Assistant Sports Editor
BENNINGTON -- The Southern Vermont Storm (6-2) have had to wait a week, but the team will finally get the New England Football League Maritime Conference quarterfinal started when they host the Brass City Brawlers (6-2) on Sunday at Schuylerville Central School in New York.
While the Storm hoped that the ‘home’ game could be played at Spinelli Field at Mount Anthony Union High School or Applejack Field in Manchester, the team still knows it has an advantage playing in Schuylerville.
"It is a good thing we don’t have to travel," running back Mike Woodson said. "I think traveling takes a lot out of you. We won’t have the crowd we usually do, but I do think the travel will benefit us."
The Brawlers will travel from Waterbury, Conn., roughly a three-hour drive, for the game after beating the Monadnock Marauders 40-0 in the wild-card round.
"They are young and fast kids," linebacker Adrian Gruber said. "And there is a lot to say for youth."
But the Storm defense is not intimidated by the speed the Brawlers might bring. Over an eight-game regular season the team only gave up 71 points, and 46 of them came during the two losses, both to the Central Mass Sabercats.
And Gruber said that as long as the defense can get off to a fast start, the Storm feel confident in what they can do.
"We’ve had three shutouts. But we let ourselves fall kind of quick in those two losses and struggled to overcome it," Gruber said. "We can’t afford to be slow out of the gate."
Coach Tighe Stratton also stressed the importance of the defensive line.
"It is all going to come down to upfront and the defensive line," Stratton said. "They need to eat up space so the linebackers can make big plays."
Over the last four games, the Storm have only allowed 14 points, including three straight shutouts during the stretch.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback JC LeBarron and Woodson are hoping to strike a balance between rushing and passing, although both agree that they will lean on whichever facet of the offense is working best.
"It’s a good thing when you have to stop two things instead of one," Woodson said. "It is more of a challenge for the defense."
LeBarron added, "The balance for us is whatever we can get going first, use it to start the other. If we can get the passing game going, it will open up the run. If we run the ball well, it opens up the passing game."
Whatever the combination, the Storm has had no probelms putting points on the board.
Of the 12 teams in the league, the Storm are third in points for, scoring 229 this season and behind only the Mid-Coast Falcons (233) and the Sabercats (254). The Brawlers have scored 222 points this season.
Woodson credits most of the success to the offensive line.
"From the interior to the exterior, I think they all do a good job," Woodson said. "They open holes, they hold their blocks. In passing, they hold their blocks. They have good communication with each other."
And if the Storm needed any more motivation for the game on Sunday, a win against the Brawlers, and a Sabercats win over the Vermont Ravens, would mean that the Storm would have a third shot at beating the Sabercats.
During the season, the Storm dropped both games to the Sabercats, something that is not lost on the side.
"I’ve thought about it," Woodson said of the potential match-up. "Yeah, I want round three. I want to go down ther and I want to beat them. Things didn’t go our way in the last two games."
Gruber agreed. "Any man doesn’t like to lose, let alone to the same team twice. Never three times."
But then Gruber shifts the focus, noting that the Storm can’t afford to look past the Brawlers.
"We really have to bring it against [the Brawlers], It’s not like it is an easy play-of game. We have to play a good game. They are a good team, we have to come ready to play."
LeBarron echoed the idea.
"[The Brawlers] are already overlooking us to get to the Sabercats. We have to make them show up and beat them at their own game."
The game on Sunday will start at 4 p.m.