LIVERMORE FALLS — The game has slowed down for the Spruce Mountain Phoenix this year. Their opponents wish they could say the same thing about the Phoenix themselves.

In their second year immersed in head coach Walter Polky’s triple option offense, the Phoenix are collecting big plays and points at a rate unseen in their brief history and brandishing an impressive 4-1 record in Class C West.

Including special teams, the Phoenix have scored on 10 plays of 35 yards or more and had numerous other plays in that range fall short of the end zone. They are averaging 35 points per game, but the big plays are paying off beyond the scoreboard.

A year after taking some lumps trying to learn the system yet narrowly missing the playoffs, they’ve turned the triple option into a pick-your-poison of undesirable alternatives.

With the speedy junior trio of quarterback Peter Theriault, slotback Matt Vigue and wideout Deonte Ring, all two-year starters, Spruce Mountain has always had game-breaking speed. This year, its breaking games open because of hard work and a better understanding of the offense.

“Last year, I don’t feel like we didn’t really know what was going on,” Theriault said. “This year, it’s starting to click.”

Polky introduced the offense when he was named coach knowing what he had for personnel and, with a young team, the time he had to take full advantage of his tools.

“The reason why we chose this offense was because we have speed, we have a lot of athletes,” Polky said

“Get the ball on the outside and make it a track meet,” Polky said.

Getting the ball outside means more one-on-one matchups. With their speed and quickness, Polky feels his athletes can win most of the time.

Vigue’s 4.6 speed makes him the fastest of the trio and can turn a pitch from Theriault into a score at any time. He’s had touchdown runs of 20, 35, 44, 45, 61 yards, 80- and 85-yard-yard kick returns, and a 51-yard punt return, most of which will bring a crowd to its feet.

“Matt dedicated himself to run the football a certain way, and that’s what he’s doing,” Polky said. “The thing about him is quickness. It’s the ability to stop on this dime right here and cut across the grain. The (51-yard touchdown) punt return he had against Wells, it was like watching Madden.”

Theriault has the afterburners to go the distance if he decides to keep the ball, as his 75-yard touchdown run against Wells demonstrated. He’s also become a more complete QB, throwing four touchdown passes last week against Poland.

“We put a lot of work in, and the line’s been blocking for me so I’ve got time and the receivers are catching the ball. They’re making me look good,” Theriault said.

“Peter dedicated himself to being a better leader and a better overall player,” Polky said. “He’s made huge steps.”

Ring’s steps have gotten a lot bigger just because he grew three inches in the offseason. The combination of  size and speed is tough to stop when he gets open, which he’s doing a lot more often this year with more precise route running.

“Deonte is making these big plays because of his routes, his spacing” Polky said. “He’s using the field the right way.”

“Peter and I have worked on getting stuff down,” Ring said. “We practice a lot of routes and it’s been a big help.”

Ring still makes defenses respect his ability to run the straightest route on the tree, the go route. He and Theriault connected on one for a 90-yard touchdown against Cape Elizabeth, perhaps the signature play for an offense Polky thinks should be a threat to score every time it touches the ball.

The speedsters have an improved offensive line and a couple of skilled seniors, wide receiver Austin Couture and dive back Alwayne Uter, to thank for helping them provide those momentum swings.

“Couture’s probably the best blocker and Alwayne just powers right ahead,” Vigue said.

Couture brings toughness outside. Many of the big runs the Phoenix have broken have been to his side, but defensive backs still have to give him a cushion and respect his ability to catch the ball. Uter has battled injuries, but is a tough between-the-tackles runner to keep defenses from widening out too much.

Three yards and a cloud of dust can be effective, but the Phoenix feed off the plays that stretch the field.

“The thing about those plays is, yeah, it puts six points on the scoreboard, but there’s a psychological part to it, too,” Polky said. “It’s the momentum. It gets everyone in the crowd going. Sometimes, it’s almost a 14-point turnaround, because it was third-and-long when that 90-yard pass happened.”

Polky figures games can turn on a dime faster than Vigue with his weapons.

“There’s no point in the game that we’re out of it,” Polky said. “Even if we’re down three scores at halftime, we can score in three plays from any part of the field.”

If Spruce Mountain takes care of business against Gray-New Gloucester and Lake Region, it could start its new football rivalry with Leavitt in two weeks with a bang, making it a contest for home field advantage in Class C West.

Football fans along Route 4 are already looking forward to that day, but the Phoenix know they will get there fast enough.


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