Top this! For the four weeks that was high school football play-off time, that’s what the participants seemed to be saying. In three decades following the gridiron happenings across the Pine Tree State I cannot recall a season which produced so many jaw dropping endings.
Beginning with the quarterfinal round, Cony and Lawrence provided what at the time was a game for the ages. The host Bulldogs, on a cold, rainy, and windy night, rallied to take a 27-20 lead with only 1:42 showing on the clock. Cony was far from done as senior quarterback Taylor Heath led the visitors down the field from their own 20 to the Lawrence 20. Facing fourth down and only six seconds remaining, Heath rolled right on the game’s final play and found Jordan Roddy in the right corner of the end zone to pull the Rams within 27-26. There was no hesitation on the conversion attempt as Cony elected to direct snap to Roddy, who scampered to the left pylon for the improbable victory.
Not to be out done, a week later in the Southern A semifinals Scarborough visited two-time defending state champion Thornton Academy. While other games featured dramatic finishes, this contest was pure drama from start to finish. This game had everything you could want in a high school football game. There were several defining moments, it’s hard to pick just one. Leading 7-0, Scarborough embarked on THE DRIVE. Ninety-three yards. Nearly ten minutes. On third down if the Red Storm needed eight yards they would get nine. Facing fourth and goal at the three, instead of kicking the field goal, Scarborough punched it into the end zone. The message was sent.
Thornton in the fourth quarter rallied behind senior quarterback Mike Laverriere when they scored a touchdown inside of two minutes. As Cony did the week before, Thornton rode Laverriere and converted the two points to go ahead 29-28. It was Thornton’s only lead of the afternoon. A subsequent squib kick gave Scarborough good field position beyond their own forty yard line. It only took the Red Storm forty-five seconds to score the winning touchdown on a twenty-two yard pass play.
Regional final weekend. A injury depleted MDI squad hosted Winslow. I cannot remember a time when a number one seed was such a decided underdog. When the visiting Black Raiders scored easily with their opening drive on Nate St. Amand’s forty-nine yard touchdown scamper, it appeared to be a long night for the Trojans. Who would have thought that would be the only score MDI would give up on the evening? MDI pulled out the improbable 12-7 victory, marking the Trojan’s first state title game appearance in the history of the program.
The greatest swing of emotions from one week to the next perhaps in the history of Maine high school football has to go to the Lisbon Greyhounds. In back to back weeks they were involved in finishes that could only be believed if they were seen. In the regional final Winthrop/Monmouth had just scored the apparent winning touchdown with sixteen seconds remaining. The kick-off gave the visiting Greyhounds the ball at their own 45 yard line. Quarterback Tyler Halls hit Kurtis Bolton at the twenty, broke free from would be tacklers, and was brought down at the one. Noah Francis plunged into the end zone on the game’s final play.
In the final high school football game of the season one week later at Fitzpatrick Stadium, Lisbon found themselves on the opposite end of a dramatic ending. MCI, who came up short the previous two years in the state title game, trailed Lisbon 14-0 midway through the third quarter. Trailing 14-7 in the fourth, MCI embarked on a 98-yard drive to tie the game. With 44 seconds left, rather than play for overtime, the Huskies drove from their own 23 to the Lisbon 20 with only three seconds to play. Out came Devon Varney and the field goal unit. A mist had been falling for most of the second half making the field a bit slick. As Eli Bussell mishandled the snap for the potential game winning 37-yard field goal try, he had presence of mind to pick up the ball and scamper down the right sideline into the end zone with no time remaining. Jubilation filled the MCI side of the stadium while the exhilaration Lisbon felt a week prior resulted in the same heartbreak Winthrop/Monmouth experienced a week earlier.
There were some newcomers to the championship scene this year and programs which saw a resurgence. Brunswick captured their first state crown since 1963 while MCI won gold for the first time in 42 years. Wells won gold as recently as 2011 while Bonny Eagle won the state title in 2013. While we may consider Bonny Eagle a dynasty, they’ve won six state titles since 2004, for the kids playing on Saturday this was just as much a first for them as it was for the Brunswick kids on Friday night. We sometimes forget, even with dominant programs, the time span is short for high school athletes. In large schools, players only have a two to three year window and it goes by quickly.
Taking over for a legend is a daunting task. When longtime coach John Wolfgram announced his retirement last spring from Cheverus, defensive coordinator Mike Vance was tasked with taking over the program. Despite a 65-0 home loss in week 2 to Thornton Academy, a game that wasn’t even that close, the Stags persevered to a 5-5 record. Perhaps more telling than their wins was how competitive they were in losses to the other strong teams on their schedule such as Scarborough, Portland, and Windham.
A salute also goes out to Dexter who made their first regional final appearance since 1991. Despite falling 41-0 to MCI the program has made considerable strides with a bright future ahead.
For many of the state’s football players the season ended many weeks ago. Tough losses mounted. For those programs victories aren’t always measured on the scoreboard. Here’s to those who kept battling week after week despite the results.
As we wrap up 2016, here is my statewide top ten. I’ve had the opportunity to see all of these teams play in person at least once this season. I look at the overall body of work as well as the simple eyeball test. If these teams were to play each other, who would likely win.
1. Bonny Eagle (11-0) Class A State Champions
2. Scarborough (8-3) Southern Maine Class A Runners-up
3. Thornton Academy (7-2) Lost to Scarborough in Southern Maine Class A Semis
4. Brunswick (11-0) Class B State Champions
5. Portland (9-2) Class A State Runners-up
6. Wells (12-0) Class C State Champions
7. Brewer (8-2) Northern Maine Class B Runners-up
8. Kennebunk (11-1) Class B State Runners-up
9. Windham (6-4) Northern Maine Class A Runners-up
10. Cape Elizabeth (10-1) Southern Maine Class C Runners-up