Jim Walsh doubled practice time for his football team this month. He wasn’t surprised when he didn’t hear complaints. The Maine Sabers are winning.

The Sabers (12-0) play the Connecticut Panthers (11-1) on Saturday night for the New England Football League championship. Bragging rights are at stake. So is the possibility of yet another game with the champion of New York’s Empire League.

“We’re busy but it’s a good busy,” said Walsh, a former Maine high school football coach and athletic director. “I’m not hearing any whining. We could have packed away our equipment weeks ago.

“I’m fortunate to have a coaching staff and a team of players who genuinely care for each other. They truly play for the love of the game.”

In winning 12 straight games, more than 50 men interrupted their personal and working lives. One night of practice a week became two nights. The perception that semi-pro football is played by men who follow several beers with a shot of whiskey before strapping on their helmets is not valid.

“We game plan,” said Walsh. “I’m really just the CEO. My two coordinators call the plays, tell me what we should do in practice.”

That would be Pete Cekutis on offense and Rob Susi on defense, and their assistants. Their work with the talent the team owner, Steve Goodrich, recruited has paid off.

Jeremy Shorey, the former Lisbon High quarterback and Husson University wide receiver will again lead the offense. His targets include Kendrick Ballantyne (Gorham, UMaine, Northeastern), Travis Barnies (Lewiston, Husson), Chris Libby (Biddeford) and Shane Ciriello (Edward Little). John Wiechman (Bonny Eagle, Southern Connecticut State) is rushing for touchdowns again after fighting through a groin muscle injury.

A stout offensive line has given the quarterback and running backs time and space to manuever. “Tackle to tackle, I think we’ve got the best line in the conference,” said Walsh. That would include brothers Jon and Matt Benson (Biddeford, Husson), Cody McLean (Windham, Husson), Matt Harrington (South Portland), Eamon White (Portland, Merrimack) and Tom Grable (Soperton, Ga.)

Walsh said the Connecticut Panthers (Meriden, Conn.) love to pass and usually deep. The Sabers will counter with a tested defensive secondary of former UMaine players and New Jersey natives Steve Barker and Lamir Whetstone, and Anthony Hicks and Brolin Frye (Brunswick).

Walsh believes Connecticut’s defense will limit Maine’s opportunities. He expects a low-scoring game. “This one might be decided by a field goal.”

Goodrich, the owner, is the place-kicker.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway

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