What the Red Eddies lacked was experience, and that was compounded by injuries and other day-to-day incidentals that prevented the full complement of playmakers from being on the field all at once.
Timing is everything. More healthy and explosive than it had been all season, EL put a five-game losing skid in the rearview mirror with a 41-14 rout of Noble.
Now, suddenly, with Deering (2-4) at home Friday night and archrival Lewiston (0-6) looming in a week, the Eddies have the tools and the ingredients to concoct a playoff run in Class A East.
“I feel like it’s going to fire us up the next two weeks. We know we can put up points now,” senior tailback Hunter Martin said. “Our offense was kind of behind the eight-ball. Now that we’ve put up 41 points, we just feel a lot better. Once the offense is putting up points, the defense says, ‘Hey we’ve got to stop their offense so we can hang in this game and win.’”
EL accomplished precisely that, both with an interception deep in Noble territory and a goal-line stand that led to Martin’s 97-yard touchdown ramble.
Junior quarterback Matt Verrill, two weeks back from a concussion and making only his fourth career start, threw four touchdown passes.
“We stepped up as a team last week,” Verrill said. “We started off rough, but we really picked it up at the half. It was just overall good team play.”
And the Eddies suddenly look like a team that nobody wants to play down the stretch.
Despite sitting out two contests, Verrill ranks second in the league in almost every major passing category, including yardage (618), touchdowns (7), attempts (77), completions (38) and percentage (49.4).
Martin ranks fifth in Class A East with 548 yards on the ground. Tyler Blanchard, Drew Lashua, Charles Cedre and Thomas Cedre all have been on the receiving end of touchdown aerials.
“Getting healthy at the right time is a big thing. We wish we had them together earlier in the season and everything clicking like that,” EL coach Dave Sterling said. “We’re hopeful that we’ve got some really good kids that have stuck with it. There’s a lot of things early in the season that they’ve overcome. To get them back together and healthy and give us an opportunity is a really good thing.”
Verrill was pressed into duty a year ago in a playoff loss at Windham when starting quarterback Ian Mileikis suffered a broken foot.
When Mileikis didn’t return to the football team this season, Verrill took over the role full-time. Coincidentally, he suffered his head injury in another ill-fated trip to Windham. Freshman Grant Hartley and sophomore Noah Yarnevich tended the store in losses to Portland and Oxford Hills.
“I tried practicing the week against Oxford Hills, but I thought it was probably necessary to take one more week off. I came back against Cheverus. That was a good test. I feel great now,” Verrill said. “We have a lot of upperclassmen, but a lot of them didn’t play varsity last year. This is actually the first year for a lot of us.”
Martin, one of the top track and field sprinters in the state, and Blanchard give the Eddies two speed merchants on the perimeter.
“We do a lot of conditioning in the offseason, and the two of them were one and two,” Sterling said. “Hunter ran a 4.54 in the 40 and Blanchard ran a 4.56. They would try to say, ‘I’m faster than you now’ or, ‘You’ve slowed down.’”
Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren has called Martin the fastest back in the conference, but the second-year starter found it tougher to move those legs while carrying such a hefty load on his shoulders in Verrill’s absence.
“I just had to do a little more work than I normally do. I tried to do as much as I could,” Martin said. “It’s definitely gotten a lot better. The balance is even. We can pass and run the ball.”
That completeness carries over to the defense, where Martin is one of six different EL players to intercept a pass. Corey Gillespie and Brandon Henry are the leading tacklers.
EL entered the campaign with high hopes. Bangor inflicted a one-sided loss at Walton Field on opening night, however, and it triggered an 0-5 stumble out of the gate in which the Eddies were outscored 153-27.
“We hoped to get off to a quicker start,” Martin said. “Last year against Bangor we only lost by a point, so this year we hoped we would be on the winning end of that.”
The Eddies similarly rallied from 0-3 to beat Oxford Hills, Noble and Deering and make the playoffs a year ago.
On paper and in principle, it’s possible again, but Sterling is hearing none of it.
“We’re onto Deering. Not that anybody else says that,” Sterling said with a smile, knowing that it’s a dismissal paraphrased from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “We preached all along that it was going to take one play at a time, one series at a time to focus on what we’re doing. We’ve taken the Vince Lombardi approach, that if we chase perfection on every individual play, we can catch excellence, and that’s what we did at Noble.”
Just in time to save a season.