When Traip Academy of Kittery lost two of its first three football games, there was no panic. The players maintained their composure and continued to work hard.

It paid off.

The Rangers closed with five regular-seasons victories, then added two playoff wins to reach the Western Class C championship game Saturday at Yarmouth.

“Even after a rough start, we knew we had as good, if not a better team than last year,” said senior quarterback Matt Clifford. “We’re very excited to be playing in the regional final. We’re determined, happy to have the chance, and we don’t want the season to end.”

For that to happen, Traip (8-2) will have to contain Yarmouth’s speed and cash in on opportunities, something it didn’t do in a 27-7 loss to the Clippers (10-0) in Week 3.

“We had the ball in the red zone four times and only scored once,” said Clifford.

Yarmouth jumped out to quick 12-0 lead. Traip cut it to 12-7. Yarmouth scored before halftime and put it away with another touchdown late in the third quarter.

“I don’t think the score was indicative of the type of game it was,” said Traip Coach Ron Ross.

Clifford said Traip will look to run the ball behind its big line.

Corey Aldecoa, a junior, has been a top ground gainer for Traip along with Tyler Nay. Clifford also calls his own number on occasion.

In the playoffs, Clifford has four interceptions at defensive back.

Traip began its turnaround with a 6-3 record last season, which ended with a playoff loss to Oak Hill.

Five years ago, the Rangers snapped a program-crippling 51-game losing streak.

“That seems so long ago,” said Ross. “I’m glad those days are over. The past is the past. These players didn’t have anything to do with the losing streak.”

Clifford remembers going to the games when the program had hit rock bottom.

“We don’t like to think what it used to be like. We keep things in the present. That’s why this feels pretty good,” he said.

The Rangers have playoff victories against Dirigo and Maranacook.

The win over Maranacook avenged a season-opening setback.

“We maintained our pride after our loss to Yarmouth,” said Clifford. “We refocused on working hard in practice.”

Now the Rangers are a win away from playing for a state championship.

While favored Yarmouth is known for its speed, Traip has some speed of its own.

“We’re not a slow as everyone thinks,” said Ross. “We play on a grass field, which is not as fast as an artificial turf field.”

 

REGIONAL FINALS will be played tonight in Eastern Class A and Eastern Class B.

The Eastern Class C final will be played Saturday, along with the three Western Maine finals.

All the regional finals match the top seed against the second seed.

No. 1 Lawrence (10-0) and No. 2 Bangor (8-2) are meeting for the regional title for the third time in six seasons. The Bulldogs beat the Rams in 2006 and ’07.

Lawrence owns a five-game winning streak against Bangor at Keyes Field in Fairfield.

Despite his team’s record at Lawrence, Bangor Coach Mark Hackett loves the atmosphere.

“You can feel the intensity from the fans,” he said. “It’s like a basketball game in that respect.”

Lawrence beat Bangor 32-25 on Sept. 10.

In Turner, top-ranked Leavitt (10-0) hosts No. 2 Mt. Blue (9-1) in a game of high-powered offenses. The Hornets are averaging 46.8 points and the Cougars are scoring 45.6. Leavitt beat Mt. Blue 22-17 on Oct. 7.

On Saturday, No. 2 Thornton Academy (9-1) plays at No. 1 Cheverus (10-0) for the Western Class A title. In Class B, No. 2 Mountain Valley (9-1) travels to No. 1 Wells (10-0), and in Class C, No. 2 Traip Academy (8-2) plays at No. 1 Yarmouth (10-0). All the Western Maine finals will start at 12:30 p.m.

Also on Saturday, No. 1 Bucksport (10-0) and No. 2 Orono (9-1) will play for the Eastern Class C title at 1 p.m in Bucksport.

The three state championship games, will be at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland on Nov. 19. Game times will be announced next week.

 

THE 100TH Thanksgiving Day Game between Portland and Deering is set for 10:30 a.m. Nov. 24 at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Special activities have been planned for the centennial game. Former players and cheerleaders will be invited onto the field at halftime and introduced by class. Alumni are also welcome at both schools’ bonfires on Wednesday night. Portland’s will be held at Quinn Field, while Deering’s will be behind the high school.

There will be an alumni breakfast buffet on Thanksgiving morning at Racks on St. John Street.

The schools started playing on Thanksgiving in 1911 and have played every year since with the exception of 1920, when the game was canceled because of poor weather.

 

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at [email protected]

Twitter: TomChardPPH