When the Maine Principals’ Association reclassified football into four classes, the schools in Class A settled on a playoff format that provided a bye week for the teams that finished first and second.
That bye week proved very beneficial to the teams that finished at the top in Western Class A: Bonny Eagle and Thornton Academy.
The top-seeded Scots shut out potent Scarborough 27-0 Friday night, holding the Red Storm to 170 yards. On Saturday, second-seeded Thornton held Sanford to 141 yards in a 35-6 victory.
Beyond helping those teams get a little healthier – both had some players nursing minor injuries at the end of the regular season – the week off allowed them to focus on the playoffs ahead.
“We’re as healthy as we’ve been all season and we got our legs back,’’ said Thornton Coach Kevin Kezal. “I give our kids credit. We had a great week last week. I was worried about that bye week, but we went out and they were very businesslike. We had three great practices, worked on some stuff that we felt we needed to clean up.’’
“It helped us have some down time, to think about how much do we want this,’’ said defensive tackle Jordan Berube. “How much do we want to win this game?’’
They answered with a sterling defensive effort. The Spartans had scored 82 points in their previous two games. But the Trojans took away Sanford’s power running game. Sanford had 114 rushing yards, but 81 came on the final drive of the game.
Bonny Eagle, meanwhile, shut out a team that averaged 33.8 points in the regular season and scored 45 in the first round of the playoffs. In fact, Scarborough hadn’t scored fewer than 41 points in any of its previous five games.
But the week off allowed Bonny Eagle to focus on its defense, which gave up over 300 yards to Scarborough in the regular season.
“We took (the bye week) to our advantage and worked on everything we needed to do,’’ said Bonny Eagle senior Jon Woods. “I mean, that’s our defense. We worked hard on D, that’s all we worked on all week. We knew we could run the ball, it was all about our defense.’’
Defensive back Joey Bissonnette, who broke up a couple deep passes and intercepted one, said, “I’ve been playing high school football for four years and those were the best four defensive practices we’ve ever had.’’
Coach Kevin Cooper gave all the credit to his players for maintaining their focus during the week off.
“It got us a few days off, a chance to re-energize,’’ he said. “But I think the best thing was our kids, we just had great practices last week. It’s really hard for high school kids to be able to focus when there’s no opponent coming on Friday. But our kids did a great job, and we got better at a few things that we were able to use tonight.’’
FOR THE TEAMS that are now done for the season, the disappointment of losing can be tempered by the knowledge that they had successful seasons.
“This doesn’t take away from the fact that we’re pretty proud of our kids,’’ said Sanford Coach Mike Fallon. “They’ve been doing a lot of things this year and showed a lot of resilience. We’d like to be playing again next week. But at this time of the season, only one team goes home happy.’’
Scarborough Coach Lance Johnson said his program is getting closer each year.
“We’ve got a really good group of kids, they work hard and do everything we ask them to do,’’ he said. “They’re competing physically better every year I’ve been at Scarborough. So I think we’re coming, and (the seniors) set a good example for our underclassmen.’’
BANGOR COACH Mark Hackett stood in the parking lot an hour before Saturday’s Eastern Class A semifinal against Cheverus and talked about what it meant to be playing a Greater Portland team in the playoffs.
“The only way your football program is going to improve is to play the best,” said Hackett.
“Before, we would only play these teams in the state championship. You don’t really get an idea of what those teams are like. This is the second time we’ve played Cheverus this season.”
Both times, Bangor was on the short end of the score, as the Stags won 49-7 in the regular season and 37-0 on Saturday.
Hackett took those losses as learning experiences. In the second meeting, Bangor was more competitive. After giving up a quick 14 points and then a safety when a snap sailed over the punter’s head through the end zone in the second quarter, Bangor drove deep into Cheverus territory, only to come away empty. Had the Rams scored, it might have been a more interesting game in the second half.
Bangor worked on building experience and confidence this season.
“We were a young team when the season began,” said Hackett. “We’ve played our best football the last few weeks. We’re in a good position.”
Hackett expects his players to be better prepared next year for the rigors of a schedule the includes four former Western Class A teams: Cheverus, Portland, Deering and Windham. As one of the biggest schools in Class A, Bangor will be back to its accustomed place as a contender before too long.
WESTERN CLASS B finalists Kennebunk and Marshwood advanced in drastically different ways, but there was one similarity to their victories.
Both teams were seeing yellow. Lots and lots of yellow.
For top-seeded Kennebunk (10-0), most of its 12 penalties for 114 yards came before a dramatic last few minutes that resulted in a 17-15 win against Westbrook. The Rams stymied themselves for much of the first half. Two personal fouls wiped out an interception return for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage, and a series of holding and illegal procedure calls bogged down the offense.
If the Rams had played cleaner early, they likely would have had more than a one-score advantage when Westbrook’s Kyle Heath returned a fumble 80 yards to give the fifth-seeded Blue Blazes a 15-14 lead with 3:18 to play.
“We didn’t play very well and they played us tougher than tough,” Rams Coach Joe Rafferty said. “We were very, very lucky to get out of here tonight (with) the win, for sure.”
On Saturday, third-seeded Marshwood (8-2) was flagged 13 times for a whopping 165 yards against No. 2 York. Those penalties proved little more than annoyances, though, so complete was the Hawks’ shackling of York’s offense in a 45-16 win.
Rafferty was asked if he gave any thought of going for a touchdown instead of a field goal with the ball at the 1 on fourth down and his team trailing by two points with time running out. Distance on the kick was clearly not an issue – senior kicker Jake Lary has a strong leg – but the ball was near the left hash mark.
“There was a little bit. It didn’t last long,” Rafferty said. “You can’t get wrapped up in the emotions, you have to do what’s the most logical thing. I’m lucky I have experience on the sideline, and we looked at each other and said ‘we gotta kick.’”
When penalties weren’t setting Kennebunk back in the first half, Westbrook’s rangy, high-energy defensive end, Derek Breunig, was hurting Kennebunk with his speed off the edge. He knocked down two of Nick Emmons’ passes, tackled Emmons from behind for a loss and then sacked the QB.
In the second half, Kennebunk negated Breunig by running between the tackles, either with Nicco DeLorenzo or with Emmons keeping it himself and following DeLorenzo through the hole.
If Marshwood’s effort against York is a proper indicator, such a straightforward approach will be difficult in the regional final 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Kennebunk). After gaining 26 yards on its first three carries, York’s next 19 rushing attempts netted 11 yards, while Marshwood was building a 25-0 lead.
When York scrapped the run, sophomore defensive back Ryan O’Neil, senior defensive back Noah Kreider and sophomore linebacker Zach Doyon made York’s receivers pay a physical toll for modest gains.
IN ITS FIRST YEAR back in Class B, Greely is again a state champion. The Rangers beat Camden Hills 1-0 for Saturday in the state final at Hampden Academy.
Greely had not won a Class B title since 1975. Of course, the Rangers moved up to Class A after that. Greely won five Class A titles, the last in 2007.
“It leveled out the playing field for us,” Rangers Coach Mike Andreasen said. “It’s not the same level of play night in and night out. But you see Yarmouth. You see Camden Hills. The top teams in (Class) B can play anywhere.”
Andreasen said his team’s challenging schedule in the Western Maine Conference prepared the Rangers for the title game: “We’ve seen teams like Camden Hills. We played five teams that are like them. That is what is so good about our league. It is so strong.”
– Staff Writers Mike Lowe, Tom Chard, Steve Craig and Kevin Thomas contributed to this report.