Assistant Sports Editor
BENNINGTON -- To call the game between the Southern Vermont Storm and the Central Mass Sabercats on Saturday at Spinelli Field just another game is selling it far short.
This is, for all intents and purposes, the team’s homecoming game.
"Everyone is basically from Bennington," said safety Geoff Silver. "We play here and we practice here. There are a lot of homegrown players. This is always our biggest crowd; it is going to be a big game."
Storm coach Tighe Stratton added that his team is "thinking of this as a playoff game."
And for good reason. The Sabercats will roll into Spinelli Field with a 4-0 mark, tied for the best record in the New England Football League Maritime division, and with a 32-17 win over the Storm in week one. The Storm are 2-1, riding a two-game winning streak that includes a 45-6 win last weekend against the Berkshire Kings.
"This is the team we can base off of where we are at," Stratton said. "And if we can win a championship."
Then there is the final element of the contest: who the night is dedicated to.
On Saturday, the Storm will honor late teammate Ed Bushee during the game and at halftime. Bushee, a Bennington native and MAU grad, passed away in 2009.
"I think this game is real big for a lot of the guys that have been here for a long time," second-year player, and quarterback, J.C. Lebarron said. "They always say good things about [Bushee] and how hard of a worker he was. I know this game will mean a lot to coach Tighe and the guys who got to play with him."
The team, as has become tradition, will have a mannequin on the sidelines with them for the game. Bushee’s #92 jersey will be on it.
"It’s kind of like our 12th man," Stratton said.
With all of these elements mixed together, the Storm know that they have to play smart in order to turn around the loss from week one.
"We learned a lot from that game," Stratton said. "We got down early. We didn’t give up, but we got down early and penalties hurt us."
Lebarron also noted the penalty issue.
"For week one, we were really high on ourselves. We were stunned a little bit. But since then we have come together and it has kept getting better. We had a lot of penalties in week one, and in week two we cut them in half."
The Storm will also have some healthy faces in the team this weekend, although some other players a starting to pick up a few knocks.
Wide receiver Marcus Anderson will be back for his second week of play and is expected to give the team some more offensive lift. Linebackers Adrian Gruber and Mark Hamilton are banged up heading into the game, but both will give it a go. Safety Jim Fischer will also carry an injury into the game.
One player that will be out is Gary Hewson, who is out with a prior commitment. Nick Bennett will step in for Hewson in the secondary.
The team will also be hoping that running back Mike Woodson can chug through the game after picking up an ankle injury during the first game.
Woodson ran for 225 yards against his former team last weekend.
"If we can keep [Woodson] healthy we will be more productive," Stratton said.
Lebarron also acknowledged the important of the running game.
"It starts up front with our line. We have had a real solid line this year," Lebarron said. "We have to get our running game going. I think we could run the ball really well and, based on the running game, we’ll be able to throw as well."
And the throwing aspect is something Lebarron has started excelling at. Now in his second season under center, Lebarron is finding more chemistry amongst his receiving core. Last week, four different receivers caught a touchdown pass.
"I’ve had a lot of history growing up with these guys and playing football," Lebarron said. "This year, the chemistry has just clicked. And it isn’t one or two receivers I’m going to, it is five or six guys."
Saturday’s game will start at 7 p.m.