Chance Versey, left, and Mason Booker are seniors on the Lisbon High School football team, which enters its Class D playoff game against Oak Hill having won three consecutive games. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LISBON — After losing to Freeport on Sept. 25, Lisbon had two weeks off from playing games.

The Greyhounds were 0-3 and needed to right the ship.

According to seniors Chance Versey and Mason Booker and coach Chris Kates, the three weeks in between games allowed Lisbon to “get back to the basics,” as Kates described it. 

“We had two weeks off because of a bye week and COVID, so we treated that as another preseason and turned our whole season round,” Versey, and offensive and defensive lineman, said. “We came back a whole different team. We worked a lot harder and the two weeks helped us a lot. We started bringing it to practice.”

The two weeks off helped the Greyhounds focus on the basics and also gave some players, including Booker, extra help. 

Booker, a receiver, had only played football one year, when he was in third grade, prior to this season. He said took a few weeks to get back into the swing of things, but, according to Kates, Booker has “blossomed” since the two-week break. 

“It was a couple weeks to get going, during the double sessions I was lagging,” Booker said. “I struggled (with plays) at first, but Coach Kates made me keep doing them over and over until I memorized them.”

Lisbon’s Mason Booker runs past Bucksport’s Kamryn Webber for a touchdown on the final play of the first half of a game at last month at Lisbon High School. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“At the beginning, it was a struggle,” Kates said. “He jumped right into a team that expects to have success and he was a little lost. The COVID week was great for him because he got a lot of specialized attention, and I think he’s really blossomed the past couple of weeks.”

A few other players players that weren’t in quarantine also benefitted from a couple of extra weeks of work.

“We focused a lot on fundamentals and focused on things we struggled with and cleaned those up,” Kates said. “We had lower numbers during the COVID weeks, so guys got some extra attention on things. There was a lot of attention to detail to a lot of our kids and I think it helped a lot.”

Since those two weeks off, the Greyhounds (3-3) have won three straight games and enter the postseason as the fifth seed in Class D. They face fourth-seeded Oak Hill in the quarterfinals on Saturday in Wales.

CHAMPIONSHIP EXPERIENCE

Versey transferred to Lisbon High School last school year after moving from the Mt. Ararat area. 

In 2019, Versey and the Mt. Ararat Eagles won Maine’s first eight-man football state championship in a 58-25 victory over Old Orchard Beach. 

This year, he hopes to bring some of that championship experience to a Greyhounds team with only three seniors, him, Booker and Nick Blair (the only senior who played for Lisbon’s 2019 Class D state championship team).

“I think I am bringing a different level of intensity that none of these guys have experienced,” Versey said. “Playoffs are a whole different story. Playoffs are a different level of intensity you need to bring because it’s life or death. I am trying to instill this into them and tell them how much it matters. It could be our last game, being a senior this could be my last game. I want to be successful with them.”

Kates said Versey’s experience in the playoffs and in varsity football is valuable.

“Chance has brought experience and it helps having a kid with varsity experience and that spent time on a championship team, even if it wasn’t with our program,” Kates said. “He’s been steady for us, shows up everyday and goes to work.”

Kates and Versey both agree that they can’t be to concerned about the Greyhounds’ lack of experience.

This year’s team, you can’t worry,” Kates said. “We are really young and there are a lot of kids that would be traditionally playing JV, but they’ve grown up and developed out of necessity, and I think they’ve taken the challenge and ran with it.”

I don’t think it matters how old they are,” Versey added. “It’s more about how we feel together as a team. I feel like we have great chemistry. I love blocking for our running backs, I love blocking for Jimmy, and it pushes us harder to be successful for all of them. As long as we are winning it doesn’t matter. They’ve started to step it up, those juniors are playing like seniors, sophomores like juniors.”

Lisbon’s quarterback, Jimmy Fitzsimmons, is a sophomore who can make plays on the ground or through the air. His senior teammates say he has come a long way since the beginning of the season.

“He started off slow at the beginning of the year, I’m not going to lie, but he’s stepped it up,” Versey said. “It’s like a whole new quarterback. I really do feel like we came back a totally different team, he came back as a totally different quarterback. He really has stepped it up and I love blocking for him.”

From the receiver’s perspective, Fitzsimmons’ improvement has made their lives easier on the outside. 

“First part of the year was a little rough,” Booker said. “His passes were a little high and behind me, but I think he’s realized that he just needs to calm down, he’s thrown really good passes and made the right reads.”

Kates is hesitant to make too many comparisons with this year’s Greyhounds and the 2019 state title-winning team

The 2019 team entered the postseason with a 5-3 record, but was 3-3 after week 6. Once in the playoffs, Lisbon had a bye week, then defeated Oak Hill 48-20 in the Class D South semifinal.

This Saturday, Lisbon faces Oak Hill (4-2) with much less veteran leadership. 

“That team had a different makeup,” Kates said. “I think we started one sophomore and the majority were seniors. We struggled near the end of the regular season but did well in the playoffs. We never really felt like we were out of it that year. But this year we started 0-3 and there were times where people had probably written us off and stuff like that. We had experience to rely on (in 2019), but this year’s team we had to figure it out along the way.”

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