NEWPORT — An hour before kickoff, Rick Jennings was already in his seat in the last row of the bleachers at Nokomis Regional High School. The Nokomis football team was making history, and Jennings didn’t want to miss it.

“I look forward to a really good game,” Jennings said. “They’re becoming more confident and stronger.”

As Jennings spoke, the Nokomis football team was starting to warm up for the impending playoff game against rival Maine Central Institute. It was the first playoff game in Nokomis football history. While the Warriors lost, 33-24, ending their season, the setback in no way diminished what the Warriors accomplished this season. With a 6-3 record, Nokomis earned the first winning season in program history. In doing so, the Warriors earned the right to host a playoff game. Judging from the packed bleachers and fans that lined the field, the hard work was appreciated by the towns in the Nokomis community.

“I think they’ve overachieved already,” Jennings said. “They went through some tough times.”

To call the history of Nokomis football to this point tough times is to sugarcoat it. Coming into this season, the Warriors hadn’t won a game since 2014. They just suffered through back-to-back winless seasons in the Pine Tree Conference Class B, arguably the most competitive league in the state. Of those 16 losses, only two games were decided by less than a touchdown. With realignment, Nokomis found itself in Class C North, with a new head coach. A longtime assistant coach at Lawrence, Jake Rogers brought a winning attitude to the Warriors.

“You could see they had some talent coming up,” Allen Graves, Sr., said. “Now, they’re super-disciplined.”

At the same time Jennings sat in the top row of the bleachers and waited for kickoff, Graves and his son, Matthew, tailgated in the nearby parking lot. They ate chili and looked forward to big games from Brock and Chance Graves, Allen’s nephews and Matthew’s cousins. Shortly, Brock scored the first Nokomis touchdown, catching an 8-yard pass from Andrew Haining. Chance Graves finished the game with three receptions for 57 yards. Allen and Matthew Graves each graduated from Nokomis, although both attended school when there was no football program. Allen joked that he played fullback on this field, in soccer. Matthew played football for a club team before joining Husson University’s inaugural football team in 2003.

“I’m envious really,” Matthew said, pointing at the field, and the line of fans waiting to buy tickets. “This is what I wanted when I went here.”

Matthew Graves said his sons, ages 6 and 7, can look up to the Warriors.

“My boys see what they have to look forward to,” he said.

When the game was over, the Warriors walked off the field, two by two, as a team. This team had just eight seniors on the roster. While the accomplishments Nokomis made this season are great, Rogers was already focused on the future.

“We’ve got a good group. Most of the these guys who played are sophomores and juniors. They’ve got a lot to look forward to, but if they don’t want to come out and put the work in during the offseason, this year doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot,” Rogers said.

One playoff game is just that, one. It’s a step, Rogers said. At Nokomis, the goals are bigger now.

“I don’t like to live in the past. Once this is done, lick our wounds and moving on,” Rogers said. “I hope these guys get the hunger from it, being close, they got a taste of what it’s like to win, and they’ll want to win more. That’s all we can hope.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM