PORTLAND — A winless season wears on you, mentally and physically. Back-to-back winless seasons, especially in a sport like football, in which even the winners leave the field battered and sore, that’s pain. That’s sandpaper on the soul.

That’s what the 13 seniors on the Nokomis Regional High School football team endured their first two seasons of high school football as freshmen and sophomores. Those seasons, the Warriors had consecutive 0-8 efforts. This baker’s dozen of players who stuck with it saw many teammates step away from the game. On Saturday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium, that perseverance was rewarded with the ultimate prize.

“My freshman year, we had a team, I think is was 59 people. Now we have 30,” Nokomis quarterback Andrew Haining said. “We saw the numbers drop. The tough gutted it out, and we just won states.”

Two years after going 0-8, and three years after also going 0-8, Nokomis won the first state title in team history, with a 13-12 win over Fryeburg Academy. For the 13 seniors, it was the culmination of a long and improbable journey.

“It’s huge for us. This is a group that started in fourth grade,” linebacker Quinton Richards said. “Everybody told us, just wait until your senior year. Just wait. And look what we did. We proved them right.”

Nokomis’ senior class had its fingerprints all over this state championship win. Richards had a key interception early in the fourth quarter, stopping a Fryeburg drive when the Raiders held a 12-7 lead. When the Warriors needed to make a stop, Richards always seemed to be smack-dab in the middle of it. Senior Alex Costedio’s sack with 2:26 left ended Fryeburg’s final drive.

Haining threw a touchdown pass on Nokomis’ first drive of the game, a 13-yard strike to classmate Tyler Pelletier, giving the Warriors a 7-0 lead a minute and a half into the game.

And Pelletier? All he did was score both Nokomis touchdowns. His 68-yard punt return for a score with 4:19 left in the game gave Nokomis the lead for good. Like his teammates, Pelletier gave credit for the team’s rise from doormat to champion to head coach Jake Rogers, who took over the Warriors last season.

“It’s amazing. It’s been such a ride,” Pelletier said. “Last year, we got coach Rogers, and we just believed in it. This year, after last year, when we lost to MCI, we knew we were going to win it. We all knew.”

Last season, the Warriors won six games, earning the No. 3 seed in the Class C North tournament, and the first playoff bid in the program’s young history (Nokomis began varsity football play in 2007). They lost that game, 33-24, but they learned from it. They saw Maine Central Institute use that first round win as the catalyst for a state championship run. Nokomis thought, ‘why not us?’

“This is the most strong-willed team I’ve ever been a part of, and you really saw it this game. Fryeburg, they really beat on us for like, 40 of the 48 minutes. Our opening drive and our punt return were really it,” Haining said. “I think we always believed in ourselves, that we could be something special. Last year, being a three seed, that’s when we realized we developed into something special.”

Fryeburg took the lead late in the second quarter, and held it through the third. The clock ticked away, and the Nokomis seniors knew, as long as it didn’t hit zero, they had a chance.

“Hopefully (Fryeburg’s) getting cocky, so they make those little mistakes and let up. The thing that Nokomis won’t do, we go until that whistle, whether we’re up 50 points or down,” Richards said.

As the Warriors celebrated on the Fitzpatrick Stadium turf after the game, Haining peeled away from his teammates. He briefly scanned the jubilant crowd gathered at the fence behind the Nokomis bench. Haining quickly found who he was looking for, and ran to her. It was his mother, Jamie Haining. Had to hug the person who means the most to me, he said.

“Might have been the best hug of my life,” Haining said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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