WINTHROP — Keegan Choate just watched the game earlier this week. Luke St. Hilaire doesn’t need to.

All too often, he’s reminded about what happened three years ago.

Winthrop assistant coach Luke St. Hilaire talks to players during practice Wednesday in Winthrop. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

“I still get nightmares about that,” he said. “There are not many days that go by during football season where I don’t think ‘What if we had won that game?’ ”

The game in question was the 2016 Class D South final, the last time the Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale and Lisbon teams met for a spot in the state championship game, as they will again Friday night at 7. The Greyhounds stunned the Ramblers 17-14 in an instant classic, one that featured a finish that had the state’s football scene buzzing in the days and weeks that followed.

There are still some remnants from that squad on the team now. Choate and Jevin Smith, then freshmen who rarely if ever saw the field, are now seniors and the Ramblers’ stars. St. Hilaire and Alec Brown, a junior center and senior running back, respectively, in 2016 are now on the sideline as assistant coaches. For some, the scars have started to fade.

“It was the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” Brown said. “I do remember how physical it was, and how much fun it was. … Looking back on it now, it was without a doubt the most fun I’ve ever had playing football.”

For others, the silver lining is harder to see.

“I would say it’s 100 percent a tough memory,” St. Hilaire said. “It’s definitely just a sour memory. I can look fondly upon the buildup, at the atmosphere. … After that, it’s just pain.”

The game began as a defensive struggle — 3-0 Rambers at halftime, and 10-7 late in the fourth quarter — before the teams took turns exchanging dramatic haymakers. Lisbon scored to take a 14-10 lead with 2:09 to play. Winthrop/Monmouth (no Hall-Dale at the time) responded with a go-ahead 18-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ingram to Nate Scott, playing with a broken leg, on fourth-and-12 with 16 seconds left.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, Lisbon connected on a 55-yard Hail Mary from Tyler Halls to Kurtis Bolton to the 1-yard line, and Noah Francis plunged in for the winning touchdown with fractions of a second to play.

It was a thrilling contest. And according to Choate, who will try to lead the Ramblers to their first title game since 2008, it was as hard-fought as it was entertaining.

You could see that those guys really gave it everything they had,” he said. “Nate with the injury, obviously, and even leading up to that, there were so many injuries in practices. I feel like those guys wanted it really bad.”

Adding to the dramatic manner of the defeat was a massive “what if” factor for Winthrop/Monmouth. Undefeated and rolling all season, the Ramblers ran into injury trouble at the worst time. Defensive end Noah Elegbede blew out his knee weeks before. Defensive lineman Trenton Wood dislocated his knee soon after. Days before the game, all-conference linebacker Jack Vickerson suffered a high ankle sprain.

Winthrop quarterback Keegan Choate waits to take the snap during practice Wednesday in Winthrop. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

And then, 17 plays into the game, St. Hilaire tore his ACL trying to plant and make a block, depriving the Ramblers of their center, offensive anchor and play caller.

“Being injured for that entire game, I felt hopeless,” he said. “Like I didn’t have control. I just watched the entire thing unfold.”

And still, the Ramblers fought back. The touchdown pass to Scott came on a play head coach — and Luke’s father — Dave St. Hilaire and the Winthrop/Monmouth staff had drawn up during the game.

“I just remember having an insane amount of confidence that we could pull it off,” Brown said of the final drive. “There was never a thought in my mind that ‘We’re going to lose the game right now.’ The thought was ‘We’re going to go win it.’ ”

“We were down in the pits of despair, and that lifted us right up,” Luke St. Hilaire said of the touchdown. “I actually jumped with my torn ACL and hugged one of my lineman buddies. It hurt like hell, but I was excited.”

So was the coach. But he knew there was a final question mark remaining. And after the ensuing kickoff, it showed up.

One thing we hadn’t worked on, and I’m a stickler for details,” Dave St. Hilaire said, “but we had not worked on a Hail Mary pass.”

The time for one came, and the two Winthrop/Monmouth safeties collided, allowing for the completion. Seconds later, it was the Greyhounds celebrating, rather than the Ramblers.

“The drop (in volume) from the fans, you could feel it,” Luke St. Hilaire said. “It was just dead silent.”

“You go from ‘Oh, we’re going to win this game’ to ‘I can’t believe that just happened,’ ” Smith said. “It just was like we lost everything.”

The team was stunned.

“I came up (from the field) and a lot of the guys were in the locker room, and they were just quietly in shock,” Dave St. Hilaire said. “I felt so bad for the kids, because they had done such a great effort all year long.”

I still remember the song Lisbon played in their away locker room after they won,” Choate said. “I don’t remember the game all that much, but … the feeling sticks.”

Winthrop/Monmouth got a measure of payback the next year, however, with an upset win over Lisbon in the quarterfinals. By now, as players have come and gone, the theme of vengeance has started to fade.

“It’s a new situation, new team,” Brown said. “It’s about the guys now. … It’s about those seniors.”

Those seniors, however, haven’t forgotten.

“Me and Keegan were talking about (how) we wanted them to beat Oak Hill so we could have some revenge,” Smith said. “It means something. That’s a big rival of ours.”

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