Oxford Hills attacked the Lewiston defense from all angles on Friday night in its 40-0 win to open the season. 

It seemed like any play coach Mark Soehren drew up and called, worked. 

This fall, the Vikings have been implementing a read-option offense into the passing plays that Colton Carson ran a year ago, now with sophomore Atticus Soehren at the helm. Many plays on Friday night featured a sweeping receiver, usually Addison Brown or Ty LeBlond, giving Atticus an option for a sweep handoff almost every play. Colby VanDecker or LeBlond was usually behind or flanking Soehren in the backfield, and when the ball was hiked the Blue Devil defense had a decision to make, as did Soehren. 

“Well, it’s like two plays in one so if something breaks down I can pull it and go outside,” Atticus Soehren said. “Even if they stop us there’s always another option.”

It worked in week one, as VanDecker ran for 120 yards and a touchdown, while LeBlond earned 53 receiving yards and a touchdown catch. 

Even tight end JJ Worster ran in a touchdown from two yards out on a play with multiple players in the backfield to aid Soehren. 

With Carson gone, as well as a few steady weapons that became stalwarts on the Vikings offense in the past couple of seasons, Mark Soehren decided to adjust his offense. 

“They were sort of a blitz-heavy team and we knew they were going to bring those guys against our run, and we love running the ball, and we knew that we could read that,” Mark Soehren said. “We worked on that all fall and it’s a relatively new thing for us but all three of our quarterbacks do a nice job reading it.”

MORE BENEFITS WITH LESS

One week in and a coach is already seeing the benefit of eight-man football.

Having three less positions to fill proved helpful for Gray-New Gloucester coach Brian Jahna, whose team played Mt. Ararat in its eight-man debut Friday night.

Gray-New Gloucester’s Daniel Stash looks for a receiver as Mt. Ararat’s Cody Holman leaps to block the pass during Friday night’s football game in Gray. The game was the first eight-man football contest for the two schools. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“Tonight we had key injuries, both of our two-way starters went down early in the game. That’s hard to recover from in 11-man,” Jahna said. “Truthfully, if we were playing the 11-man tonight we would have started thinking about how to end the clock versus playing a full game. And we were able to play a full game without putting guys in who shouldn’t be.”

The 10 schools that chose to play eight-man football in the state this season — though it really wasn’t much of a choice for the schools — did so with an eye on roster numbers. Gray-New Gloucester and Mt. Ararat are the two biggest schools playing eight-man football this season, with enrollments of 596 and 709 students, respectively, according to the Maine Principals’ Association. And their respective roster sizes look healthy as well, with Gray-NG’s roster showing 34 players and Mt. Ararat’s 32. But more than half of each roster is made up of underclassmen.

Jahna said everyone in his program is excited to be part of the new eight-man classification.

“Everyone’s through-the-roof excited,” he said.

RAMBLERS GETTING COUNTER-INTUITIVE

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale got an idea of how having good depth can eventually come back to haunt a football team in Friday night’s 38-19 loss to MCI.

“We played better defensively than we have been. We were a little undermanned in terms of having guys that hadn’t played yet at all,” St. Hilaire said. “They’re a good team. They closed. We couldn’t close.”

The Ramblers have enjoyed enviable depth in recent years for a Class D roster, particularly along the defensive front. But when that depth is stacked with seniors, the balance becomes due virtually overnight.

After graduating virtually all of last year’s linebacking corps, the Ramblers expected some missteps as the newcomers settled in and got comfortable with the speed of the varsity game.

After being limited to 82 yards of total offense and trailing 13-12 in the first half, MCI decided to exploit the Ramblers’ green linebacking corps with counter plays.

Ethan Neal, bottom, and Pat Rush of Winthrop/Monmouth tackle Elijah Bagley of MCI during the first half in Winthrop on Friday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

With the Ramblers’ ends rushing upfield trying to pressure strong-armed QB Ryan Friend, the Huskies were able to open big running lanes for Friend and running backs Cole Steeves and Elijah Bagley. The Ramblers’ young linebackers were a step slow in recognizing and filling the ‘C’ gap (between the tackle and tight end) before the runners burst through.

MCI’s trio combined to rush for 140 yards in the second half and a pair of touchdowns, which also helped open up the passing game for two long touchdown connections between Friend and wide receiver Dominic Wilson.

Although the linebackers showed some growing pains, St. Hilaire thought there were some performances to build upon.

“A couple of those we had question marks about played well. Nick DeBlois played very well,” St. Hilaire said.

CULTURE CHANGE TO TAKE TIME

Lewiston coach Darren Hartley took a loss in his first game, but after the game was thinking big picture. 

“We aren’t as young as we look,” Hartley said. “We have a great junior class and have eight or nine seniors. The bottom line is our expectations have been diminished over the last few years and we are trying to improve our expectations, demeanor and attitude.”

The Blue Devils are coming off of a 2-7 season, and Hartley is trying to make that a thing of the past, even if it’ll take some time and a bit of patience from his players. 

“We are trying to change the culture of the program and I thought the kids stayed positive,” Hartley said. “(Oxford Hills) is a great football team, I think it’s one of the top teams in our conference and I don’t think they’ll take a back seat to anyone physically and we aren’t there yet. It’s all part and parcel of where we have to go.”

MYSTERY SOLVED

Fans who watched the Spruce Mountain Phoenix butt heads with Poland on Friday night were probably wondering why the Knights used a squib kick during each of their kick-offs — and there were many squibs because there was a total of 73 points in the back-and-fourth donnybrook.

According to sportsrec.com,: “The squib kick is a type of kickoff play where the kicker strikes the ball at a specific angle, so that it bounces along the ground and makes it difficult for the kick receiver to cleanly catch the ball and return it. Typically, the kicker will use the inside arch of the foot to strike the top of the football as it sits on the kickoff stand. This sends the ball tumbling end over end along the ground, eliminating any hang time and ideally generating confusion among the return team as to who will field the ball and who will block. The squib kick is effective for preventing a fast, agile kick returner from making a big play and gaining a large chunk of yardage during the return.”

But Poland coach Spencer Emerson revealed why the Knights opted to employ the squib: “Our kicker messed up his quad, so we squib it on purpose. It isn’t intended to be an onside kick all of the time.”

Mystery solved!

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