Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s lineman on both sides of the ball will be looking to control the line of scrimmage Friday night in the state championship game against Foxcroft Academy in Bangor. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

WINTHROP — The COVID-19 pandemic forced Maine to play seven-on-seven football in the fall of 2020, and that switch mostly left the linemen on the sidelines.

One day a week, head coach Dave St. Hilaire and the Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale coaching staff worked with the linemen on their technique and ran them through drills.

The rest of the week?

The lineman hit the weight room. 

“That whole year we did lifting,” senior offensive and defensive lineman Jake Umberhind said. “We all did lifting, and our (assistant) coach Mark Feith got us in there. We just started working out. After our sophomore year, losing in the playoffs, we’ve had a fire in our souls to win, and this is the year, it’s looking like it.”

St. Hilaire said the weight room has been crucial in the linemen’s development, and key to Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s (7-1) run to Friday’s Class D state final, in which the Ramblers will face Foxcroft Academy (10-0) at 6 p.m. at Cameron Stadium in Bangor.

“We were fortunate, unlike other schools, that we could lift in the weight room,” St. Hilaire said, adding that at first only Winthrop athletes allowed in the school’s weight room, but eventually Monmouth and Hall-Dale players were admitted. “Anytime you have great success running the ball, a big part of it is having linemen in the weight room. They were there every day, and you could see the way they were lifting was improving. We continued that throughout the summer.

“We had guys there that earned playing time by working in the weight room. It was great to see so many kids. What else are you going to do? You aren’t playing, so why not lift weights? It’s not always the most fun thing, but credit to the leadership of the upperclassmen to get the other guys in the weight room.”

Even with many linemen working out in the weight room throughout the fall and beyond, St. Hilaire and the staff weren’t sure whic players could be relied on to man the offensive line. 

They knew Umberhind would be a pillar at guard, but beyond that they weren’t quite sure. 

After the Ramblers defeated Bucksport in Week 1, things became a lot more clear. 

“Two years ago, Jake was the only one that got reps on the offensive line, and the other was Jacob Neal, who is now a tight end,” St. Hilaire said. “We had freshmen become sophomores, didn’t know if they were ready. We had JV kids. And so we knew Jake is back, we know Neal can block at tight end, but what else? The two tackles, Sam Bourne and Jayden Peters, were JV guys who really hadn’t shown they were ready for varsity, and we didn’t know what we had.

“In the preseason, we found out we were pretty good, but then against Bucksport in Week 1 we found out that boy, our line is going to be physical. From tackle to tight end, we can be physical.”

At the start of the season, center Liam Burgess was ready to get on the field and be physical. Burgess said it takes a certain mindset to be a lineman and that he missed the contact. 

“When you’re man-handling someone, that’s the best feeling in the world,” Burgess said. “The physicality, it’s the biggest thing I missed. Not being able to hit someone during football season, it doesn’t feel right. If you’re not all there mentally, you might as well sit on the bench.”

“What drives the line is just physically dominating the other team, the defense,” Umberhind added. “Just plowing a kid over, pancaking him, that’s really what drives you. When they get mad at you, when they get up in your grill, that’s when you know you’ve won.”

The offensive line has helped open up holes for running backs Logan Baird, Dom Trott and Robby Feeney, who have combined for 1,694 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns.

In Winthrop’s only loss this season, 24-14 to Foxcroft, Trott and Baird ran for just 50 yards on 13 carries. The Ramblers hope to run better on Friday.

“Secondary coverage I think will be a big thing,” Umberhind said. “We also need to know who we are blocking because they came at us with a (three-man) front.”

“We came out super flat so we need to come out in all four quarters ready to play,” Burgess added.

PHYSICAL ON D

St. Hilaire had concerns about the defensive line, which moved from a five-man front to a four-man front, but said that from the start the D-line was physical and versatile.

“I like how flexible we are, moving fronts and knowing our assignments,” said Burgess, who has been helping out on the defensive line the past few weeks.

The Ramblers’ defense has allowed only 2.9 yards rushing per carry, and 616 yards on the ground in eight games.

St. Hilaire credits the defensive line for freeing up Trott, who also plays linebacker and leads the Ramblers with 94 tackles (68 solo, 26 assisted) and 21 tackles for loss.

Umberhind said the communication on both sides of the line has been what has stuck out the most this season.

“Just the thing I have noticed is the communication within each other and being able to call plays and covering who we need to cover,” Umberhind said. “Specifically for offense, we have really locked in our communication so now we don’t have as many missed blocks. You can be big and strong and everything, but if you don’t know who you’re blocking then your line is not going to be good.”

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