WATERVILLE — Two minutes before halftime, the Waterville football team looked to be in good shape in front of an energized homecoming crowd.

Well, as the Purple Panthers learned under the Friday night lights, life — and the Spruce Mountain Phoenix — can come at you large and fast.

Waterville fell 50-32 to Spruce Mountain in a pivotal eight-man clash Friday at Colby College. The defeat came as the visiting Phoenix took advantage of a number of miscues by the Panthers and imposed their size and strength on the home team, scoring 36 unanswered points and turning a double-digit deficit into a big win.

“We made some key mistakes that they took advantage of, and that’s what good teams do,” said Waterville head coach Isaac LeBlanc. “They’re a big, physical team, and they wore us down. It’s a sign that we have to go out, put in some more work in practice and get tougher and get better.”

After the two teams combined for just 30 yards on the first 19 plays, Waterville (3-1) broke the offensive stalemate as Dustan Hunter sprinted 74 yards for a score with two minutes left in the opening quarter. Spruce Mountain, though, would answer just two plays later as Reece Davis scored from 50 yards out to tie the game at 6.

Waterville looked to be in good shape just before halftime after Hunter added rushing touchdowns of 33 (with 5:45 left in the half) and 62 yards (with 2:15 left) put the Purple Panthers up 20-6. Even after Davis scored on an 18-yard run with 1:18 left, Waterville looked set to go into the locker room with a lead of one or two scores.


Instead, the Panthers made a series of critical miscues, losing 19 yards on a botched snap and then getting a punt blocked near its own goal line. Taking over at the 5-yard line, Spruce Mountain (3-1) scored immediately on an Elie Timler touchdown pass to Eli Moffett, and a successful 2-point conversion gave the visitors a 22-20 lead going into halftime.

“We had a game plan, and we did a good job of going up two scores, but then we made those errors that really cost us,” LeBlanc said. “We really haven’t made errors like that all year. … That blocked punt really changed the whole momentum of the game, and they were able to use their ground-and-pound game to really get going.”

Waterville’s Gage Hubbard makes a reception as he is hit by Spruce Mountain defender Elie Timler during an eight-man football game Friday night at Colby College in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

After Spruce Mountain made it 28-20 on a 46-yard Timler touchdown run just 1:36 into the second half, Waterville made another costly mistake as it fumbled the ensuing kickoff to give the ball right back to the Phoenix. Three plays later, the visitors were in the end zone again as Davis scored from 10 yards out to give Spruce Mountain a 16-point advantage.

Davis would score the next two touchdowns for the Phoenix to finish with 219 yards and five scores on 25 carries, and Timler added 109 yards on 11 carries. Despite dressing just 16 players, Spruce Mountain didn’t tire, instead using its size and strong ground attack to impose its will on Waterville as the game went on.

“I told our kids during the week, ‘Hey, our numbers are starting to thin, but we just keep fighting and get stronger,’” said Spruce Mountain head coach David Frey. “We have some tough kids. … When we went down 20-6, I told them that it was going to come down to how we respond, and we responded very well.”

Waterville’s Dustan Hunter (10) loses the ball as Spruce Mountain defender Reece Davis goes for the recovery during an eight-man football game Friday night at Colby College in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Waterville’s second-half scores came on a 62-yard pass from Wyatt Gradie to Spencer Minihan in the third quarter and a 67-yard scamper from Dawson Harrison with a minute left. Although the pass from Gradie to Minihan ended Spruce Mountain’s unanswered scoring spree, the Panthers struggled offensively after that as Hunter, who ran for 199 yards on 12 carries, left with an injury.

“When you don’t have Dustan on the field, it changes some things, regardless of what position he plays,” LeBlanc said. “Those are things we have to deal with and learn from, and we’re going to go back to the drawing board. We get two weeks off with the bye coming up, so we’ll see what we can do to improve.”

The game was originally scheduled to be played at Waterville’s Drummond Field but was moved to Colby College over fears that the portable lights could not sustain suspected high wind gusts. Although that led to some changes to homecoming facilities, LeBlanc said it had nothing to do with the outcome on the field.

“Both teams were really excited coming in here, and we were ready to go,” LeBlanc said. “They’re a good team, and I have a feeling they’re going to be playing for something in November. They just flat-out beat us tonight.”

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