Edward Little High School’s Joshua Hamel, right, gets flipped upside down after attempting to make a catch in front of Oxford Hills’ Talon Mederios (89) during their game at Walton Field in Auburn last year. (Sun Journal file photo)
A quick glance at the last decade of the Class A North rivalry between Edward Little and Oxford Hills would indicate it has been lopsided in the Red Eddies’ favor.
Edward Little has won eight of the last 10 meetings between the teams. But EL coach Dave Sterling points out that those wins have come at the cost of more than a fair share of gray hairs and chewed fingernails.
“They’re always great games,” he said. “We’ve only had a couple of wins that have been decisive. Every game has been a fight right down to the wire. They really gear up to play us.”
While the rivalry goes back to the old Pine Tree Conference, it is most fitting to trace it back 10 meetings ago to 2009. During an otherwise forgetful year for both teams (both 1-7), they had to battle five overtimes before the Red Eddies spoiled the Vikings’ homecoming, 56-48. That set the tone for a tense series of games that continued with EL’s 7-6 win last year.
Eight of those games, including both of Oxford Hills’ wins, were decided by one possession (eight points or less). That includes two years ago, the only time during this stretch they met twice in a season. The Eddies secured a 32-28 win over the Vikings on a last-second touchdown pass during Week 3 of the regular season, only to have to travel to South Paris for a Class A North quarterfinal matchup that Oxford Hills pulled out in overtime, 26-20.
Expect a playoff-like atmosphere at Gouin Athletic Complex on Friday night when they clash again in Oxford Hills’ home opener. Both teams are coming off impressive Week 1 victories and know winning again in Week 2 could determine where they would meet again if another playoff rendezvous is in store for 2018.
The Red Eddies’ 35-6 win over Bangor last week went a long way in alleviating concerns that graduating seven first-team A North all-stars on offense would be too much to overcome.
“They look fast,” Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said. “I know they’re young, but I think they could be explosive.”
They may be young in varsity experience, but Sterling lauded his team’s senior leaders for having the Eddies ready for prime time last Friday.
“We’ve really developed in terms of getting our concepts down offensively and defensively, and I think they deserve the credit for that,” he said.
Senior QB Leighton Girardin, making his first varsity start, impressed with his passing (9-for-11, 150 yards, two touchdowns) and running (six carries, 58 yards).
Senior running back Josh Kaiser (16 carries, 116 yards, three touchdowns) and senior wide receiver Josh Hamel (two catches, both for touchdowns) gashed the Rams for big plays.
As a three-year starter, another senior, two-way lineman Kevin Lachance, may be more familiar to the Vikings. Keeping the disruptive nose guard from closing gaps and options in Oxford Hills’ spread option or collapsing the pocket in front of QB Colton Carson will be one of the keys to the game.
Carson had little trouble setting up or getting to wherever he wanted in last week’s 34-0 win over Lewiston. The senior showed how far he has come in his second year as a varsity starter, completing 9 of 15 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown while also leading the Vikings in rushing (16 carries, 86 yards, two touchdowns).
“He’s really been on it,” Soehren said. “He’s had poise in the pocket and at the line. He trusts his receivers. I think that’s a really big piece for him. And he’s matured. Having a year under your belt, there’s nothing like it. I would say two-thirds of the plays he (carried the ball) were reads, and he just read them. Plus, he loves running the ball.”
Fullback Emmerson Brown (13 carries, 52 yards, touchdown) battered Lewiston between the tackles and speedy slot Cam Slicer (four catches, 106 yards and four carries, 27 yards) carved up the edges.
Like EL, Oxford Hills has a formidable front of its own, led by defensive end JJ Worster, who had a sack and 5.5 tackles last week.
“I’m very impressed with Oxford Hills’ athletes,” Sterling said. “From their QB, to their backs, their receivers, their line, they have athletes all over the field on both sides.”