POLAND — An early injury to its starting quarterback didn’t stop the Poland football team from earning its first win of the season in its first game of the season, 27-13 over Belfast. 

On Poland’s first drive of the season, the offense bullied its way down the field over seven plays and finished with a 12-yard touchdown run from senior quarterback Sam Luce that gave the Knights a 7-0 lead. 

Belfast (1-2) sputtered on its first drive, going three-and-out with two penalties, and punted the ball back to the Knights.

A long Poland drive on its second possession was highlighted by 52 rushing yards by Isaac Fifield. On the eighth play of the drive, Luce ran to the right side for 10 yards but sustained a knee injury on the play and had to be helped off the field. 

“We have three more quarterbacks, but Sam is my best friend and it really did (stink),” Fifield said.

The Knights’ backup quarterback, junior Lagan O’Driscoll, took the reins of the offense and handed off to Fifield, who found the end zone from 2 yards out. The score put Poland up 13-0 with 23 seconds left in the first quarter, but questions remained about how the offense would fare without its captain at quarterback. 

Poland knew that Belfast was going to crowd the line of scrimmage to sell out on the run, but the Knights, led by Fifield, were undeterred. 

“I think the only adjustment was, we do throw the ball, but I don’t want to put the new quarterback under that pressure,” Poland head coach Gus LeBlanc said. “We decided that wasn’t going to be part of the game plan and we just ran the ball until they stopped us. They seemed to have a hard time stopping us, so we were just going to run, move the chains, get first downs and walk out of here with a ‘W.’”

“Head down and run,” Fifield added. “Even though I fumbled a couple times, it’s just head down and run.”

A long kick return jumpstarted Belfast’s offense on its second drive, and a strong running attack helped the Lions drive down the field and score on a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Gabe Kelley. That TD cut the Knights’ lead to 13-6 with the score, but the Lions allowed a long kick return from Poland and committed a penalty at the end of the return, which gave the Knights possession at Belfast’s 33. 

On the fourth play of the drive, Poland’s Brady Martin ran to the left side for a gain of 17, and two plays later scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to push the Knights’ lead to 19-6. 

Belfast moved the ball on its last drive of the first half, but Poland’s Hunter Gibson intercepted a Keegan McGowan pass in the end zone about a minute before halftime. 

Gibson, who also plays basketball for the Knights, was playing the first tackle football game of his career Friday. Despite that inexperience, he still understood his assignment at safety. 

“The first pick, I saw we were gearing up for a pass because we knew that it was down and distance,” Gibson said. “I saw them coming towards the end zone and I was the free safety, I saw that ball coming and I went up and got it. I took it away from my teammate, no one else was getting that ball.

“It was amazing. Once you get it you’re running for your life, but you look around and see everyone cheering and there’s nothing like it.”

The Knights ran for 166 yards in the first half, led by Fifield’s 85. Fifield ended the game with 142 yards on the ground.

Belfast received the kickoff to begin the second half but just five plays into its drive, Gibson intercepted his second pass of the game. 

Neither team got much offense going to begin the second half until Poland’s third drive of the half. 

The Knights received the punt on their own 34-yard line and continued to run the it down the field. They soon faced a fourth-and-8 at the start of the fourth quarter, but Fifield found an opening and ran for 9 yards to advance Poland to the 23-yard line.

Martin then converted a third-and-2 to set up a 15-yard touchdown run by Fifield, who the previous drive fumbled and gave up possession on the first play of the drive. The score made the Knight’s lead 27-6 with 8:36 left in the game.

On the ensuing drive, McGowan went on a hot streak in the air, completing four passes in a row for 54 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Pete Lovejoy to put his team within two scores at 27-13. 

Belfast threw the ball often in the fourth quarter in an attempt to and move the ball quicker than it did in the first half.

“We were down by two touchdowns and we tried to get some points on the board,” Belfast coach Art Fairbrother said. “It was a points-deficit thing. I thought the first quarter was hard, we are a young team and had a two-and-a-half hour bus ride. It was a lot to overcome and we were down 13-0 pretty quick.

“Our guys never gave up, we had the ball, we could have cut it to a touchdown and we fought to the end. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”

Poland held off Belfast for the rest of the game and capped its performance with a Fifield interception to seal the win.

The Knights finished with 268 total yards, all on the ground. Martin added 82 of his own on the ground. 

McGowan threw for 108 yards and ran for 7 yards.

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