Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Ian Steele is tackled by Oak Hill’s Gavin Rawstron during last year’s matchup in Winthrop, which the Ramblers won, 14-12. Kennebec Journal file photo

A football game between Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale and Oak Hill always has a little extra juice to it. Winthrop and Oak Hill are long-time rivals in the Campbell Conference and, in other sports, the Mountain Valley Conference.

The frequent meetings usually bring a playoff atmosphere with them. Although the Ramblers and Raiders have only met once in the playoffs over the last decade, they’ve usually matched postseason intensity with very close games.

Seven of the past 10 games have been decided by one possession (eight points or fewer). The last two have been decided by two points, with the home team prevailing each time. In 2015, Oak Hill won the teams’ only playoff showdown in the past decade, 13-10, in the regional semifinals. The Raiders went on to win their third Class D state championship in a row.

Fittingly, the teams have split those past 10 games, five wins and five losses.

Both teams are at .500 after two weeks of the 2019 season, too. And both got here by following up Week 1 losses at home with dominating victories on the road.

This week’s game in Wales (Saturday, 1:30 p.m.) may make a big difference come November. Unlike recent years, when eight teams made the Class D South playoffs, only the top six will make it this year due to Camden Hills, which petitioned down a class, being ineligible for the playoffs. The top two teams get a first round bye in the six-team format, who are seeded based on Crabtree points.

Neither the Raiders or the Ramblers are concerned with Crabtree points right now. Both hope to be playing their best football when Crabtrees do become relevant, and took important steps in doing that last week.

Each team is led by one of the top quarterbacks in Class D. Both the Ramblers’ Keegan Choate and Oak Hill’s Gavin Rawstron are three-year starters.

After struggling in a Week 1 loss to MCI, Choate, a senior, was perfect in last week’s 43-0 win over Camden Hills, completing all eight of his pass attempts for 153 yards and three touchdowns.

Rawstron, a junior, also bounced back after struggling in Week 1 against York, rushing for three touchdowns in a 36-0 win over Mountain Valley. More directly relevant to Choate may be the fact that Rawstron is also one of the top safeties in Class D, as he demonstrated last week with an interception.

Both quarterbacks have formidable weapons surrounding them.

The Ramblers will frequently ride the hot hand in both the running and passing games, and they have plenty of candidates to step up from one week to the next. Against Camden Hills, though, it was more of a group effort. Logan Baird, Jake Sousa and Ian Steele all had rushing touchdowns against the Windjammers, while Ryan Baird, Gavin Perkins and Beau Schmelzer each caught a touchdown pass from Choate.

Whether it’s running or receiving, Oak Hill running back Sam Lindsay is a big-play threat. On back-to-back plays last week, he caught a 17-yard pass from Rawstron, then took a handoff from his QB and raced for a 30-yard touchdown. Liam Rodrigue is another of Rawstron’s favorite receivers, and a threat in the kicking game having nailed a 37-yard field goal against Mountain Valley. Tiger Hopkins had a 5-yard touchdown run last week, while Quentin Pelkey and James Borkowski also figure in the running game.

Defensively, both teams are coming off of shutouts but are looking for continued improvement from varsity newcomers to tighten up even more.

The battle in the trenches could be a key Saturday. Both teams have depth on the defensive line and aren’t afraid to use it. If that neutralizes the running game on both sides, an aerial shootout between two standout quarterbacks could unfold.


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