GRAY — Gray-New Gloucester was 90 minutes from home and 15 points down on the scoreboard overlooking Chet Bulger Field in Rumford. And if those numbers weren’t intimidating enough, the Patriots had lost 23 consecutive games and 49 out of 51 in a six-year span.

If the beleaguered team in red, white and blue entered the season believing it had angels in the backfield, in that moment, there was a devil perched on the shoulder pads whispering, ‘Here you go again.’

“It’s an old Gray thing where something would happen and we’d lay down. ‘Well, nothing we can do about it now.’ This year something bad happens, it’s, ‘Next play.’ That’s what happened in the Mountain Valley game,” senior two-way lineman Dylan Elie said. “We got down 37-22 and came back within four minutes. You can’t get down, because anything can happen. There’s a lot of time in a football game.”

And ample time to redeem a gridiron career, as eight senior starters and 12 upperclassmen in all have demonstrated every week in September to date.

Gray-New Gloucester won that game at Mountain Valley, 44-37, scoring a touchdown in the closing seconds. A week later, the Patriots punctuated a goal-line stand with a forced fumble and recovery in the final minute to seal a 22-20 victory at Fryeburg.

The historic start continued with a homecoming rout of Freeport. Now the Patriots, undefeated in Class C South along with Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth, travel to another tradition-rich haunt — Griffin Field in Livermore Falls — Friday night for a showdown at Spruce Mountain.

Part of Maine high school football’s wave of growth in the 1990s, Gray-New Gloucester has never celebrated a playoff berth or a winning season. They’ve clinched the former and are two wins away from the latter, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“The community is excited for us and happy,” senior fullback Austin Chase said. “We haven’t really ever won, but since we’ve won a few games we’re the talk of the town.”

It’s a senior group that made the move to varsity with heightened expectations after reaching the middle school championship round in eighth grade.

As the losses and injuries mounted their freshman and sophomore seasons, however, interest and participation waned. Back-to-back 0-8 campaigns, the second in Mark Renna’s first season as head coach, set up the ideal us-against-them scenario for everyone who stuck it out.

“We were tight in the offseason,” senior defensive end Jacob Zeisler said. “We were together at practice, out of practice, and I think it’s really shown up in the field how we trust each other.”

The Patriots agree that their teams of the past would have folded in the face of a two-touchdown deficit at Mountain Valley, a team that dropped 50 and 60 points on them in days of yore. Likewise, Fryeburg completing a pass inside the 5-yard line in the final minute of regulation would have been soul-crushing.

Now, whether the need is offense or defense, big plays abound, underscored by newfound maturity and resolve.

“We’re in better shape than we were last year, but it’s more mental now. We’re more mentally sharp, which is half the battle,” Renna said. “This year instead of hanging our heads, we lowered our shoulder. Ball pops out, good things happen. They’re playing. They’re believing. They’re not giving up.”

The big screen might have taught us that there’s no crying in baseball, but Elie freely admitted that football tears flowed universally after Gray-New Gloucester halted the longest active losing streak in the state.

“Just a rush of emotions. Everybody was crying. We put so much work in together. All the years we’ve lost, all the times we’ve been injured. It’s just different to win and it felt great,” Elie said. “It seemed like not real, at first. The first game we won felt amazing, but after, it was like, ‘Did that just really happen?’”

Gray-New Gloucester has emerged as a Wing-T powerhouse in the tradition of Wells and Yarmouth, with Chase rushing for more than 600 yards and nine touchdowns in three games.

True to their closeness and shared sacrifice, the Patriots don’t care who gets the credit. Zack Haskell is a big-play threat at halfback. Tristan Herod caught two touchdowns from Justice Bowie in the rally at Mountain Valley. Elie anchors a senior-dominated line that includes fellow seniors Connor Deschenes, Brandon Ruminski and Jacob Baggs.

“Mountain Valley and Fryeburg were very good teams. We just stuck together and worked until the end. We all believed that we could win and that if we worked together we could get the job done. We just know what our team is capable of,” Chase said. “We all pushed each other to keep going, to run and work out in the gym. We pushed each other to get better.”

Parallel to the lesson in not letting the lows get too low is not getting carried away with success.

Renna has reminded the Patriots that they easily could be 1-2. Elie noted that despite the win at Fryeburg, Gray-New Gloucester wasn’t satisfied with its level of play.

“I had to take the shock out of them. You get beat up two years in a row, that’s your mentality,” the coach said. “I had to get that out of them. ‘We’re not punching bags. You can be the hammer now, not the nail.’ We’re trying to change that culture.”

“Being in those games early in the season gives us the confidence for when we play the next level of teams like Spruce, Wells and Cape. We’ve just got to keep our confidence high,” Zeisler added. “This is going to be a real test for us, playing a team like Spruce. They’ve been to the playoffs I don’t know how many years. We just want to compete with those guys and show we’re just as capable.”

The Patriots believe, and it didn’t long for their faith and persistence to prove contagious in the community.

“Now I go out wearing my Gray-New Gloucester football shirt, and people will come up and talk to me and I don’t even know who they are,” Elie said.

All they want to talk about are the magic numbers.

Three-and-zero.

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