Based on its 38-14 season-opening win over MCI, Oceanside has the look of a contender in Class C North.

Not bad for a fledgling program that was in peril when Coach Wes Drinkwater took over in 2013, two years after the school was formed by combining Rockland and Georges Valley high schools.

“The year before I took the program over, they finished with 17 players,” he said.

The next two years, Oceanside suffered at the hands of Class B West powers.

“Then, my first two years, we were so outclassed, playing teams like Marshwood and Kennebunk,” Drinkwater said. “Probably as coaches and administrators, we should have gone down (a class), but I was a young coach and I thought, ‘We can take on anybody,’ and that was not the case. That was growing pains on my part.”

But unlike other upstart programs at Sacopee Valley and Camden Hills that had to shutter their varsity teams when lopsided losses led to shrinking rosters, Oceanside maintained reasonable participation levels and won games – two each season – against comparable foes.

Realignment helped. Oceanside is 10-9 in its two seasons in Class C North, making the playoffs each year. Last year’s 6-4 team hosted a playoff game for the first time “as far as anyone knows, whether it was Rockland or Oceanside,” Drinkwater said, and the Mariners beat Foxcroft Academy.

And “we recruit well,” Drinkwater said. “I think me and my staff have a good relationship with a lot of the kids.”

Drinkwater and assistant coach Nate Grade grew up in the area, played football together at Husson, and are involved in Oceanside athletics every season.

A fisherman, Drinkwater coaches middle school basketball and baseball.

Grade teaches health and coaches indoor and outdoor track at the high school. Together, they run the high school weight room.

This year’s top “recruit” is senior quarterback Titus Kaewthong, a standout baseball catcher who previously played soccer.

Against MCI, Kaewthong threw a 74-yard touchdown pass and scored on a 7-yard run and a 58-yard fumble return.

It also helps to have a talent like junior running back/linebacker Michael Norton. In the preseason, Drinkwater predicted Norton could be “scary good,” after adding 25 pounds of muscle.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Norton scored four touchdowns in the opener – one kickoff return, two rushes, one catch, each at least 46 yards long – and piled up 366 all-purpose yards.

The Mariners still aren’t the favorites in the league. Defending champion MDI and perennial power Winslow deserve that label. But after two close losses to MDI in 2016, Drinkwater believes his still-young team can compete with the best.

“If they get better the way they should, and we teach it the right way, it’s hard to say how far we can go,” Drinkwater said.

IN HIS TWO previous seasons, Falmouth quarterback, Jack Bryant set all the school’s passing records. In a season-opening 41-19 win at Cony, Bryant added a new wrinkle – running for 123 yards and three TDs on 24 carries.

Bryant’s designed runs were a result of Cony’s defensive scheme and his increased capability, Coach John Fitzsimmons said.

“He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he’s increased his speed, so that’s a nice option for us along the way, but I have to say that his passing game is at the highest level,” Fitzsimmons said.

SACOPEE VALLEY claimed its first varsity win ever – 25-0 against Traip Academy last Friday. Sacopee led 19-0 late in the first half when it started subbing in deference to Traip having about 15 eligible players, most freshmen and sophomores. Running time was used in the second half.

Traip has canceled its game Saturday at Washington Academy. Coach Ed McDonough said two players have not cleared the concussion protocol, reducing his roster to 13. For now, Traip plans to host Boothbay on Sept. 16. “We’re more similarly situated with those remaining schools on our schedule,” McDonough said.

TWO TRENDS emerged from the Week 1 crossover games:

The South went 5-1 in intra-class games. The North’s win came in Class A, as Lewiston beat visiting South Portland, 34-21. Class A has used crossovers since 2013, when the current seven-team divisions were formed.

In five interclass matchups, lower class teams were 4-1. The exception was Class B Noble’s 28-0 win at Class C Gray-New Gloucester.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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