The Bonny Eagle football team’s bid for a second straight undefeated season came to a surprising end last week when it was discovered that the Scots – the defending Class A state champs – used an academically ineligible player in the fourth quarter of the Sept. 26 game against Westbrook, which Bonny Eagle won easily, 42-0.

By the rules of the Maine Principals’ Association, Bonny Eagle (4-1) was forced to forfeit the game, which now goes in the books as a 2-0 win for Westbrook (1-4).

Though the ineligible player appeared only for a few minutes in the fourth quarter of the contest when the outcome was all but decided, MPA Executive Director Dick Durost – who received Bonny Eagle’s formal incident report last Friday – said there is no room for situational interpretation in the policy.

“”It is a hard and fast policy and none of these has ever been overturned,” he said. “Schools know that it is the policy… There doesn’t appear to be any intent in this situation, as there is not in 999 out of a thousand of these situations. But simply in order to be fair to all of their opponents, any time a school uses an ineligible player, they must forfeit any wins.”

The ineligible player transferred to Bonny Eagle two weeks after the start of the football season, so his eligibility was not scrutinized under the normal procedures.

“Basically, when students are in our system, we have a very well-defined process for checking their grades and determining eligibility, but when a student transfers in, if they transfer in once the school year starts or whatever, that’s not the usual case for us to do that checking,” said Suzanne Lukas, superintendent for SAD 6, of which Bonny Eagle is a part. “For various reasons – it goes through several channels – it didn’t get down.”

Scots coach Kevin Cooper took full blame for the situation. He said it is on the coaching staff to check and double-check to make sure players are eligible. Once the ineligibility was discovered, Bonny Eagle self-reported the infraction.

“When we found out what had happened, we notified the MPA and explained our situation,” Cooper said. “They informed us that the rule is pretty clear that playing an ineligible player means forfeiting a game. When they told us that, that’s what we decided to do… The MPA doesn’t enforce any regulations. They want schools to police themselves.”

“We commend the high school for the way they have handled this,” Durost said. “They’ve done the moral, ethical thing and set the example for the kids and the community.”

In its first game following the announcement of the forfeit, Bonny Eagle trounced winless Noble on the road, 61-0 with all nine touchdowns coming in the first three quarters. Cooper said the team was not trying to make a point with the win.

“We didn’t try to make the point that we were going to try to do this or that because of the forfeit,” Cooper said. “We just wanted to go down there and take care of business, try to continue to get better, then come back and get ready for Deering.”

Friday night, Bonny Eagle hosts Deering (5-0) in what could be a preview of the Western Maine Class A final. Though it is now possible for Bonny Eagle to defeat Deering in the regular season and still finish behind the Rams in the final playoff seedings – based on Crabtree Points which take into account strength of schedule – the game is still the premier match-up to date this season.

“I don’t think any of the luster of this game has gone away because we forfeited a game,” Cooper said. “It’s still two great teams that have developed into a great rivalry. As far as this game goes, it’s just as exciting for us whether we’re 4-1 or 5-0. As far as what happens in the playoff seeds, we can’t control that; we’re not going to worry about it.”

Deering is led by running back Jack Heary, a favorite to claim the Fitzpatrick Trophy. Last year, the Scots beat the Rams twice: 28-13 in the Western Maine semifinals and 31-7 in the regular season. As far as the Bonny Eagle players are concerned, this year’s game is a battle between two undefeated teams.

“They think they won on the field (against Westbrook),” Cooper said. “In their minds they’re 5-0. In their minds, we haven’t done anything that will detract us from pursuing a state championship, which is our goal.”

Westbrook coach Jeff Guerette said he was surprised when he got news of the forfeit, which suddenly gave the Blue Blazes dim playoff hopes (made even dimmer by a 42-0 loss to Thornton Academy on Saturday).

It wasn’t the way the first-year coach envisioned his first win, but Guerette said the Blue Blazes would take a win any way they can get one.

“The ineligible player did not have a huge impact on the game,” he said. “Obviously they are a much better football team than we are, but I guess those are the rules.”

Some good news for the Scots: Cooper said running back Josh Ruby, who has missed the past three games with a knee injury, could be ready to go against Deering. “We’ve got a great shot of getting Josh Ruby back for this game, so we’re still hoping for that,” Cooper said after Tuesday’s practice. “If he comes back, that’s going to give a big boost to our run game.”

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