Game of the Week: Poland, Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale find footing before key Class D battle

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Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Ian Steele carries the ball past Oak Hill’s Colin French, left, earlier this month in Winthrop. (Sun Journal file photo)

Poland quarterback Brady Downing passes against Gray-New Gloucester in Poland in 2016. (Sun Journal file photo)

Poland and Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale find themselves tied with Oak Hill in the middle of the Class D South Heal point standings three weeks into the season. More important to Friday night’s matchup (7 p.m., Maxwell Field) is that both appear to be finding their footing after opening night blowout losses.

Poland (2-1) came into the season riding a wave of energy and enthusiasm under new coach Spencer Emerson. However, its first meeting with a Class D foe didn’t go so well. The Knights fell to Mountain Valley 35-0 on opening night, but the Knights knew that was just step one in the rebuilding process. 

Since then, Poland has handled a pair of Class E opponents, Freeport and Old Orchard Beach, by a combined score of 75-12. Those home victories have no doubt bolstered the confidence to complement the energy and optimism.

Poland played its most complete game of the season in last week’s 32-0 win over OOB. Junior Brady Downing threw for three touchdowns, two to senior Zach Cote and one to sophomore Isaiah Hill. Senior running back Tyler Tucci rushed for more than 100 yards.   

The defense continues to improve under Emerson, yielding just 108 yards in total offense to Freeport before shutting out OOB behind strong games by sophomores Evan Kelly and Joe Ringuette.

The Knights’ next challenge is building on that success as they get back into the D South schedule. Doing it on the road will be difficult, considering the Ramblers haven’t lost at Maxwell Field since bowing to eventual state champion Wells in last year’s season-opener. Their four-game winning streak includes a 19-0 blanking of the Knights in Week 6 of 2017.

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale (1-2) struggled at Spruce Mountain in a 38-6 Week 1 loss, then buckled down defensively at home for a 14-12 win over Oak Hill.

The Ramblers rode the momentum of that win all the way to Wells and gave the Warriors as big of a scare as they’ve had not only in 2018 but nearly a full calendar year. Wells had to rally from first-half deficits of 6-0 and 12-7 before pulling away in the second half for a 36-18 win.

Junior quarterback Keegan Choate continued his outstanding season, leading an offense that piled up 335 yards against a Wells defense that had given up just 14 points in its first two games to Madison and Cape Elizabeth. Choate threw for 190 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 94 yards.

Junior split end Ryan Baird has emerged from a deep and talented receiving corps as Choate’s favorite target. Last week, he caught six passes for 73 yards and two scores. Junior Beau Schmelzer had a touchdown catch against Oak Hill.

The Ramblers’ run game, a point of emphasis coming into the season, is still a work in progress in terms of finding help for Choate. Spruce Mountain shut it down in Week 1, but then sophomore Ian Steele had a team-high 71 yards against Oak Hill.

Senior Evan Burnell and junior Jevin Smith lead a stout defensive front that will have to switch gears this week facing the speedy Knights after back-to-back weeks of power football against Oak Hill and Wells.

Tyler Tucci of Poland Regional High School wraps up Andrew Peterson of Gray-New Gloucester behind the line of scrimmage on a reverse play in 2016. (Sun Journal file photo)

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