Two things motivated the Waterville Senior High School football team on Saturday afternoon. One, the Purple Panthers did not want to lose to rival Winslow.
Two, the Panthers absolutely, positively, without a doubt, no questions asked, did not want to have to go to Mt. Desert Island again this season. Mt. Desert Island was the site of Waterville’s only loss, and if Winslow won this game, the Panthers would finish the regular season in third place. That meant another possible two hour bus ride to the island for a regional semifinal game in two weeks.
“We’ve been saying that all week. That’s the one thing we didn’t want to do. We weren’t going to lose this game,” Waterville senior Brian Bellows said.
That bus ride was on the Panthers’ minds when they saw Winslow score with 44 seconds left to take a three-point lead. It was on their minds when Bellows threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Denis with 20 seconds left to give Waterville the lead, and the win, and now it could be the Trojans making the two hour bus ride to Waterville in two weeks.
The high school football regular season is over. With all due respect to the first Friday night of the season, and championship Saturday (now championship Friday, too), the final weekend of the regular season is the best time of the high school football season.
Waterville’s comeback in the final minute to trump Winslow’s comeback in the final minute was just one of many highlights to the end of Maine’s high school football regular season. It wasn’t even the game with the craziest ending. That honor goes to the Foxcroft-Nokomis game.
Nokomis led 6-0. The Warriors have known for months that, because they are a Class B sized school playing in Class C while they build their football program, they’d be ineligible for the playoffs. A win over the Ponies would give Nokomis a 4-4 record, wins over two playoff-bound teams (the Warriors beat Mt. Desert Island a few weeks ago), and a season-ending victory on which to build momentum for the future.
Then Hunter Smith, a wide receiver playing quarterback because of injury, ran 57 yards, eluding tacklers like a video game along the way, to tie the game as time expired. Smith then scored the 2-point conversion, giving the Ponies, who had lost three consecutive games, the 8-6 win and some momentum to take into the playoffs.
In Thorndike, Washington Academy and Mt. View played what essentially was a playoff game. The winner would earn the sixth and final spot in the Eastern Class D playoffs. The loser would turn in equipment on Monday. Washington won, 35-33, and plays on.
Maine Central Institute completed its best regular season since 2000 with a win over Dexter on Friday night, but the 7-1 Huskies still needed some luck to earn the two seed and a bye out of the first round. Mattanawcook of Lincoln also finished the regular season 7-1, and with no head to head game, all the usual tiebreakers were useless. So on Saturday morning, they flipped a coin at Orono High School. MCI head coach Tom Bertrand called tails, because we all know tails never fails, and his team will have a week to practice and heal before hosting a semifinal opponent, possibly Mattanawcook, in two weeks.
The Eastern D coin flip wasn’t the only one. In Western C, Spruce Mountain won the No. 3 seed over Yarmouth thanks to a flip.
Seventy-six teams started the season. Fifty-two of them will practice this week. Forty of them will play this weekend. Twelve of them, the ones that earned byes, will jump into the fray next week. If the games are close to as entertaining as this final weekend, we’re in for a fun four weeks.