Maybe it was authentic. Maybe it was a ploy to throw a challenger off its game.

Either way, it’s unusual to see the “nobody believes in us” card coming out for a team that’s won three straight state titles and 24 consecutive games. But with first-place Winthrop/Monmouth due up next, Oak Hill football coach Stacen Doucette gave it a shot.

“I think there’s no doubt that we’re the underdog, and our kids know that,” the coach said. “And I think they’re OK with that.”

The craziest thing is that Doucette might be right. The Raiders have been great, but so have the Ramblers, who are also 4-0 in Class D South and who couldn’t have looked better last week in a 39-8 thrashing of Old Orchard Beach.

Heading into a matchup of unbeatens, with potential playoff seedings and byes on the line, Winthrop coach Dave St. Hilaire’s group is feeling as confident as it ever has.

“The kids knew what we’re capable of, but I don’t think they really realized how good we could be until last week,” he said. “We played well offensively, defensively, we had great intensity, and we’ve just carried that on this week in practice. We’ve been ready to go for a couple of days now.”

Friday’s win came after some less-than-stellar victories, 19-7 over Traip Academy and 14-6 over Dirigo. The lackluster wins left a mark on the coach and his players, who focused on finding a fix.

“We had a couple of sluggish weeks where we didn’t play our best football,” St. Hilaire said. “We addressed a lot of the assignments, both offensively and defensively. We kind of slowed things down last week and took care of cleaning those missed assignments up.”

The Raiders flexed some muscle of their own this past weekend, blowing out Medomak 21-0, and Doucette has been surprised by his team’s explosive ability both on the ground and through the air.

“I think we’ve been a better big play team than I expected,” he said. “I thought we’d be a ‘three yards and a cloud of smoke’ type of offense. We have demonstrated, at times, we too can have the big play.”

Those big plays will be harder to come by against the Ramblers, who haven’t allowed more than 12 points all year and have held three opponents to single digits.

“What we’re thinking is play every play, and everybody needs to win their battle,” Doucette said. “That’s what we’re going to focus on. … Hopefully good things will come from that and the ball will bounce our way.”

Oak Hill hasn’t needed many bounces to this point — a reason St. Hilaire was ready to play the humble game himself.

“A lot of folks were picking us and Lisbon as the forerunners at the beginning of the season,” he said. “We’ve been saying all along, Oak Hill’s the three-time state champs. They’re the team to beat.”

When: 7 p.m. tonight

Where: Maxwell Field, Winthrop

St. Hilaire on Oak Hill: “They execute their plays very well. They have really good techniques up front, they don’t make a lot of mistakes. They kind of wait for you to make mistakes. We need to make sure we’re playing disciplined football and bringing good intensity.”

Doucette on Winthrop/Monmouth: “I think they’re a home run waiting to happen on every play. I think we’ve got to limit the home runs, we’ve got to bend but not break and do our job, fulfill (our) assignments and be disciplined. … They’re just good at every level, and they’ve got depth at every level.”

Keys for Oak Hill:

• Stop the big play. The Ramblers looked positively ordinary two weeks ago against Dirigo, taking a 6-6 tie late into the fourth quarter, until a 44-yard connection between quarterback Matt Ingram and wide receiver Bennett Brooks set up the winning score. When held to smaller gains, the Ramblers were beatable — a positive sign for the Raiders tonight.

• Play clean. Even with his team rolling at 3-0, Doucette has been concerned with the miscues that have a tendency to show up with the Raiders. Turnovers in particular have plagued Oak Hill, and would be devastating against a team as dangerous as the Ramblers have been.

• Match the intensity. With 11 seniors leading the way, a decorated opponent on the other sideline and a critical win for the Class D standings at stake, the Ramblers will be hungry. To win, Oak Hill will have to match an opponent that will be amped up for the challenge.

Keys for W/M:

• All eyes on Matt Strout. The big quarterback was a menace in Oak Hill’s 21-0 win over Medomak last weekend, throwing for 270 yards while running for three touchdowns. Shutting him down might be impossible, but if the Ramblers can limit his effectiveness and make him one-dimensional, that becomes a significant advantage.

• Keep them guessing. The Ramblers will need balance, which was displayed perfectly against Old Orchard Beach when Nate Scott caught five passes for 134 yards, but also ran 12 times for 128 yards. In Scott’s wake, both quarterback Matt Ingram (9-of-12, 202 yards) and running back Alec Brown (10 carries, 96 yards) flourished.

• Don’t be intimidated. Oak Hill has been the power, but W/M has shown it can keep up. Last year’s playoff game could have gone either way, and with a deep roster of playmakers and impressive first-half slate to their credit, the Ramblers have to be confident that the state’s longest winning streak isn’t continuing beyond tonight.


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