Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Dom Trott gets forced out of bounds by Bucksport’s Tyler Hallett during a quarterfinal football game Nov. 6 in Winthrop. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

WINTHROP — Dave St. Hilaire couldn’t help but wonder if it was happening again.

His Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale football team had seen a 20-point lead over Freeport whittled down to seven with three-and-a-half minutes to go in the Class D semifinal, and he thought of five years ago, when the Ramblers scored a go-ahead touchdown with 16 seconds left in the D South final, only to see Lisbon prevail with a stunning last-second rally.

The worry was fleeting. Dom Trott returned the onside kick for a score, and everyone in green could exhale.

“It was visions of 2016 all over again,” said St. Hilaire, the Ramblers’ coach. “But when Dom Trott took the onside kick and scored … it was like ‘All right. New ending.'”

New ending, and new ground. For the Ramblers, who play Foxcroft on Friday night at Bangor’s Cameron Stadium for the Class D title, reaching their first championship game since 2008 is a breakthrough, and it hasn’t been easy to get here. There have been heartbreaking losses and painful upsets in recent seasons, and even this year, featured twists and turns that threatened to derail yet another promising season.

“Champions find a way to overcome adversity. That’s what we’ve been preaching, that’s what our camp T-shirts stated,” St. Hilaire said. “We didn’t know what we would be hit with for adversity this year, but we’ve certainly been hit with everything under the sun.”

Start with the history. The Ramblers have been a favorite, even the favorite, to play for a Gold Ball in Class D for a few seasons, but something always got in the way. It was the 2016 defeat to Lisbon that St. Hilaire thought he was revisiting, when a Hail Mary gave the Ramblers their first loss in crushing fashion.

There were semifinal losses in 2017 and ’18 to Madison and Wells, respectively. And then there was the D South final in 2019, when the Ramblers were the No. 1 seed but had to play at a neutral site in Lewiston and lost to Lisbon, whom they had beaten by 35 points in the regular season.

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale quarterback Andrew Foster dashes between Bucksport’s Joey Bowen and Azize Younes during a Class D quarterfinal game in Winthrop on Nov. 6. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Some players with the team now were on that 2019 team. It still stings.

“It was disappointing. We were expecting more than we got,” senior running back Logan Baird said. “It was a great season … it was just disappointing the way that it ended.”

The Ramblers beat Freeport 40-14 in the first matchup. The players from 2019 knew to learn the lessons from the past, and warn the newer players that a spot in the championship was far from a given.

“Football’s not a cakewalk. Anything can happen,” senior lineman Jake Umberhind said. “If one team works harder than the other, and the other one’s surprised, then they’re probably going to lose. … I’m reassuring the boys to make sure they stay on focus, just finish through.”

The Ramblers’ obstacles, though, haven’t been limited to some bad memories. The team has been jostled around at point after point this season, with six games either moved to different days, different fields or canceled altogether as weather and COVID wreaked havoc on the schedule.

“It was a bunch of unlucky things happening,” Baird said. “It’s definitely (felt weird). No one expects to have a power outage before a game.”

In one of the year’s strangest moments, a car accident knocked out the power to Maxwell Field minutes before a pivotal game with Freeport, forcing the game to be moved to Monday.

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Robby Feeney, right, stiff-arms Foxcroft Academy’s DJ Scheel as he tries to get to the sidelines during and Oct. 22 game in Winthrop. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“I was locked in, sitting outside the locker room, zoned out,” Umberhind said. “And the lights shut off. That was terrible. I was so amped for that game. We were going to blow them out.”

The Ramblers soon faced a far more serious problem. A COVID outbreak hit the team right at the end of the regular season, forcing the team to cancel its finale with Oak Hill and putting the playoffs in jeopardy.

By St. Hilaire’s estimation, 10 to 12 players and coaches were affected, and some began to wonder if their postseason of redemption was over before it had begun.

“I had serious doubt about our season. I thought we were going to be shut down,” Umberhind said. “After losing junior year and then going through a great season, and then to have COVID shut us down, I didn’t even know if it was going to be one week, two weeks or the whole season.”

The Ramblers, however, have embraced the principle from those camp T-shirts. They handled Bucksport 46-27, then denied Freeport the measure of vengeance Lisbon earned two years prior with a 28-19 victory.

“It took us down that week,” St. Hilaire said. “(We didn’t) have a full staff against Bucksport in the playoffs, and then (we were) not getting some kids back until later in the week. You just make do. You plug guys in. We were able to do what we needed to do to execute offensively and defensively, because we had guys that were ready to go.”

Now it’s on to a rematch with Foxcroft in the state championship, and the end of a path no one could have predicted.

“Pretty much my whole life, I’ve been wanting to win a state championship in football,” Baird said. “This is the chance to do it.”

“We like where we’re at,” St. Hilaire said. “You’ve got to get in to win, and we’re in.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.