STAMFORD — Winning the program’s first New England Prep School Athletic Conference (NEPSAC) Class C championship was a special accomplishment in 2016 for the King School football team.
To be in position to defend that title is a rare feat.
And that’s exactly where the Vikings find themselves as they will host Portsmouth (RI) Abbey School Saturday at 1 p.m. for the 2017 NEPSAC Class C football crown.
“What I am most proud of is this,” King’s veteran coach Dan Gouin said. “It’s great to climb to the mountain top one year. But the next season, every opponent wants to knock you off. Your game is the one they have circled on their schedule. This year, our group has responded and responded and responded. Our team has gotten better week after week after week.”
King enters at 8-1 overall, having lost only to Fairchester Athletic Association champion and defending NEPSAC Class B titlist Hamden Hall in each of the last two seasons.
Portsmouth Abbey (7-1 overall) is looking for its first-ever NEPSAC football crown. The Ravens lost to Middlesex, Mass. in the 2005 and 1997 NEPSAC finals.
LOOKING AT PORTSMOUTH ABBEY
Portsmouth Abbey, which plays in the same Evergreen Football Conference as Tilton (NH) Academy which King conquered for the 2016 NEPSAC crown, has posted its best record since going 6-2 in 2011.
The Ravens’ offense has scored in the 20’s in most of their wins. They prefer running to passing behind an experienced offensive line and with senior Michael Meads at quarterback.
“He’s very composed. Michael isn’t great at anything. But he’s really good at a lot of things,” Portsmouth Abbey coach Al Brown said. “He’s a two-year starter at QB who doesn’t get flustered.”
King coach Gouin is impressed by what he’s seen on videotape of the Ravens.
“Portsmouth Abbey is a well disciplined group,” Gouin said. “They run the ball well. And they play solid team defense.”
KING EMBRACED CHALLENGE TO REPEAT
King was fortunate to have just four seniors — tri-captains Trey Canevari, Ian Bender and Ethan Bruck along with two-platoon lineman Brandon Ross — graduate from the 2016 squad.
The Vikings matched the increased focus and passion of the opposition this year.
“We understood the jump in expectations would be high. Our off-season winter training showed our dedication to reaching this goal—playing for another NEPSAC title,” King senior quad-captain Bobby Cribbin said. “Last year we didn’t know how good we could be. This year, we embraced the target on our backs. And we understood that we needed everybody to succeed. Just do your role whatever size it is. That was our identity.”
Portsmouth Abbey is not underestimating their task.
“We have our hands full,” Brown said. “King is very good, very athletic with lots of skill kids. They are tough and they can be dominant. King beat Tilton Academy last year so we respect them a lot.”
NO PLACE LIKE HOME FOR KING
Last season, King had to travel three hours to the neutral site of Moses Brown School in Providence, R.I. to defeat Tilton (NH) Academy 49-28 in the NEPSAC Class C final.
This year, the Vikings get to play at home before family and friends.
“This field is our home. The alumni and the King School family get to see us,” Cribbin said. “We can prove right here we can be one of King’s best teams ever.”
“Playing at home is a rare opportunity and so cool,” King senior quad-captain and four-year starting quarterback Renn Lints said. “It means the world to our seniors to be able to close out our King football careers here. You can’t write a better ending than that.”
To its credit, Portsmouth Abbey isn’t using the long bus ride as an obstacle.
“We’ve had six-hour bus rides to play games in Maine. This is a short hop down the turnpike for us. It will be new scenery since we don’t normally travel South for games,” Brown said. “Our issue is this week is Exam Week due to our trimester schedule. Our school has been accommodating so kids can practice. Our kids are ready for this challenge.”