Lisbon, Foxcroft share parallel penchant for gridiron success

Few football programs share the privilege of practicing in the dark. Even fewer schools classify that odd activity as an expectation.

Lisbon High School’s passion for rehearsing defense at dusk and special teams after sunset probably explains its perennial high achievement more articulately than any locker room speech or fuzzy game film.

The Greyhounds are like blaze orange hats with ear flaps. It wouldn’t be November in Maine without them. Daylight Saving Time almost always ends before Lisbon does.

“It’s my favorite time of year. There’s nothing like walking off the practice field when it’s pitch dark,” said Lisbon coach Dick Mynahan. “We actually talk about that in August, how we want to be practicing in the dark in November.”

Two-and-a-half hours to the northeast, another similarly small but accomplished football program has made a habit of hunting championships.

Foxcroft Academy does its business a little differently, mind you. The Ponies know they’ve reached their desired destination when they can afford to cut practice short.

“We go over the game-planning stuff we need to go over and go home. At this point in the year, the kids don’t really need to practice,” said Foxcroft coach Paul Withee. “If you’re not ready to play now, you’ll never be ready.”

Today, as has become customary in Class C, those parallel lives turn and intersect at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Lisbon and Foxcroft collide at 2:30 p.m. for the state championship.

It isn’t Ohio State-Michigan, but Lisbon-Foxcroft is becoming such a staple of the third Saturday in November that you can almost set your calendar to it or schedule your early Christmas shopping by it. The schools are meeting as regional champions for the third time in four years and the fourth out of 10.

Lisbon has won 20 straight games. Foxcroft’s seniors are a fabulous 42-4. The Greyhounds own two state championships and four regional crowns since 1997. The Ponies also boast a pair of state titles and six Eastern trophies dating back to ’96. And on it goes.

To paraphrase The Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” how do you think they do it? What makes them so good?

Mynahan has pleaded ignorance throughout most of the season, while Campbell Conference opponents underestimated the Greyhounds to their own demise. His counterpart wonders aloud how much longer we’ll all buy it.

“Dick always says, ‘We’re young. We’re only going to win a few games.’ I can’t understand why anybody believes that,” Withee said. “When you get a program established and you’re winning every year like he has, I see them being successful as long as he’s there.”

While both men are too humble to admit it, coaching philosophy and continuity are indelibly linked to Lisbon and Foxcroft’s success. Mynahan (19 years) and Withee (17) each enjoy the longest current tenure in their leagues.

Many Class C programs see a promising senior class coming down the pike and empty all their eggs into that basket. Lisbon and Foxcroft have shown a knack for living in the moment while keeping one eye on the future.

“If you look back at the papers from last year, I think you’ll see that most people thought Foxcroft was a year ahead of schedule,” Mynahan said. “They played a lot of young kids in that game, especially on the line.”

Both teams wield sensational senior leadership. Eighteen players will wear Foxcroft’s maroon jerseys for the final time this afternoon. Lisbon flaunts 15 upperclassmen.

Neither coach feels the pressure to play those seniors exclusively, however, and that practice consistently leaves something in the cupboard for next year.

“A lot of people look at our numbers and say we’re losing a lot, but it’s a nice blend,” Withee said. “You’ve got to have that in order to contend for the state championship every year. We have those seniors, plus quite a few juniors who complement them and start for us, and then a few sophomores who are good enough athletes to contribute each year.”

Previous Foxcroft-Lisbon confrontations have showcased tremendous individual talent. Jason Brooks, Jeremy Shorey and Lisbon topped Ben Preston and Foxcroft in 1997. Bobby Gilbert and Josh Withee evened the score in 2003. Levi Ervin (now a redshirt freshman at the University of Maine) and Elijah Trefts ended their Lisbon careers on top last fall.

This year’s teams might lack that star power in some eyes. Come to think of it, that probably explains why they’re here again.

“They have a lot tough, disciplined kids who fly to the football,” Withee said. “A lot of them are wrestlers in the winter. They’re a lot like us.”

“These kids are as committed to football as any team I’ve ever coached,” Mynahan said. “I think we went until the eighth week of school before any of our players got a detention. That means they haven’t missed practice. They’re always here, which is what we want.”

Even when it’s cold and dark.

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