked punt [on special teams] early in the second quarter.
The momentum seemed to be with Castleton right out of the gate. After a quick three and out by the Spartan defense, no time was wasted getting the ball in the end zone.
The Spartans opening drive was highlighted by a 41-yard run on the first play from scrimmage from senior running back, Moe Harris, who shined as usual. Harris churned out 149 yards averaging 4.3 yards per carry on 35 attempts. He also snatched one pass for 16 yards and threw a pass for an 11-yard gain. The opening drive also featured a key fourth down conversion.
On fourth and five, junior quarterback Mitch Caron delivered a perfect pass to sophomore wideout Jermaine Coggins for a gain of 24 yards. Harris capped off the drive with a three-yard touchdown run, and the Spartans never looked back.
The Cadets struggled to find a rhythm offensively. The very next possession for the Cadets ended abruptly after Spartan freshman, Zak Pollicino, intercepted one of Bazinet’s passes on third down.
After several scoreless possessions, Norwich seemed to catch a break on a 46-yard gain through the air. However, they failed to translate it into points as Castleton’s special teams blocked what would have been a 27-yard field goal.
A few drives later, the Spartans increased their lead to 14-0 with an 11-yard hookup by Mitch Caron to Jermaine Coggins.
“It was one of the best feelings of my life to actually score a touchdown, and have a good performance in the Sap Bucket as a sophomore. I’m thanking the man upstairs.” Coggins said about scoring his first collegiate touchdown.
Shortly after, a Cadets three and out resulted in a long Spartan drive. A one-yard touchdown run from Mitch Caron capped off an eight play, 70 yard drive just before the half.
While Spartan Stadium erupted with excitement, the Cadets jogged back to the locker room at halftime with their heads hung low down 21-0.
The Spartans mostly took a conservative approach by running the ball in the second half to kill the clock and sit on their 21-0 lead. After a Norwich fumble, Harris was able to punch it in from the one yard line and increase Castleton’s lead to 28 with 5 minutes left in the game.
The Cadets managed to score two quick touchdowns against the Spartan’s second team defense in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to spoil what looked like a shutout. But by then, the game was already out of reach.
Afterwards, fans, families, and alumni flooded the field to congratulate players and coaches on reclaiming the Sap Bucket trophy. Castleton improves 4-2 in the last six Sap Bucket games and has a 4-5 record all time.
When asked what it meant to bring the Sap Bucket back to Castleton, senior linebacker Shane Hurley said, “It means the world to me. I’m very grateful to have an outstanding supporting cast, and I’m blessed to be a part of this team.”
“It was a lot of hard work by players and coaches,” [he] Volpone said as he kissed his son, “It is an experience to be shared by not just players and alumni, but by everyone in the community.”