CONWAY — Kennett High was well-represented in the 66th annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl game against Vermont in Castleton, Vt., on Saturday. Recent graduates Sam Pollard and Cole Sweeney both played key roles in helping the Granite State to a 21-9 victory, ending Vermont's three-game win streak.
“Congratulations to both teams for the 66th Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl,” the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl Facebook page states. “Although only one team is declared the winner. The true winner is the children of Shriners Hospital. The Board of Governors wants to thank all the players and coaches of both teams for being perfect gentlemen. Best of luck in everyone’s future. Remember you are now a member of the Shrine Football Alumni. With over 4,500 members.”
Sam was the kicker for the Granite State, going a perfect 3-3 on extra-point attempts. He also had a perfectly executed on-sides kick that New Hampshire recovered.
Cole was one busy Granite Stater. He started and played both ways for New Hampshire on the offensive and defensive lines in the first half before playing only offense in the second half.
“It was the best week of football Cole has ever had,” said Merle Sweeney, Cole’s dad, who attended the game. “I’m sure Sam would concur.”
“It was a phenomenal weekend,” Thom Pollard, Sam’s dad, who also went to the game, said. “Sam said it was a week he’ll never forget. He connected with so many of his teammates and coaches.”
The Green Mountain State had been riding a three-game win streak in this series, having won last summer 24-13. The Granite State, however, now holds an overall 48-17-1 edge in the series.
“The Vermont kids were extremely confident going into the game,” Thom Pollard said. “I think since New Hampshire plays the East/West CHaD game and Vermont doesn’t that they thought they were going to have their way with (New Hampshire). The New Hampshire kids played great. They really took control of the game in the second half.”
Cole and Sam spent a week with their New Hampshire teammates training in preparation of the big game. Last Tuesday, they visited children at the Shriners Hospital where they are currently receiving treatments and learned the importance of giving back and helping when you can.
In the game, Windham quarterback Cody Potter gave N.H. the lead for good when he capped off the team’s first possession with a 7-yard scamper for a touchdown midway through the opening quarter. Sam’s extra point attempt was picture-perfect.
Vermont got on the scoreboard late in the second quarter on Noah Crossman’s 23-yard field goal.
New Hampshire led 7-3 at the break, and then came out and dominated the second half. The Granite State controlled the football for 19 of final 24 minutes of the game.
Kingswood’s Cameron Mann, who ran for 128 yards on 16 attempts, put New Hampshire further ahead when he scored on an 8-yard run with 10:21 left to play. Sam booted the extra point.
Vermont scored its lone TD less than a minute later on a 40-yard pass but was unsuccessful on the two-point conversion pass.
New Hampshire sealed its victory with 5:34 left when Potter found the land of six again on a rushing attempt. Sam closed out the scoring with the extra point.
Sam had the confidence of the coaching staff after routinely booting 45-yard field goals in practice during the week. He did get an attempt at a 40-yard field goal on Saturday, but a bad snap led to the kick falling just short.
Sam earned First-Team All-State honors in Division 2 North as the kicker for KHS in 2018. He was also a sure-handed receiver for the Eagles.
“When I was first informed I was selected for the Shrine Bowl, I was honored,” Sam said. “I knew all of my hard work paid off. It showed me an attitude I need to take to any future challenge I take on. It has taken me to a place I didn’t know possible. Now, it (allowed) me to represent myself, my home team, the state of New Hampshire, and most importantly, The Shriners Hospitals.”
Sam plans to attend the University of Maine studying Mechanical Engineering in September.
The versatile Cole started at right guard and defensive tackle the past two years and became a force in on both sides of the line of scrimmage for the Eagles last fall. Cole, who was one of four captains for Kennett last year along with Trey Snowden, Dom Jones and Devon Ouellette, was selected to the Northern Conference Division II All-State Team in November.
Cole plans to attend Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., and study Civil and Structural Engineering in the fall.
"When I first got the invite to play in the 66th Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, I was very excited,” Cole, 18, states on the N.H. team website. “I was happy that I was (able) to play football for at least one more time. On top of all of that, I (played) for such a great cause."
Both Pollard and Sweeney were proud to see their sons suit up and play football one last time.
“Well the ride has come to an end,” Sweeney posted on his Facebook page on Sunday. “Last night you put on your shoulder pads and strapped up your helmet for the final time. Your team played amazing along with you, and team New Hampshire beat a stout Vermont squad. Your group of big boys, nicknamed the ‘phatt ninjas,’ played downhill all night and hit harder in the fourth than you did in the first. My dream was to have you learn the game, love it and someday proudly wear the No. 57 for Kennett just like me. Instead, you chose your own identity, found your own number, had more talent than I could only dream of and played at an all-star level. I could not be any more proud of your accomplishments. Now it’s time to look into the future and your next chapter. I know you will have every bit as much success at Clarkson University. You make us all proud No. 54.”
According to the Shrine website, "'Strong Legs Run That Weak Legs May Walk’ is the motto of every Shrine football game and it can be seen every summer as 72 young men from New Hampshire and Vermont play their hearts out for the benefit of the children in the Shrine hospitals. And, when they step off the field at game's end, they become alumni and as such never forget the children they played for."
The Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl has raised over $4.5 million dollars and countless spirits in its 66 years of providing unprecedented care to families and children in need.