Leavitt was ready to play. The Hornets had Maine Central Institute circled on their calendars since the 2021 football schedule was released, and they were ready to open the season against the team they beat in the 2019 Class C state title game.

Then, MCI had to cancel the game because of COVID-19 cases within the team. 

Poland Regional High School football players collide during a drill Thursday afternoon at the school’s practice field. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Leavitt adjusted and began getting ready to face Hermon High School in Week 2. But before the opening week of games was even finished, Hermon had to cancel its game with the Hornets because of COVID cases and quarantined players.

Twenty miles away, Poland had a scheduled bye week in Week 1, then its Week 2 opponent, Bucksport, had to cancel because of COVID cases.

When Week 3 came around, the Knights thought they were in the clear until Madison/Carrabec/Valley canceled the teams’ matchup. Class D Poland was quickly able to find an opponent, Class C Belfast, to play Friday in Poland.

Leavitt, despite its best efforts, wasn’t able to find a team willing to be its replacement foe after Hermon backed out. The Leavitt players, according to head coach Mike Hathaway, immediately moved their focus to Wells, their Week 3 opponent. 

“It’s been all right, it’s kept our kids on their toes,” Hathaway said. “We were prepped for MCI and prepped for Hermon, too. At least in terms of going through the football season and prepping for different teams and things like that, we’ve had to do that work. We feel pretty good about that and the guys have had pretty good energy at practice.”

The players’ disappointment from having games canceled dissipated pretty quickly. 

“Obviously some disappointment because we were looking forward to that game and just playing football again,” Leavitt senior quarterback Hunter Hayes said. “It was tough in that sense, but Coach Hathaway keeps us really upbeat and we are looking forward to the next thing. Nothing is really guaranteed this year, so we just have to do our job.”

Hayes and his classmates say they have a good idea of how to do that job.

“The seniors know what it takes to get to states and keep the energy going,” Leavitt senior lineman Jack Boutaugh said. “We know when to pick up the tempo, even when the tempo isn’t at 100 percent.”

Hathaway is expecting a bit of rust from not playing since the preseason while many teams have had two full-speed games. But, he’ll take the extra preparation for Wells. 

“It helps, and having a few extra days to prepare for Wells doesn’t hurt either,” Hathaway said. “We might lose a little bit and be a little rusty, but we might gain a little bit more on the other side where we haven’t played a game yet and they have. Truth be told, it will probably all even out in the end. We changed to Wells as soon as we knew.”

Poland Regional High School head football coach Gus LeBlanc, right, watches players during a drill Thursday afternoon at the school’s practice field. He wasn’t satisfied with the effort on the play and yelled, “You’re slower than my grandmother, and she’s 136 years old. Do it again!” It got a chuckle out of the players as they lined up again and did it again, this time with more gusto. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Poland Regional High School coach Gus LeBlanc has been steering his team of 36 players through a similar situation. 

Like Leavitt’s players, the Knights have continued to work hard and not let the weeks off bring down the team’s energy.

“It’s been a bummer, but we just kept working and never stopped practicing,” senior quarterback Sam Luce said. “We never let it get to us, I guess you could say, but we did really well in our preseason games and we’ve been practicing and getting better.”

Junior Mason Brousseau said that practicing with the same group of players since early summer has been helpful to the team’s overall development, and while the practices have been hard, they’ve prepared the team for its first game. 

“We’ve been coming out since June, when we first started practices,” Brousseau said. “We had double sessions that went longer than we would have wanted, but they were good and we’ve just gotten closer since. Obviously you can’t nail it, but our head coach has the philosophy of playing how you would in practice — full speed.”

LeBlanc said that when the Knights found out they weren’t going to play in Week 2, he planned a tough practice to keep the players’ minds off of that disappointment. 

“We basically approached it from the old, ‘10 percent in life is what happens to you and 90 percent is how you deal with it,’” LeBlanc said. “We just told the kids, ‘Hey, we don’t like this, let’s use this time well and improve the things we need to improve on,’ and just kind of went from that point of view. We didn’t really add anything new in, just improve and develop skills and improve on the things we were doing.”

Poland Regional High School head football coach Gus LeBlanc, right, directs players during a drill Thursday afternoon at the school’s practice field. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Poland hasn’t seen any film on Belfast and doesn’t know much about the Lions, so the Knights’ practices have been focused around what they can do to be prepared for anything.

The Poland players have already shown that they know how to handle a little adversity. In an exhibition game with Fryeburg, the Knights fumbled on their first two drives but came back to win. 

“There’s no reason for us to be rusty,” Luce said. “None of our heads went down when those games got canceled, we just kept working, so we shouldn’t be rusty. Coach made a comment that Fryeburg got ahead of us, but we just kept going and we weren’t looking down or anything.”

“I think with the cancelation of the games, even if we are rusty, we are going to come right back,” senior Hunter Gibson added.

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