NORTHFIELD — The Ice Bowl, the NFL Championship Game in 1967, could not have had a tougher element than the 22nd North-South All-Star Football Game played at Norwich University’s Sabine Field on Sunday.
It was cold, the wind was whipping and sometimes snow whirled.
The ball might have been difficult to throw or catch, but the players did all those things pretty well.
The weather didn’t bother the offensive linemen, who only had to worry about winning the fight with the opponent in front of them.
Mike Empey played on the offensive line at Mass. Maritime and coached the offensive linemen over the past several years in both this North-South All-Star Game and the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, the annual summer classic that pits the best high school grads of recent Vermont against their peers New Hampshire.
“I would tell them, ‘You take a penalty before you let the quarterback get hit. Protect the quarterback like he’s your mother,'” Empey said.
The tallest offensive lineman in Vermont’s north-south game on Sunday was Fair Haven’s David Doran at 6ft 3 and 310 pounds.
Doran said after the game that he doesn’t mind the anonymity that comes with the position. He doesn’t care about the headlines others get for touchdowns.
This is not for him. He enjoys the battles in the series every game.
“You’re just trying to fight the guy across the street, and it’s just a dogfight,” Doran said.
“I work hard so my teammates can get those yards.”
He said he knows he may not get recognition from fans and others, but he also knows he will be recognized by teammates for all his contributions. He realizes his teammates know how important he is to every single goal.
Doran’s head coach at Fair Haven Jim Hill was an attacking lineman at Rutland High School, and he’s emphasizing the importance of that unit by letting his big boys attend St. Johnsbury coach Rich Alercio’s O-Line Camp in St. Johnsbury.
“He (Alercio) really helped me get better at pass blocking,” Doran said.
“I think pass blocking is harder (than run blocking) because you have to wait for them to come to you,” Doran said.
“He has a lot of knowledge and has helped me to become much better.”
Doran won’t be fighting his “trench warfare” much longer. He won’t be playing the game in college as he has decided to pursue a career as an electrician.
But he’ll still have one more football to play if he’s selected for the Vermont team that will play New Hampshire at Castleton University in the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl on the first Saturday in August.
Empey said the north-south event is the most difficult to train for.
“In the Shrine Game, you have a full week (of doubles or triples),” Empey said. “You only have four practices here.”
The south team had their four pre-game practice sessions at Rutland High School and the north team at Norwich University.
Empey has left his coaching duties and is now the North-South Chair of the Vermont Chapter of the National Football Foundation.
Braving the weather just like every other sturdy supporter at Sabine Field, he relished the wide plays in the North’s 34-27 win – passing Brattleboro’s Devin Speno, the ability to open up and catch the ball from Rutland’s Jonah Bassett, the hard yards from Burr and Burton’s Michael Crabtree, the big plays from St. Johnsbury Dual Threat QB Quinn Murphy, the dynamic play from Rice Memorial’s Mathias Mazanti, and the hard inside running from BFA-Fairfax’s Shaun Gibson.
But despite it all, you know Empey had a little more love for those big boys hitting it in the trenches.