MERIDEN, N.H. -- During their 11-year losing streak to New Hampshire, the Vermont Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl team has played close games and blowouts. But each time, the Green Mountain State has come out on the wrong end.
To try and snap that skid, Vermont coach Mike Norman needs his team to not be struck by the big stage.
"We just have to control the things we can control, [and] not beat ourselves," said Norman, the Rutland coach who has won seven state championships in his career. "If we can do that, I like our chances. But if we go out and get stage struck or turn the ball over and give them short fields, it will be the same again."
The 59th annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl will be played Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Dartmouth College’s Memorial Field -- a Division I team with a stadium that can fit more than 10,000 fans.
Last year, New Hampshire racked up a game-record 441 yards on the ground en route to a 45-21 win.
Three players from the area are on the squad -- recent Mount Anthony Union High School graduates Alex Cross and Matt Keir and recent Burr and Burton Academy graduate Jake Oliver.
Two of the three, Cross and Oliver, will be starters for Norman, who won the Shrine Bowl in 1998 and lost in 2001. Cross will line up at defensive back while Oliver will be the kicker and punter.
"We just need to stay focused, the defense needs to be fast to the ball [and] get a couple turnovers," Cross said. "We need to keep the momentum up on our side."
Vermont will run a multiple-I offense, giving the three quarterbacks a chance to use their skills. Fair Haven’s Rob Coloutti was named as the starter, but Norman said Hartford’s Tucker Stone and Middlebury’s Dillon Robinson will rotate in.
"They each have similar but different skill sets," Norman said.
Some changes to the game this year are longer quarters (12 minutes instead of 15) and that the defense doesn’t have to declare their call. Blitzing from the defensive line and linebacker positions are allowed, but not from the defensive backfield.
Another major task is getting 36 guys -- most of whom are used to being the big dog -- to work in the same direction. Norman said that hasn’t been a problem leading up to the game.
"You take all these kids who are captains, all-state, [the] best players on their teams," Norman said. "Some will be our captains, but if you’re one of the other guys, might be new territory for you to navigate through, it can be difficult. But the kids have done a nice job of allowing us to coach them, working them toward that goal of preparing an offense, defense and special teams."
The starters on offense are Coloutti at quarterback, running back Marshall Hastings (Middlebury), running back Matt Rafus (Windsor), wide receiver Kyle Kelly (Rutland), wide receiver Levi Ellis (Fair Haven), tight end Ben Thieken (Bellows Free Academy) and offensive linemen Dyan Raymond (CVU), Mack Shea (Rutland), Steven Ladka (Hartford), Joseph Johnson (Hartford) and Parker Lamoureux (Fair Haven).
Defensive starters include: defensive linemen Owen Newton (Hartford), Cody Collins (North Country), Bobby Annis (Hartford), Jamie Holbrook (Milton); linebackers Robert Murray (Hartford), Jayson Collette (Milton) and defensive backs Travis Wilson (Hartford), Cross, Troy Bell (Hartford), Miles Latham (Hartford) and Stone.
Before the game, a parade will start at noon featuring Shriners throughout the Northeast. An all-star band with both Vermont and New Hampshire musicians will play before the game and at halftime.
The proceeds from the event are donated to the three nearest Shrine Hospitals in Springfield, Mass., Boston, and Montreal. More than $4.5 million has been donated since the game began in 1954.