WALES — In the middle of the afternoon last Saturday, with a spring-like sun shining down on spectators at Oak Hill High School, junior Adam Merrill stood ready.
No. 2 Oak Hill and No. 4 Dirigo were battling for the Western D title and engaged in a physical game that was tied at 6. A trip to the state championship at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland was on the line.
The Raiders, looking to take control of the game, drove deep into the heart of Dirigo territory with about five minutes left in the third quarter.
“Things were pretty crazy,” Oak Hill senior quarterback Parker Asselin said.
The Dirigo defense, like it had all postseason, came up with a big stop to set up the drama.
Adam Merrill, all 5-foot-8 of him, would be called upon — again.
“We have a lot of faith in Adam,” Oak Hill coach Stacen Doucette said. “We know what he can do.”
So, too, do Adam’s parents, Dan and Nancy. The tattered garage door and shattered floodlights at their Sabattus home prove it.
“Adam is pretty driven,” Nancy Merrill said. “He spends a lot of time kicking balls against our garage door. He’s broken those floodlights just being outside practicing and practicing. We’re going to replace that door, but probably after he leaves.”
Added Merrill, a junior who earned the starting kicking duties this season: “I’d go out for an hour and half, two hours a day. It’s a lot of work to get the ball each time so the garage door is the best backstop I have. I kick it at garage door to give me that practice.”
That practice paid off with a key extra point in a 21-20 victory over Lisbon in a conference semifinal game.
It would pay off again against the Cougars.
Merrill jogged on the field and booted a 22-yard field goal that gave Oak Hill a 9-6 lead. The Raiders went on to win 16-14 to reach a state title game for the first time in 29 years.
“Adam just doesn’t get nervous,” Asselin said. “I don’t know how. He’s cooler than the flip side of a pillow. That’s two games in a row he’s won for us. He knows his role on this team and he’s stepping up big time.”
Added Merrill: “I just kind of went out there and did it. I was nervous on the inside but I kept my cool.”
Nancy Merrill acknowledged the composure comes from Dad.
“Adam is quiet and even-keeled,” she said. “He shows the same emotions. When Adam is asked to do something, he just goes out and does it. He doesn’t talk a mile a minute about it. I think he gets that from his dad. I scream and yell, but in a good way. I get very excited. That kick, it was very emotional.
“His dad likes to walk the sideline and I like to sit high up. It was stressful. I put a towel over my face and saw it briefly. I waited for the crowd reaction.”
The roar of the crowd, one of the biggest in recent years, told Nancy Merrill all she wanted to know.
“We had tears in our eyes,” she added. “Adam is not big enough to play on the front line of the football. He’s 5-8 and 140 pounds. He’s also a twin. His brother (Chad) didn’t play football this year so this has been his thing. He’s really become more confident this year. He’s come into his own.”
Merrill played on the junior varsity team last year and impressed coaches this summer with his kicking ability. He won the job in the preseason and has proved steady throughout the fall.
“It’s pretty incredible what he’s doing,” running back Alex Mace said.
At most practices and before some games, Doucette and Merrill would compete in a kicking game. One of them would pick a spot for a field goal and the other would have to follow suit.
“I used to beat him a lot,” Doucette said. “Not anymore. He gets me most of the time now.”
Merrill and the Raiders hope to continue their dramatic run through the playoffs by winning a Gold Ball on Saturday. Oak Hill (8-2) will meet Bucksport (10-0) at 2:36 p.m.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Merrill said. “I can’t wait. It’s going to be a big day for us.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640