On a hold by Noah Oufiero, kicker Janek Luksza watches his extra point attempt. The kick was good against Bangor in Paris on Saturday. (Brewster Burns Photo)
Oxford Hills lost senior slot Cam Slicer for the season with a broken right ankle suffered in practice before last week’s loss to Sanford. That means more work for another senior, Janek Luksza, who already is a jack-of-all trades for the Vikings.
“Next man up,” Luksza said in typical understated fashion.
“He’s a great athlete, so we’ve got to get him the ball more. And with Cam out, it’s an opportunity,” Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said.
Luksza made the most of his many opportunities in Saturday’s 45-0 homecoming win over Bangor, and not just on offense, where he rushed for 65 yards on seven carries and caught a 37-yard TD pass from Colton Carson.
Luksza also recorded a sack on defense from his starting linebacker spot, converted on six of six extra-point kicks, knocked through a 34-yard field goal at the end of the first half, averaged nearly 40 yards on two punts and booted kickoffs.
Soehren said there isn’t anything Luksza wouldn’t do, and do well, if the coaches asked.
“He’s an incredible competitor,” Soehren said. “I remember when he was a sophomore, I asked, ‘Who can punt? Well, Janek can. Who can do this? Janek can.’ Janek’s probably our third string quarterback, too. He’s just an incredible kid.”
It would have been forgivable for Mountain Valley senior Draven Finnegan to instinctively try to kick a quarterback’s pitch to a trailing running back.
But when Finnegan cut off Spruce Mountain QB Jack Bryant at a key juncture in the second half of Friday’s 22-15 win, the 6-foot-1 senior defensive end reached out with his left hand to knock Bryant’s lateral down.
Finnegan then scooped up the fumble and rumbled down the sideline 20 yards to the Phoenix’ 5, setting up the Falcons’ first touchdown.
“He was reading the quarterback, but he’s so athletic and he’s got those long arms. He just pulled it out of the air. He’s a playmaker,” Mountain Valley coach Pat Mooney added.
“Finnegan’s an incredible athlete,” Mooney added. “He’s a good basketball player. He played soccer for two years, and he almost went back to soccer after preseason this year. We talked to him and said ‘Don’t do that. We need you here.'”
Finnegan was part of a Mountain Valley defense that did a good job of limiting Spruce Mountain’s explosive pass offense. Bryant, who torched Lisbon for 191 yards and three touchdowns the week before, tallied 91 yards on 8-for-19 passing with an interception. The Falcons held his favorite and most dangerous target, speedy junior wide receiver Brandon Frey, to two catchers for 38 yards.
Mooney said the Falcons worked off of lessons learned from their 17-14 loss to Oak Hill the previous week to shore up the pass defense.
“We really worked on man (coverage) on the outside with our corners,” Mooney said. “Oak Hill beat us with double moves with their split receivers last week, so that was really a focus in practice.”
After being shut out in the first half, Edward Little quarterback Leighton Girardin stepped up his game in the third and fourth quarters in an attempt to lead the Red Eddies to their third victory of the season.
The only problem was Sanford had a weapon at quarterback on its side, too, in Xavier Levine.
Like he has been all year, though, Girardin was the straw that stirred the Eddies’ drink. Everything that happens in the EL offense goes through Girardin.
“He’s an amazing team leader, he’s one of the most gifted athletes and he gets balls in situations for receivers to make plays,” Edward Little coach Dave Sterling said. “He works so hard at his trade and I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Late in the third quarter against Sanford, EL trailed 13-0. Its fourth-down conversions had come up short each time prior and EL found itself needing to convert again. Girardin converted on an 11-yard pass to Jonathan Knight on fourth down then followed it up with a seven-yard run into the end zone for the Red Eddies’ first touchdown.
Two drives later, Girardin converted a fourth-and-10 over the top to Josh Hamel for a 17-yard touchdown pass to take the lead.
On the ensuing drive, Sanford took the lead on a touchdown pass that was thrown by Levine five yards out with a defender locked onto his right foot.
Girardin’s legend was almost solidified even more on the Red Eddies’ final drive as the EL senior made two passes moving to his left, evading tacklers, and making throws on the sideline to Hamel and Caleb Yarnevich.
Escaping the pocket is where Girardin excels the most, with a poised control of the offense, even in a two-minute drill, down five at home to the team that defeated Oxford Hills a week prior. For the Red Eddies to make a run deep into the Class A North playoffs, Girardin will need to continue to conjure up enough magic for EL to come out on the winning side.
The Tool Man
It’s not often that a player who accumulates five touches for 25 yards in a game stands out, but Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale junior Jevin Smith did just that.
Smith caught the winning touchdown pass late in the Ramblers’ win over Poland, but he did more than just that throughout the game — on both sides of the ball.
“Jevin had caught a few passes week one, hadn’t caught a pass the last two weeks, so we wanted to feature him,” Ramblers coach Dave St. Hilaire said. “So we had that counter off the bunch that he ran three or four times, and he had that long one called back for the clip.”
Smith, listed as a tight end, ran the ball three times for eight yards, but had a long run called back on the Ramblers’ opening drive. He added two catches for 17 yards, including the game-winner on fourth down from three yards out.
His bigger contributions may have come on defense, where he recorded 2.5 sacks and another key tackle for loss. The last sack knocked Poland quarterback Brady Downing back 11 yards and set up a third-and-26, making the Knights’ comeback bid that much more difficult.
“He brings it. His motor just never stops,” St. Hilaire added. “He made those big plays at defensive end. He had a sack late in the game, and he’s ferocious. He’s got all the tools in the toolbox, and he uses them defensively. Clutch touchdown as well. He’s really come on this year.”
No one would have faulted Poland for a down game against the Ramblers. Not after the Ramblers marched down the field on the opening drive of the game, then having to watch a teammate get taken away in an ambulance on the ensuing kickoff.
To add insult to injury, the Knights were called for a penalty on the kickoff.
But the Knights didn’t throw in the towel. They threw everything they had at the Ramblers in honor of their fallen teammate.
“You know, it’s family. We say ‘Family on three.’ You know what I mean? It’s cliche, but I believe in it,” Poland coach Spencer Emerson said. “We talk about protecting the family, we talk about being accountable, and they saw (Ben Olson) go down, and Benny’s on the ground saying ‘All I want to do is play, Coach. I just want to play. Just win the game for me, Coach. Win it. Win it.’ And unfortunately we couldn’t win it for him, however we did everything we could and the guys played for him, and like I said, just proud of the way they responded.”
Poland responded with a touchdown, led after each of the first three quarters, and nearly mounted a comeback in the final minutes.
Edward Little quarterback Leighton Girardin passes to Jonathan Knight during Friday night’s football game against Sanford at Walton Field in Auburn. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal File Photo)
Oxford Hills receiver Janek Luksza catches a ball thrown by quarterback Colton Carson for a touchdown against Bangor in Paris on Saturday. (Brewster Burns Photo)