LISBON — In Class D football, guards get moved to tailback and fullbacks are shuffled to tackle, sometimes within the confines of the same, 48-minute game.

Lisbon followers have watched Coach Dick Mynahan move the pieces on his chess board for parts of four decades. He doesn’t get second-guessed loudly around these parts, but some have looked at his strapping, 230-pound blocking fullback, Joe Philbrick, and wondered aloud why he hasn’t been anointed an offensive lineman.

Even one or two of Mynahan’s assistant coaches have proposed the experiment in the past. As Philbrick morphed from a sophomore into an all-conference senior, however, the shift never materialized.

“He’s a pretty big guy,” Mynahan said. “But he’s quick for his size, and he just blocks so well that I need him in the backfield. In the backfield I can go both ways with him. In the line we can only go one way. He presents a challenge for other teams. Of course they’ll key on him, and that’s OK. He’s used to it.”

On a top-seeded team without stars, Philbrick is an unsung hero who’s easy to spot but also easy to take for granted. He takes five handoffs on a good day, most of them in the shadow of the goal line.

Philbrick mostly earns his keep by knocking would-be tacklers backwards while Noah Francis and Shawn Grover slash through the middle and move the chains.


“It’s proven in the past year that me blocking is better than me running the ball. Coach Mynahan wants to play to our strength, and I’m fine with that,” Philbrick said. “It’s especially good for our younger backs that there’s a senior to lead them in the backfield. They can follow me.”

They do, and they have, all the way to the West regional final. Lisbon (8-1) welcomes Oak Hill (9-1) to Thompson Field at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

If the Greyhounds reach the state title game, you can be certain that Philbrick had himself a day for the ages, either opening holes for Lisbon’s backfield by committee or closing them on Oak Hill stars Kyle Flaherty and Alex Mace from his station at middle linebacker.

Mynahan did weigh the merits of an experiment there with his quiet leader. He scrapped it Thursday, returning Philbrick from defensive end to middle linebacker.

“I took him out and put him on the outside, then moved him back. I guess probably why I need to put him back there is because he anticipates so well, and to try to teach somebody else that anticipation, it’s just not going to work against Oak Hill,” Mynahan said. “He’s seen them a couple of times. He’s at home there. He’s a big kid, and if we have any prayer of stopping them, it’s going to be with Joe.”

Between solo tackles and being the closer on numerous gang tackles, Philbrick closed up shop in a 25-12 semifinal win over Old Orchard Beach.


“We decided it’s better for me to stay where my strength is, and that’s in the middle,” Philbrick said. “It gives me more freedom to roam.”

As one of nine seniors on a team dominated by freshmen and sophomores, Philbrick inherited the role of a speaking captain.

The speaking part doesn’t come naturally, at least not the effusive, inspirational variety that is associated with pregame and halftime pep talks. But perhaps because Philbrick’s words are punctuated by his helmet and pads, they are uniquely effective.

“The kids buy into what he says. We’re a pretty quiet team. Not too many of them say a word, and when Joe speaks, everyone listens. He doesn’t say much himself, but what he says is important,” Mynahan said.

Philbrick’s presence and participation in the dialogue grew in importance after last week’s season-ending knee injury to senior quarterback Kyle Bourget.

Mynahan moved sophomore Tyler Halls into that role and hoped for the best, all the while probably saying a silent prayer for the other senior member of his backfield.


“You can’t replace Joe,” the coach said. “Coming into this season, we really didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I’d always have fun watching Joe. He’s one of the best blocking fullbacks in the conference and one of the best blockers I’ve had in a long time.”

Lisbon is accustomed to such adjustments.

Philbrick’s role changed at the onset of the playoffs his junior season, as well, when Quincy Thompson was lost for two weeks to a dislocated elbow.

“We’ve adapted and learned to overcome adversity. It’s really a strength,” Philbrick said. “In the four years I’ve been here, I haven’t seen a team that wanted to win this badly, that’s had the need to win.”

And winning means setting personal interests aside.

Like their regional championship opponent, the Greyhounds do that well. Mynahan noted that Grover’s 200-yard game against OOB was only the second time all season that a Lisbon back had even topped the century mark.


Philbrick never got close. Nor was it expected.

“He’s pretty special. I’ve had a lot of good ones. He’s a little different in the sense that he doesn’t run the ball much. It’s OK with him if he doesn’t. If he has to block the whole game it’s OK,” Mynahan said. “He’s a great receiver. He runs pretty well, but in a lot of games it’s six, seven, eight carries at the most for 40, 50 yards, but that’s the way our offense is.”

His statistical highlights are mostly on the defensive side of the ball. Even there, however, Philbrick’s run-stuffing exploits against OOB were more likely to produce an interception by Halls or R.J. Sargent, or a sack from Blake Berube or Tanton Mattson.

“We give him some latitude there,” Mynahan said. “We give him a chance to follow his nose. If he makes a mistake, I never say anything, because I know he’s trying to make it in our favor. Guess right three times and don’t worry about the fourth.”

Whether or not anybody had that type of anticipation about Lisbon’s championship potential in August, Philbrick has made it reality in October and November.

The only move he aims to make at this point is to Portland, on a bus.

“It comes down to which team wants it more; which team is more dedicated and willing to leave it all on the field,” Philbrick said. “Especially during these past few weeks, playoffs are really high-tension, and I don’t want to go home. I want to keep playing. I want to get to Fitzpatrick (Stadium) this year.”

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