The Telstar football team goes over offensive drills on Wednesday during practice in Bethel. Quarterback Will Doyle prepares to throw as Cameron Palmer runs a route. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

BETHEL — Two years ago, after starting 3-1, Telstar began to feel confident. 

The 2019 Rebels defeated Sacopee Valley, Gray-New Gloucester and Boothbay in consecutive weeks and were riding high. The win against Sacopee, Telstar’s first eight-man football victory and first varsity win since 2013, made the team too confident, according to Andrew Leighton, a senior on this year’s team.

“I think we definitely underestimated Sacopee (later in the season) because we beat them 36-0 or something like that, I believe,” Leighton said. “I think we let that get to our heads.”

Telstar lost to the Hawks later in the season, 32-20, and after that 3-1 start the Rebels lost the remainder of their games.

“My freshman year we came out 3-1 and we just plummeted,” Telstar junior quarterback Will Doyle said this week. “We really want to pick it up this year and see what we can do with it.”

The 2021 Rebels improved to 5-0 by beating Sacopee Valley 34-0 on Thursday, and Doyle doesn’t want another strong start to a season be soured by a second-half fade.

“We knew we wanted to come out, and we want to win states, that’s what we are aiming for,” Doyle said. 

FIGHTING BACK

Saturday against Maranacook, Telstar took an early lead on a long touchdown pass from Doyle to Brayden Stevens on the first play of the game. The Rebels, though, didn’t score for the rest of the half and entered halftime tied with the Black Bears 6-6.

Telstar Rebels quarterback Will Doyle awaits the snap from Matt Dillon during practice on Wednesday in Bethel. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Telstar players said this week that the team came out flat on Saturday. They were so confident that they were dangerously teetering toward being too relaxed.

“We just came out too cocky,” Doyle said. “We were 3-0, and we called it a trap game from the beginning, we knew it was going to be tough. But we came out on top, and we are just lucky for that.”

Telstar battled through penalties in the second half and won the game 14-12 thanks to a broken two-point conversion play that Stevens made good in the fourth quarter.

Through the penalties and mistakes, the Telstar players hold each other accountable and will make their displeasure known when an error is made. However, Stevens said they don’t take any of it personally. 

“We just are all buddies,” Stevens said. “We get pissed off at each other if we don’t do something right. Absolutely, if one of us messes up, we’re going to hear about it.”

Leighton, an offensive and defensive lineman, is joining the Marine Corps after high school, and he has taken it upon himself to lead his position groups.

Head coach Tim O’Connor, center, reviews drills with the Telstar football team on Wednesday in Bethel. Assistant Coach Devin Vail, left, and quarterback Will Doyle (14) stand next to O’Connor. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“I think we try to keep each other in check to make sure we do the best that we can,” Leighton said. “I like to keep the line on the straight and narrow and make sure they’re doing their jobs. I don’t know much about the backfield because I’ve been on the line so much, so I try to keep them right.”

Soon after Saturday’s win, Leighton talked to Rebels head coach Tim O’Connor about some mistakes that were made throughout the game, even as the team was heading to the locker room, celebrating a win on homecoming weekend. O’Connor said Leighton takes mistakes personally. 

“Andrew is going into the Marines, so he’s hard on himself,” O’Connor said. “Andrew played a good game, and he did, he had a couple sacks, some tackles, but he’s still not satisfied and he wants to do better. He plays both sides of the ball, so he takes it personally when someone misses a block or something.”

The hard-fought win over Maranacook was a far-cry from the team’s first three wins, which had an average margin of victory of 38 points. Having a close game gave O’Connor and the team some things to work on before Thursday’s game against Sacopee Valley. 

“We’ve got work to do,” O’Connor said. “We may have (had) a little swagger because we were 3-0 and then came in thinking we were going to crush (Maranacook), but I knew they’d give us a great game. It was a great game on both sides of the ball, and the difference in the game was the two-point conversion. … We thought we had all our blocking assignments taken care of, but obviously we have some work to do this week.”

CHEMISTRY IS HIGH 

O’Connor said he’s been trying to get the word out about football at Telstar over the past couple of years. And, slowly, the Telstar roster is growing.

Telstar football coach Tim O’Connor talks to his players on Wednesday during practice in Bethel. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“These kids have played together since they’ve been in little kid football, and they’ve all kind of come up together,” O’Connor said. “I’ve been hounding kids to play, we had kids play in middle school and they would not play, and then it was like, ‘Shoot, what are we doing?’ We encourage people to come out, and we now have 24 people on the roster. We are trying to encourage people to be a part of it.”

Doyle, a junior, said his class has been playing football together for years.

“We really came together as a group. In practice we know what the other is thinking,” Doyle said. “We definitely have our ups and downs sometimes, but we pick it up, and like I said, we bring that swagger every game and we know what we have to do. I started in sixth grade and my junior class — Bode Leach, Evan Leach, Jakob Hooper — we want to win states.”

Brayden Stevens hands the ball back to Will Doyle during an offensive drill at practice in Bethel on Wednesday. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The team is now 5-0 and feeling good, and part of that confidence and high morale around the team centers around music. 

“I know it’s weird, but it’s absolutely music,” Stevens said. “Music is a huge thing for this team. If we don’t have music then we are off our game. We have to be listening to music at all times. Everything — country, we got rap, rock, absolutely everything. We listen on the practice field, locker rooms, before games, after games, confidence is key.”

The Rebels even have a tradition of listening to ‘One’ by Metallica before home games.

“That gets everybody pumped up,” Leighton said.

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