The season hadn’t even begun, but Maranacook coach Walter Polky knew something had to change.

Preseason scrimmages against Dirigo and Oak Hill weren’t encouraging. There was too much being put on the Black Bears, too soon. Polky could see it, and before the regular season began, he found a way to fix it.

“We had to make some changes and put some kids in different spots, mostly on defense and special teams,” Polky said. “I kind of changed up our philosophy a little bit. We went a little more simplistic, a little more multiple and simplistic, and made our calls and changes a little easier.

“So far, on defense, it’s worked quite well.”

The schedule says as much. One year after going winless in Class D, Maranacook is off to the hottest start in the new developmental Class E, improving to 3-0 on Friday with a 22-6 win over Sacopee Valley.

“The kids have really bought into what we’re doing,” he said. “I think for a lot of kids, the speed of the game is starting to slow down a bit. It’s one of those things where they have to learn by playing, and … hopefully we can continue to increase our football I.Q. and keep playing fundamentally.”

The improvement has been apparent everywhere, but it’s been particularly startling on defense and special teams, where the Black Bears have allowed only 14 points in their three wins. It didn’t always look like it would be that way — not when Maranacook, with a roster laden with sophomores, was having trouble stopping the Dirigo and Oak Hill offenses in the preseason looks.

“We made some fundamental changes that we had to make,” Polky said. “We were making the game too complex for our players, and we weren’t putting kids in the right spots. We were setting kids up for defeat. … Sometimes you have a philosophy you want to see be successful in different places, but you have to be flexible enough to change your philosophy to match your kids.”

With the simpler scheme, Polky has seen the relatively inexperienced Black Bears’ defense progress at the basics — tackling, pursuit, block disruption — while the special teams have also made a drastic jump.

“Our kicking game, especially our punt game and kickoff game and our kickoff return game have come a lot faster than I thought they would,” Polky said.

• • •

Maranacook’s schedule will get a shakeup late in the season.

The Black Bears were scheduled to play two of their final games against Traip Academy, on Sept. 29 and Oct. 21. That was before Traip, citing a lack of available players, canceled the rest of its schedule, athletic director Mike Roberge said.

“We’ve been struggling with our numbers,” Roberge said, “and with the injuries we’ve had, we feel it’s unsafe to continue the program this year.”

The announcement comes after Traip lost 41-12 to Boothbay, but the Rangers also had to forfeit a game against Washington Academy due to not having enough players. Roberge said the team will continue practicing and that sub-varsity games will be a possibility.

There is no plan yet for how Maranacook will handle the open parts of its schedule, athletic director Al MacGregor said. MacGregor said he reached out to coaches via email to discuss the subject, and said JV games are a possibility.

• • •

Two weekends ago, Cony’s offense was out of sorts. It didn’t take long for the Rams to find their form.

The stats coming out of Cony’s 26-14 victory over defending Class B state champion Brunswick looked more like the numbers the Rams expected to see when the year began. They included 254 passing yards for Anthony Sousa and seven catches for 98 yards for Jordan Roddy, one of the best receivers in the Pine Tree Conference — if not the state.

It all contrasts sharply to the first two weeks of the season, during which the Rams generated 33 total points and 236 passing yards in losses to Falmouth and Skowhegan.

So what changed?

“I thought we distributed the ball, Anthony did a really good job of (throwing to) seven different receivers,” coach B.L. Lippert said. “I thought we just were more efficient offensively. We executed better.”

Matchups played a big role in Cony’s funk. Skowhegan’s Jon Bell has had a history of being a tough matchup for Roddy, and held him without a catch during a Rams loss in the rain last Friday. This time Roddy was back in form, catching three touchdown passes.

It was no doubt a relief for Cony fans, but Lippert never worried about his playmaking standout.

“Credit to Skowhegan’s defense, Jon Bell is one of the few guys I’ve seen that are able to lock down Jordan pretty well,” Lippert said. “It’s a little disconcerting because Jordan is a great player for us and we knew that, but the first drive of the (Brunswick) game he catches the ball and makes two guys miss, gets up the sideline, cuts back and walks in (the end zone). That’s the old No. 24 we’re used to seeing.”

It was also a fine showing from Sousa, who shook off a four-interception outing against Skowhegan.

“Even though Anthony’s a senior, he’s a first-year starter at quarterback,” Lippert said. “We’ve seen improvements from him throughout the year, and we certainly saw one from week 2 to week 3.”

• • •

Austin Pelletier was the star of the show for Messalonskee in Friday’s shootout win over Skowhegan. But he was far from the only performer.

While Pelletier dominated the highlight reel with 341 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns, the Eagles’ overpowering effort on the ground had other key contributors. Alden Balboni ran for 101 yards and Tyler Lewis ran for 61, bolstering an attack that saw Messalonskee rush for 506 yards on 48 carries.

After the game, Pelletier was more than willing to sing the praises of his partners in crime.

“We usually get lucky with good depth in running backs,” Pelletier said. “All of us are pretty good athletes. Alden’s a stud, T-Lew, he’s just one of the shiftiest kids I know. It’s pretty good because I can get the ball, but then we can run outside with those two and they’re studs.”

Balboni needed only six carries for his 101 yards. He had runs of 17, 26, 21 and 25 yards.

“At the beginning of this year, we weren’t sure if Alden was going to be a back or a lineman,” Pelletier said. “When he finally learned he was going to be a running back, all of us got pretty excited.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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