Assistant Sports Editor
BENNINGTON -- The first home game of the season could not come at a better time for the Southern Vermont Storm.
Up in the air until only a few days ago, Saturday's clash with the New England Hawks at Applejack Field presents a chance for a vital home win and positive momentum as the Storm near the midway point in the season.
"I think this week is make or break for us," Storm coach Tighe Stratton said Thursday. "These guys need a win, need to get back to .500."
At 1-2, the Storm have dropped two straight since opening with a 26-20 overtime win against the Monadnock Marauders.
Last week's game against the Southern New Hampshire Beavers was supposed to be a home date at Applejack Field but Manchester officials said the turf wasn't ready for play, according to Stratton. That home game turned into a three-hour road trip to Tyngsborough, Mass.
However, making matters tougher this weekend in Manchester, the Storm will be without starting quarterback J.C. LeBarron. The first-year signal-caller suffered a concussion last week.
"He'll be out probably until Sept. 8," said Stratton, the team owner who also assumed head coaching duties this year for the first time. "It's a huge loss. He really understood the offense.
"He understood what we were trying to do and he was very verbal on the sidelines with all the players. Being a rookie, you don't see that all that often."
Veteran Mike Stephens takes over the reigns of the first-year coordinator Tim Smith's offense. Stephens has played the position before, but is switching sides to do so this time.
"He played quarterback the very first year, but he's been playing defense ever since," Stratton said.
Other early-season injuries have stung the Storm, including veteran Brandon White, who tore knee ligaments on the first play in Week 2.
Yet, Stratton said, the squad remains deep with 20 rookies pushing the roster to almost 40 players. As a result, fewer Southern Vermont players have to play ironman football.
"Being able to have an offense and a defense and not many guys going both ways is huge," Stratton said.
Many of the newcomers are local products. Mount Anthony grads John Mooney, a lineman, and defensive back Gary Hewson -- as well as LeBarron before the injury -- have made an impact in their first seasons.
"A lot of MAU alumni is what we are starting to get and we didn't have a lot of those guys when we started out," Stratton said.
Players like receiver Danny Main, running back Dennis Mailhot and Marcus Anderson -- who has a team-high three receiving touchdowns -- remain key cogs. Stratton hopes the running game will soon get on track behind tailback Mike Woodson, a former player for the Berkshire Kings.
And the Storm should get a further boost in their home opener Saturday, dedicating the game to former player Jesse Roy. Roy died last August in a motorcycle accident at age 29.
"He was more than just a teammate to a lot of guys on the team," Stratton said. "It's going to be an emotional day for us."