WALES — How about them Raiders?

For the last 20 games — all wins — and many more, those four words from head coach Stacen Doucette have led every postgame huddle for the Oak Hill High School football team.

They have become an enduring testament to the success the Raiders have built since Doucette took over in 2012 — coincidentally when this season’s current crop of seniors were freshmen.

“Prior to a couple years back — maybe a decade or so ago — this program was in a rough spot and then it erupted,” Oak Hill senior wide receiver Connor Nilsson said after practice Tuesday. “Coach Doucette coming here that really stood out. My freshman year they knew what they were capable of and since then we knew what we were capable of. Then everyone just believed in it. We just kept going further and stronger and didn’t look back at all.”

On Friday at the University of Maine at 7 p.m., Oak Hill will face not only Maine Central Institute for the Class D championship, but its place in history as well. Since 1970 only two schools — Morse from 1970-72 in Class B and Orono from 1979-81 in Class C — have won three straight state football titles outright.

Others have come close to what the Raiders are attempting. Lawrence was denied in its bid for three Class B titles in a row in 1985 in a 17-14 loss to Gardiner, while Stearns suffered the same fate in losing the Class C championship to Old Orchard Beach in 1993.

So as Friday’s contest draws near, the question still remains: How about them Raiders?

A NEW STANDARD

When it comes to the current incarnation of Oak Hill football, its place in school history is already set.

For decades the previous gold standard was the 1982 team that beat Foxcroft Academy 20-6 for the Class D championship, which stood as the school’s only state football title until 2013.

“It was not close like the games they play now,” said Gordon Strout, a senior fullback and middle linebacker on the ’82 team. “Now they’re all heart stoppers.”

“We had one great year,” added Don Therrien, who was a sophomore on the ’82 team. “We had good years before and we had ’82, which was our best until now.”

Over the past three years, Strout, Therrien, Billy Martin and Todd Mulherin have watched their sons equal and then unequivocally surpass their run in 1982. Quarterback Dalton Therrien and wide receiver Jonah Martin are each seniors, while linebacker Matthew Strout and lineman Brent Mulherin are each juniors.

“It’s been unbelievable because we’ve watched these kids grow up,” Billy Martin said.

Dalton Therrien, Jonah Martin and this current group of seniors have gone 39-5 in their careers with two state championships. Getting there has not been an accident, though, as it has taken a combination of sound planning from the coaching staff and a group of players dedicated enough to commit to it.

“The coaches are totally different today. They expect and demand a lot more than coaches when I played,” Don Therrien said. “We could show up here at 11:30 or 12 o’clock and be ready to play a game at 1. Our coach now expects them to be here at 9 or 9:30. That says a lot for the program.”

THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING

As he prepares for his final game in an Oak Hill uniform, a phrase from his head coach has stuck with Dalton Therrien.

“He used to say all the time my freshman and sophomore year, ‘the proof is in the pudding,'” Therrien said. “Sometimes hard work sucks. You have to get through it but if you look through it’s paying off.

“…There’s a point where if you can push yourself to the limit and once you’re at your limit push a little harder and that’s how you get better. I think he does a good job of that.”

Therrien has been through plenty of Doucette’s practices where very little time is wasted and every detail is scripted. Most importantly, he has come to understand their purpose when it comes time to put on Oak Hill’s red, white and blue jersey on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.

“I’ve never gone into a game here unprepared,” Therrien said. “If we feel unprepared on Thursday or Friday we’ll go pads and then we’ll make sure that we’re prepared so that when we get on the field Saturday (we’re ready).

“He puts enough pressure on us in practice so that when we get into a game, there’s no pressure.”

Preparing for games extends beyond the coaching staff and players, though, and into the community. Every Thursday during the season, the Raiders hold team dinners in the school’s cafeteria, with each week a different class — including freshmen and sophomores — responsible for bringing in food for the team.

This past Saturday before the Class D South championship against Lisbon, the team gathered at the school around 8:30 or 9 a.m. to eat breakfast together, an event generally more exclusive to the postseason.

“It’s important to the kids, they have a great time and boy do they eat,” Doucette said. “…We’ve had some big success with it. The cheerleaders are involved, the coaches are involved, we build a family atmosphere and the kids believe.”

FAMILY

Plenty of high school players will cite being a family as one of their reasons for success, but the Raiders have bought into the concept as football has helped bring members of the Litchfield, Wales and Sabattus communities closer together. It is hard to argue with the results on the field, either.

“Most people say family because it sounds good but we definitely believe that we’re a family,” Jonah Martin said. “We have each other’s backs.”

Martin’s thoughts go right in line with the culture Doucette has created at Oak Hill, more often drawing attention to team concepts over individual play.

“There’s power in numbers and I think a lot of really good football players can put together a special team. That’s what I think we are, a team,” Doucette said. “When they hand you a trophy or they talk about who won or lost it’s about the best team, not the best starters.”

Of course, talent has played a big part in Oak Hill’s rise. Players like Luke Washburn, Parker Asselin, Alex Mace, Kyle Flaherty and Dalton Therrien are rare breeds at small schools like Oak Hill — let alone in such close proximity in school to one another.

Yet as many have found out before, talent can only take you so far.

How about them Raiders?

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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