Thirty minutes before game time. Keyes Field in Fairfield, one of the true shrines to Maine high school football. Yes, the good folks in the working class communities which feed Lawrence High School know their football and take it seriously. This past Friday night was playoff time. The Bulldogs were playing host to their rivals from the Capital City, the Cony High School Rams.
Normally playoff football in Fairfield means the prime viewing areas will be occupied long before kick-off. Not so this past Friday night. As I spread my blanket over the top row of bleachers in the home grandstand, positioned on the fifty yard line, there were only a handful of other hardy souls to be found.
The few fans who showed up Friday night were greeted to rain showers, which would vary in intensity, wind, and a temperature which hovered around the forty degree mark. Conditions would get better as the night wore on. The rain had stopped by halftime, although the cold breeze lingered
The few of us who braved the elements were treated to an all-time classic. Lawrence, which had trailed throughout the contest, tied the game with over nine minutes to play on a 76-yard halfback option pass. They took a 27-20 lead with 1:42 to go, finishing off a long drive with a seven yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone. It was the host Bulldogs only lead of the night.
Cony, which started their final drive from their own twenty, marched all the way to the Lawrence twenty yard line. Three incomplete passes found the visiting Rams facing a fourth down and ten. Six seconds showed on the clock. Cony quarterback Taylor Heath had to throw to the end zone. There wasn’t going to be time for another play. Heath, who was flushed out of the pocket, proceeded to roll right, and found his favorite target, Jordan Roddy, in the right side of the end zone. Roddy hauled in the pass as the scoreboard clock hit zero, bringing the Rams to within 27-26. There was no hesitation as to the conversion attempt. Cony has going for two, to win or lose it on the final play. Roddy lined up to receive the direct snap from center, sprinted around the left side and sneaked inside the pylon for the dramatic 28-27 victory.
While Friday night’s weather certainly can’t be compared to Noahesque floods, sitting there at Keyes Field triggered the old memory bank. I’ve witnessed plenty of contests over the years where weather was as much of the story as the game itself.
At one time football was played in any weather, short of lightning or a hurricane. Over the past fifteen years or so it has become the norm to postpone games, sometimes with even the slightest of adverse weather. I can certainly understand this trend. School budgets are tighter, hence the need to maximize revenue on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon. If the weather is bad, many fans, especially the casual spectator, will tend to stay away. Especially, if the weather is nasty early in the season, a torn up field may never recover unless a significant amount of work is done. This costs money. Therefore, I can understand why schools make the decision to postpone.
Postponing to a better day does cheat the participants of stories, tales that get taller as the years go by. The memories stretch as they one day share their feats of gridiron glory with their children and grand kids. For the players and coaches involved in the contests I’m about to mention, the weather I’m sure has become more frightful as the years have gone by. Many of the details of these games I’ve forgotten but the weather and conditions were as much, if not more of the story than the games themselves.
1992. Thornton at Biddeford. A driving rain storm didn’t keep many away on this Saturday afternoon. The Biddeford-Thornton game for about a thirty year span was about as good as high school football was in Maine. This was my first time experiencing it and what a game it was. Both were in contention for the Western Maine title playing their regular season finale. Thornton appeared to be in command taking a 21-7 lead in the third quarter on a pick-six before the host Tigers mounted a rally at Waterhouse Field. Biddeford closed the gap to 21-20 with about a minute to play with the conversion to follow. Biddeford coach Mike Landry elected to go for two. It was the Tigers big fullback Ruben Sevigny who plunged into the end zone for the winning conversion. To this day, I consider this one of the best high school football games I’ve ever attended.
If you are a significant underdog, you relish playing in poor weather. Bad weather and field conditions have a way of neutralizing the better team’s athleticism. Such was the case in a 1999 regular season match-up between Bangor and Cony in Augusta. On a dry field Bangor was significantly better than Cony that year but on this night the game was practically a stalemate. The game was played in a downpour from beginning to end with the wind driving the rain sideways. The only scoring in the contest was a plunge from the one yard line on Bangor’s 3rd or 4th attempt from the goal line giving the visitors a 6-0 victory.
The weather conditions weren’t so much a factor during the 2008 LTC Championship game between John Bapst and Bucksport. Mother Nature did throw of myriad of weather in the region the week of the game, however. Some snow and a freeze earlier in the week changed to to warmth and rain just days prior to the game. Bucksport’s Carmichael Field appeared to be in pristine condition for the clash but looks can be deceiving.
Early in the game, it was obvious the field was deteriorating, scoring early would be crucial. John Bapst scored two early touchdowns before the field turned to complete slop, advancing to the state championship game with a 21-14 victory. Anyone who competed in the game came out with uniforms caked with mud. The Crusaders would defeat Winthrop for the state title a week later by the exact 21-14 score, a contest decided in bitter cold conditions at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium.
The all-time football weather game has to be the 1997 Eastern Maine Class A championship game between Gardiner and Bangor at Cameron Stadium. Snow had pounded the state all day. If this was a basketball game the match-up likely would have been postponed due to poor travel conditions. There were about six inches of snow on the field, the only visible signs of grass were the goal lines, which were cleared by a snow blower. The details of the happenings on the field are fuzzy nearly twenty years later but I’ll never forget the images from this bone-chilling night, particularly the contrast in how the teams prepared for this contest.
Bangor came out seemingly wanting to prove who’s tougher than who. Bare arms, no leggings under their pants, plenty of exposed skin could be spotted. The Gardiner lads, on the other hand, wore every piece of cold weather gear they could find. They brought heaters for their sidelines. Gardiner would go on to defeat the Rams by two touchdowns while Bangor appeared to be suffering from hypothermia by halftime.
Perhaps the most famous weather related sports moment didn’t come during football season but during basketball season. We can expect rain while attending an outdoor event but not indoors. Well, it was raining inside the Bangor Auditorium prior to the start of the Eastern Maine Class B championship games. Back then the Class B titles were contested on Friday night. The Houlton and Mt. View girls took the floor after an hour and a half delay due to water leaking on the basketball floor. A hydraulic lift was used to place a bucket in the rafters to prevent the water from streaming onto the court. The leaking roof was the backdrop to one of the most memorable games ever played in the Bangor Auditorium. Dexter outlasted Rockland to capture the regional crown in five overtimes. The contest ended at about 12:30 in the morning.
Indeed, weather can make for some interesting and memorable contests. Whether right or wrong, many of today’s players or future athletes may never have the opportunity to experience these memories that can last a lifetime.