Hayden Staples of Medomak Valley tries to gain extra yardage despite having several defenders in tow during a Sept. 24 game at Freeport. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

WALDOBORO — Medomak Valley senior Hayden Staples remembers his freshman football season. He remembers often being manhandled on the field, and his team not faring much better.

“I was getting thrown around by all the bigger kids. … We got beaten up pretty bad,” he said. “When I first started, it was loss after loss after loss. … We never thought we’d be doing it now.”

What Medomak Valley is doing is getting ready to play in the Class C championship game. A program that is in only its seventh season of varsity competition and fifth year of playoff eligibility has been on the rise, gradually advancing in the playoffs since first making the postseason in 2018.

When the Panthers (9-2) face Leavitt (10-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Cameron Stadium in Bangor, they’ll be the second-fastest team to reach a state final, according to the Maine High School Football website. Yarmouth made the 2010 Class C state game in only its fourth varsity year.

Medomak is the newest team in the state to join the 11-man version of the sport, and the players who have helped grow the program beam at seeing how far it’s come.

“It’s been so cool to see. I’ve been playing with all these guys for as long as I’ve been playing, I’ve been playing since the fourth grade, and that same tight group of guys has been there the whole time and come up through,” said senior tackle Connor Light. “Every week in every year, I feel like everybody gets a little bit better.”


While many programs in the state, even those with established winning traditions, have seen their numbers drop – with many schools moving to eight-man football – Medomak has countered the trend. There are 47 players on the Panthers’ roster, including 17 seniors.

The players make sure the numbers are good.

“We see somebody big in school, we’ll talk to them and see if they want to come out and try it,” Staples said. “A lot of the kids came from soccer. They saw how well we were doing and wanted to try it out.”

Then there’s the youth program. Medomak Youth Football, which Naomi and Fritz Miller started in 2011, has provided the Panthers with a constant stream of players who start learning the sport at 6 years old.

“We’re seeing the fruits of that labor. This senior class, a lot of them started as first-graders. They’ve been through the whole thing,” said Medomak Coach Ryan Snell, who has led the Panthers from the beginning.

“(Assistant coach) Ryan DiPompo is our only teacher on the football staff, he’s done a great job of getting kids in the school who weren’t playing. … It’s really a group effort.”


With the youth program providing a foundation, Medomak had a club team at the high school level in 2012, and by 2014 the Panthers were playing non-counting games against Class D teams. Medomak joined the varsity ranks in 2015 and spent the first two years playing in Class D, but success was scattershot early on. A 6-2 inaugural season was followed by a 1-6 record in 2016, and after the Panthers moved up to Class C North in 2017, they made the quarterfinals in 2018 and 2019, but went 11-15 over those three seasons.

Some of those losses showed just how far they still had to climb.

“There were years we’d go up to MCI, and we were losing by 50, 60 points,” Snell said. “We just weren’t physically ready for that level of football. … We took our lumps, but we grew from it and learned, and just adapted.”

A different Medomak team emerged after the pandemic wiped out the 2020 season. Those freshmen and sophomores who were pushed around were now juniors and seniors and ready to climb in the standings. The Panthers were the top seed last year in C North at 6-2 before getting upset by Hermon in the semifinals, but they used the defeat as a springboard into this season.

The Panthers earned the No. 1 seed again at 6-2, and with Staples (163 yards rushing, three touchdowns) leading the way, they took down Hermon, 40-20, to reach the state final.

“Last year, something clicked,” Staples said. “We weren’t done after losing last year.”


They’re still the new guys, though, and the Panthers know it. They feel overlooked by people who continue to take them lightly.

“Every week, we look at the reports in all the various papers and see ‘Oh, they can’t beat Hermon twice,’ or ‘They can’t beat Oceanside,’ or ‘They’re going to lose to Winslow,'” Light said. “I love seeing that stuff. It gets everyone all fired up.”

The Panthers have been underdogs. It’s a familiar label.

“We like that,” said senior quarterback Wyatt Simmons. “We think probably the less attention, the better. That’s what’s fueled us all season, that’s what keeps fueling us.”

That drive has taken the team to new heights.

“With each group we’ve had, we’ve told them they’re leaving a block on the foundation for the groups behind them,” Snell said. “We knew we would get better. But if you told me we were going to be playing in a state championship game in year five of playoff eligibility, I probably would have looked at you crazy. And most people would.”

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