Lisbon High School seniors who anchor the line, from left, Colin Houle, Hunter Mason and Daniel Bolton take a break from Wednesday night’s practice on the artificial turf at Bowdoin College. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

BRUNSWICK — Three years ago, Daniel Bolton, Hunter Mason and Colin Houle were watching from the sidelines as one of the most stunning finishes to any state championship game unfolded before their eyes.

On a misty night at Fitzpatrick Stadium, Lisbon lost the Class D state championship game on a broken final play, when MCI’s field goal holder mishandled the snap on what was to be a game-winning 37-yard field goal attempt and raced 20 yards for the winning touchdown.

A late Wednesday afternoon practice for this Saturday’s Class D state championship against Bucksport (2:30 p.m., Fitzpatrick Stadium) on the turf of Bowdoin College’s Whittier Field helped conjure up memories of that shocking evening in Portland when the three players were freshmen.

The loss doesn’t resonate so much as the overall experience that led to that moment, which included the Greyhounds pulling off a miracle of their own the week before to beat Winthrop/Monmouth in the regional final. The trio is glad to have the chance to have their own state championship game stories.

“I think about it every time I step on this field,” said Houle, whose team started practicing in Brunswick on Tuesday. “I can never forget that experience. To be a part of it now, being able to be on the field, playing in the game with all of the people I’ve been with my entire life, it’s honestly a dream come true.”

As nice as it would have been to win a state title as freshmen, Bolton, Houle and Mason were mostly observers then. Now that they form the backbone of both the offense and defense that rallied the Greyhounds from a 2-2 start, they are determined to lead Lisbon, which also includes players from St. Dom’s, to its first state title since it went back-to-back in Class C in 2005 and 2006.

“We have a good chance this year and it will actually mean something,” Mason said. “I wouldn’t have minded getting a ring my freshman year, but it’s a lot better when you actually work for something and you actually achieve it.”

The Greyhounds’ achievements can be chalked up to a second-half turnaround led by the team’s seniors. While fellow seniors such as quarterback Seth Leeman, running back Cam Bourget and receivers Riley Quatrano and Robbie Dick are often the ones finding the end zone, Bolton, Houle and Mason have been the ones paving the way.

All three are three-year lettermen and two-year starters. Guards Bolton (5-foot-10, 195 pounds) and Houle (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) flank Mason (5-foot-10, 200 pounds), the center, on the offensive line. All three are cut from the same mold of the storied undersized-but-tough-and-technically-sound linemen that frequented Lisbon’s gold ball-winning lines under former coach Dick Mynahan.

“We don’t have the biggest line in the state, but we definitely have mentally focused kids that just want to hit,” Mason said.

“We’ve always had smaller linemen. We just don’t get intimidated by bigger kids. We just do our job,” Bolton said.

It isn’t an easy job, given that, as they will against Bucksport, the Greyhounds have to line up opposite defenders who outweigh them by 20 or 30 pounds, sometimes more. And the mental demands of playing on Lisbon’s line often outweigh the physical demands.

“They’re intelligent football players,” Greyhounds coach Chris Kates said. “We change our blocking schemes up semi-regularly, and they are able to coordinate and keep the offensive line straight.”

The development of the line, which also includes junior left tackle Hudson Coggeshall and senior right tackle Levi Levesque, a midseason addition to the line, has been crucial to Lisbon’s turnaround since a 49-14 loss to Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale on Sept. 28 dropped them to 2-2.

After the loss, the seniors rededicated themselves to making each practice rep count and playing with confidence in themselves and each other, even if no one else believed in them.

“That week, you could tell the mood had just switched,” Houle said. “You could tell after that that nothing was given to us. We’ve always been the underdogs pretty much this entire season, and we’re fine with that.”

“Winthrop definitely was like a wake-up call,” Mason said. “Coach couldn’t stress it enough that it’s our season and we have to lock it up. And I feel like the team has been locking it up.”

Lisbon beat Spruce Mountain, which was 4-0 at the time, then hung tough in a loss to York, which went on to reach the Class C regional finals, before ending the regular season with wins over Camden Hills and Oak Hill.

The line showed its versatility in contrasting playoff wins in which the Greyhounds bowled over Oak Hill for 401 rushing yards in the semifinals, then took to the air to beat Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale in the D South final.

“It’s really brought us together,” Bolton said of the line’s surging confidence. “We’re all so close, so we know what each other is thinking almost all of the time.”

“In practice, we’re always hard on each other because we expect great things out of each other. And I believe that shows in the games,” Houle said.

According to Kates, the turnaround’s roots started long before the Spruce Mountain win, and Bolton, Houle and Mason had a lot to do with that, too.

“Those have been three of our biggest leaders in the weight room all offseason, and I think it’s started to show the last part of the season here,” Kates said. “They’ve always been real hard-working kids. You’ll give them the workout but they’ll finish before everybody else does and then go run stairs or they’ll run hills. I think it’s just real evident the amount of extra work that they’ve put in since last season ended.”

“We started lifting in the offseason around January,” Houle said. “This has been a crazy journey this year. The work that we’ve put in, just to see it come to light, you’ve really got to admire the moment for sure.”

The trio is also part of an improved defense — Bolton and Mason as linemen, Houle as a linebacker — playing a fast and physical style that gave D South’s most explosive offenses fits.

“It’s about being mentally prepared and going full speed and flying around to the ball, and hitting as hard as you can,” Bolton said. “You can’t be selfish with our defense. If you do your job, then the defense works.”

“Ever since Oak Hill (in the 16-13 regular season finale), our secondary has been lock-down, I mean, minor slips hear and there but they’ve been lock-down,” Mason said. “When the secondary is locking everybody down and the quarterback can’t find someone, that’s when they let us shine and we get the sacks.”

Regardless of whether the stories they’ll have to tell about this Saturday’s game end in a win or a loss, the trio believes they have already written a happy ending.

“It shows the hard work that we’ve put in through the season,” Houle said. “It definitely shows what we can do as a team, especially since we’ve had a rough start to the season, and how we’ve made it this far really shows our heart.”


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