Jevin Smith of Winthrop/Monmouth puts pressure on Spruce Mountain’s Brett Frey during the first half in Livermore Falls earlier this season. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal File Photo)

It isn’t often that a team grinds down Lisbon on its home field, but that’s what Winthrop/Monmouth did in Saturday’s 28-13 Class D South quarterfinal upset at Thompson Field.

The Ramblers expertly executed a game plan based on their depth at the line of scrimmage, an advantage that has been agonizingly elusive this season.

Winthrop/Monmouth had its entire defensive line back for the second game in a row, which is two more than it had the whole group the rest of the season. Or parts of last year, for that matter.

The Ramblers started 1-3 largely due to both the defensive and offensive lines being in flux. The hope was that once the defensive line glued itself back together the rest would fall into place.

“It’s a huge difference between what we are doing now as opposed to weeks two, three, four, five … waiting for those guys to get healthy,” coach Dave St. Hilaire said.

Almost all of the defensive linemen have missed at least some time due to injuries, but the nadir of a unit that was expected to be the Ramblers’ strength came in the season-opener against Wells. That’s when they lost two starting linemen to knee injuries on the same play — four-year starter Zac Wallace and junior defensive end Noah Elegbede, who re-injured the same knee that sustained a torn ACL last season.

Senior defensive tackle Trenton Wood, who didn’t decide to come back until just before the start of the season because of a knee injury suffered late last season, missed three games due to illness.

Sophomore Jevin Smith, who also splits time at tight end, has been the constant while the parts around him move in and out.

“It’s been pretty tough, but we know at the end of the day everyone’s got each other’s backs,” Smith said. 

Juniors Dylan Boynton and Evan Burnell have filled in inside and outside and senior run-stuffer Josh Kenney has played on both sides of the line. Burnell alternates with Smith at tight end, while Boynton has played fullback, guard and linebacker despite missing a game due to injury. 

Wallace, who has also seen spot duty on the offensive line, returned in Week 6, Elegbede in Week 7. 

The full impact of a complete defensive front is felt on both sides of the line, St. Hilaire said.

“We utilize six or seven guys there when everyone is healthy. We pulled Luke (St. Hilaire) from defensive line reps after the Spruce game due to his knee. With guys getting healthy the past few weeks, we’ve been able to keep our defensive line fresh against two-way players. We have no issues playing any of these guys at any time.

The line will have to come up big in the sixth-seeded Ramblers’ (5-4) semifinal matchup at No. 2 Madison (8-1). The Bulldogs, who beat No. 7 Dirigo — another team that finally had its full roster back — 49-14 in the quarterfinals, clobbered the wounded Ramblers, 47-8, in Week 2.

“They’ve got some things we can exploit, but they’re fast,” St. Hilaire said. “They score quickly. They score in bunches and we’ve got to somehow slow those guys down. And it’s not just one guy. They make you cover the whole field.”

Falcons hope to keep winning feeling going

Friday night’s 26-6 dismantling of Spruce Mountain, Mountain Valley’s first playoff win since 2011 (also a quarterfinal victory over the Phoenix), was just the elixir the Falcons needed after not only season-ending losses to Madison and Wells, but five playoff losses in a row.

“We haven’t had this feeling in a really long time,” Mountain Valley coach Pat Mooney said.

The Falcons resembled the multi-pronged running attack that last gave them that winning feeling. Running backs Jacob Blanchard and Andrew McDonald, and spinback Dylan Desroches lead a cavalry of runners who thrived behind the physical offensive line and punctured the inside and outside of the Spruce defense for nearly 360 yards and seven yards per rush attempt.

“When they shut down Jacob and Dylan, McDonald was open on the reverses. When they took him out, our traps were open up the middle,” Mooney said. “We feel like as long as we get that push from the line, we can execute whatever we call.”

Mooney believes the Falcons team that took a 54-0 beating at the hands of the Warriors in the season finale was an aberration, and that the way the Falcons played on both sides of the ball last week is closer to what the team is capable of with more consistency.

Cleaning up the 10 penalties and six fumbles (one lost) it had against Spruce will be a prerequisite, though, to have any shot of upsetting the unbeaten Warriors in the semifinals.

“When we don’t put the ball on the ground, we’re pretty effective at what we do,” Mooney said. 

Since an 18-0 win in the 2010 Class B regional final, Mountain Valley has lost eight straight against its multi-class rivals.

Six shooters

It was a great quarterfinal weekend for sixth-seeded teams. Aside from Winthrop/Monmouth, Portland (A North) and Brunswick (B North) advanced to the semifinal round.

Portland’s 21-6 win over Oxford Hills was its third in the last four games, a stretch than included a 17-14 comeback in the regular season against second-seeded Lewiston. The Bulldogs have settled their quarterback issues that hindered them in early-season losses, including opening weekend against the Vikings, with senior Terion Moss. With his dynamic athleticism and playoff pedigree, the Bulldogs are the least surprising to be in their final four.

Brunswick began defense of its Class B state championship with six losses in a row. The Dragons’ only win of the regular season over Mt. Blue was enough to get them in the tournament, and it appeared that would be their high point before rallying to beat Cony, 38-27, last Friday night. 

Last year, Cony and Greely emerged from the quarterfinals as No. 6 seeds. Both lost in the semifinals. That doubled the number that have advanced since the addition of a fourth class in 2013. The sixes are 0-4 in the semifinals in that time.

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