READFIELD — Young, inexperienced and a bit undersized.

There were plenty of ways to describe the Maranacook football team’s defense when the season opened under sunny, summer skies less than two months ago.

“We really didn’t know what we were doing,” Maranacook coach Joe Emery said. “I had some doubts about a few of the guys. We were just so … inexperienced.”

The Maranacook defense — which then was at best a work in progress and at worst a weakness — had question marks all over the field.

Chief among them: How quick would the eight newcomers learn their positions?

Five games into the season, and the Bears have answers.

“It took us time to get up to varsity speed,” Emery said. “But we’re getting better every week. They’re starting to know their positions and we’re at a point where I can do different stuff with them. For example, I can blitz a linebacker and the other guys know how to cover that space. I wasn’t always able to do that.”

Maranacook (5-0) is first in Campbell Conference Class C Crabtree points, which determine playoff positioning. The Black Bears, who host Winslow (4-1) in a pivotal game Friday at Ricky Gibson Field of Dreams, are benefiting from a productive offense and, yes, a much-improved defense.

The Black Bears have improved so much, they believe their defense is a strength.

“Everybody has stepped up,” said junior linebacker Zach Bessette, one of just three returning starters on defense.

Added middle linebacker Adam Betts, who leads the team in tackles with 65: “We’re playing with more confidence. We’re getting there.”

Betts, Bessette and Logan Emery comprise the linebacking core of a defense, which primarily plays in a 5-3 system. Emery played junior varsity last season while Betts played primarily on the offensive line.

“Yeah, this is a lot different than (junior varsity),” Logan Emery said. “There’s a lot more to learn. It’s a lot faster than what I’m used to.”

Andrew Lachance (defensive end), Tucker Cameron (tackle), Spencer Lucas (nose guard), Jalen Thompson (tackle) and Simon Davis (end) play on Maranacook’s defensive line.

Only Lachance started on the defensive line last season.

Starting cornerback Caleb Castonguay — also the team’s quarterback — is joined by newcomers Cody Lyon and Jessie Evans in the secondary.

“They have all come a long way,” Joe Emery said. “It’s fun because now I can do different stuff with them, like stunts. We can try to confuse opposing offenses now. You have to be able to do that. A few of these guys, I wasn’t sure if they’d be quick enough to play on a varsity defense. But they all have. We just have a bunch of guys who like to get to the ball.”

They also rely on their quickness, which Coach Emery said compensated for an early season learning curve.

More times than not, the Bears will give up some inches and pounds, particularly up front.

“There was just a lot to learn, and there still is,” Betts said. “Knowing you reads and pass coverage stuff, it was an adjustment. But well just want to go out and hit somebody. We want to get the ball carrier.”

Added Joe Emery: “Our speed made up for our lack of experience. We have some guys who can fly out there. It’s all coming together.”

And at an opportune time for the Black Bears, who are in the midst of their toughest stretch of the season. They beat previously undefeated Dirigo 26-19 last week. After hosting Winslow on Friday, Maranacook plays at Oak Hill (4-1) on Oct. 13.

The next two weeks will go a long way toward determining their place in the standings.

“I’m not surprised we’ve come together,” Bessette said. “The new guys have all come in and stepped up. Everyone is getting to the ball. The whole defense is just a lot better. Hopefully, that will continue.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]


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