RUTLAND — Mount Anthony is called the fighting Patriots for a reason. Trailing 29-0 at the half of the Division II state championship against undefeated Bellows Falls, it appeared the Terriers were about to coast to another state title.
Not so fast. Mount Anthony took its opening drive of the second half down the field, capped off by a six-yard touchdown connection between Tanner Bushee and Ayman Naser.
MAU tried to claw itself back into contention, but the hole the Patriots found themselves in after two quarters was too much to overcome, as Bellows Falls completed its perfect season with a 57-35 win at Alumni Field in Rutland on Saturday.
“All the credit in the world to Bellows Falls,” said MAU coach Chad Gordon said. “Sometimes you go up against a better opponent, and you have to tip your hat to them. They have multiple running backs that can just run and pound. Our defense has been strong all year and just couldn’t take it today.”
After Naser’s score, MAU fell on an onside kick and got the ball back. It took the Patriots just two plays to find the end zone again, as Bushee found Nasar in the flat, and the junior running back sprinted down the right sideline for a 44-yard score.
Just like that, MAU had life, trailing by just two possessions, 29-14.
The Bellows Falls rushing attack ended up being too much for the MAU defense to handle.
The Terriers offense had nine offensive possessions. Eight ended in a Terrier score. The only possession Bellows Falls did not score on was the final possession of the game, as they lined up in victory formation and Jonathan Terry took a knee, bleeding out the remaining seconds on the clock.
Bellows Falls ran their way to another championship. Their first 44 plays were all rush attempts, racking up 444 yards of total offense.
Then, they finally took to the air on a double-pass as Jamison Nystrom connected with Max Hooke with 3:06 left in the game. That extended the Terriers’ lead to 57-28 at the time.
Bushee led the Patriots down the field on the next possession, as Braeden Billert caught a ball one yard short of the goal line. Hayden Gaudette punched the final score in on the next play on a rush attempt, one of two scores for the Patriots senior.
The Terriers orchestrated an 11-play, 63-yard scoring drive to begin the contest, setting the tone with its physical running attack.
MAU picked up a pair of first downs the first time they got the ball on offense, but were faced with a fourth and one decision near midfield. Gordon and MAU looked ready to go for it, but MAU was called for a false start prior to the play, backing them up another five yards.
That made it a 4th and six, and MAU looked for some trickery to pick up the first down. The Patriots appeared to be punting, but MAU’s punter, Billert, took the snap and passed to Carter Thompson, running a streak.
MAU caught the Terriers’ special teams sleeping, but Carter was unable to hold onto the ball. That shifted the game momentum in the Terriers’ favor, and they never looked back.
Bellows Falls’ Terry kept the ball on the next play, and took it 41 yards to the endzone, silencing the MAU sideline. It was a committee approach on the ground, as it has been all season for the Terriers. Jeb Monier and Jed Lober each found the endzone three times, and Terry scored once on the ground.
Bushee tried his best to will MAU back into the game, throwing for 275 yards in the second half, and 346 for the entire game. Two first-half interceptions proved costly, however, as the Terriers turned those extra possessions into a couple more touchdowns.
The MAU program reached new heights in 2021, making its first championship game appearance in 27 years.
“These guys set the foundation for what we want for a program,” Gordon said. “And now, these are our expectations every year. These seniors have established what we want, and we’re going to do what we can to build off that.”
Don’t get it wrong, though. MAU is not content.
“We’re not satisfied with just making it here,” Gordon said. “Very frustrating [result].”