BUCKFIELD – The first sign that Buckfield Junior-Senior High School’s football enterprise is not your typical team sits by the edge of Route 117, in the form of a hand-painted sign that reads, “Football Game Today” and points to a hidden valley behind the town hall.

Buckfield has christened its humble field “The Bog.” Take away the goalposts, turn away from the road and you might easily confuse this terrain with a clear-cut on any given upcountry moose hunt.

Between grunts and helmet-to-shoulder pad cracks and whistles, the whoosh of a neighboring stream dominates the soundtrack. When an October game begins at 4 o’clock, as did this Monday encounter with Dirigo’s junior varsity, the sun rapidly disappears behind the tree line, leaving the fourth quarter shrouded in virtual darkness.

There’s enough remaining daylight for about 50 spectators to see head coach Mark Mumau eyeing them from underneath the brim of his Pittsburgh Steelers hat, waving his arms in the universal cry for noise.

“This is the game right here,” Mumau declares. “Let’s hear it!”

His crowd responds rowdily, if only politely and briefly, and the kids in garnet and gray reward them by making this Buckfield football game end the way almost every other Buckfield game has ended this autumn. It’s a shutout. The Bucks make Justin Woodcock’s 60-yard fumble return and Tim Fortier’s 28-yard field goal in the first half stand up for a 11-0 triumph.

Buckfield has won seven of its eight games this season. The Bucks have allowed 14 points, all surrendered in the lone loss, a two-point toughie against Monmouth.

That good news is tempered by a reality colder than the dusky nip in the air.

“We’ve always had a pretty good program, but the numbers are down all the way across the board,” said Woodcock, a junior quarterback and safety. “This is the lowest I’ve seen in 10 years.”

The Buckfield Buckeneers Football Association has furnished football opportunities for elementary, middle and high school athletes throughout this decade. Once its players reached high school, BBFA players formerly participated in co-operative efforts with Poland and Dirigo.

When those two schools launched independent varsity programs, it left Buckfield to go it alone — at a school with fewer than 200 students, in a town where soccer remains the less expensive, traditional form of fall entertainment.

“One of the biggest problems is that the school has nothing to do with us except for eligibility issues,” Mumau said. “I lost my top running back today, and I didn’t find out until this afternoon about an hour before the game that he wasn’t able to play.”

Buckfield persists, shutting out JV teams from Dixfield to Boothbay Harbor. But for how long?

At the outset of Monday’s game, Mumau surveyed plays on the yellow 3-by-5 card in the palm of his hand while surrounded by only three substitute players. Then one of the Bucks left The Bog in an ambulance, suffering from a possible broken ankle.

“It’s all about soccer here,” said sophomore Drew Lavoie. “We’re trying to keep football alive.”

“If we keep beating teams and keep getting better,” added junior Issac Beaudoin, “hopefully we’ll get recognized a little more.”

With the current numbers, school sanction isn’t in the cards anytime soon. Mumau has entertained the idea of joining an eight-man football league, but the only other teams interested in playing that variation of the game are located in the Bangor and Aroostook County areas.

That means more travel expense for the association. Which hints at another problem.

“We’re starved for money,” Mumau said. “We will accept any kind of donations from anyone.”

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