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Greely shuts out Westbrook, makes a statement

Sports

Greely shuts out Westbrook, makes a statement

CUMBERLAND—Entering Saturday evening's home football contest against new-to-Class B Westbrook, there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Greely Rangers and their status as a serious contender.

Forty-eight minutes later, Greely had emphatically stated its case.

The Rangers rode the bruising running of junior Svenn Jacobson, a couple big plays from senior Mike Leeman and a superb defensive effort to a 28-0 win over the Blue Blazes, improving to 2-1 in the process, while dropping Westbrook to 0-3.

One year after missing the playoffs only because it came out on the wrong end of a coin flip, Greely is right back in the postseason hunt.

"It's a big win for us," said Jacobson, who finished with 145 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. "This makes us a competitor. We're improving every game."

Bouncing back

Greely began its varsity program in 2003 and by 2005, was in the playoffs. The Rangers returned in 2006, but haven't been to the postseason since, even though they deserved to make it a year ago when a regular season-ending gutwrenching home loss to Falmouth left them 6-3 and in a three-way tie with the Yachtsmen and Cape Elizabeth for the final two Western B playoff spots (only four teams qualified last year). The berths came down to a three-way coin toss and Greely was the odd team out.

After losing several top players to graduation, the Rangers entered 2011 devoid of expectations, but they've turned heads this September with their play. Greely let an early lead slip away in the home opener against Spruce Mountain and almost rallied to tie at the end before going down to a 22-20 defeat. The Rangers then went to Naples and steamrolled Lake Region, 58-28.

Westbrook had struggled for decades in Western A and along with Marshwood made the move down to Class B this autumn. The Blue Blazes weren't given any favors by the schedule makers as they had to open at defending state champion Mountain Valley, where they lost, 47-7, then hosted one of the preseason favorites, Wells, in a game that saw Westbrook hang tough, but ultimately fall, 27-14.

The teams had never met prior to Saturday night where Greely took the lead in the first quarter and never let up.

The Rangers moved the ball into Blue Blazes' territory on their first drive, but had to punt. The defense then forced a three-and-out, but a sack short-circuited the next Greely drive and the hosts had to punt again. Westbrook moved from its 9 to its 34 on its next drive, but had to kick the ball away. A bad snap on the punt, however, gave the Rangers a gift as Blue Blazes junior punter Ben Grant was tackled for a 17-yard loss.

Greely took over at the Westbrook 17 and three plays later was ahead to stay. Junior quarterback Drew Hodge found classmate Nick Maynard for 11 yards, Hodge kept the ball for five more and with 1:38 to go in the first stanza, Jacobson dove into the end zone from a yard out to break the ice. Junior Pat Finnegan's extra point gave the Rangers a 7-0 advantage.

As the first period gave way to the second, the hosts appeared to catch another break when the Blue Blazes' fake punt attempt was stopped short of the sticks at the Westbrook 42. Three plays later, however, Greely fumbled the ball away and the Blue Blazes got possession.

Again, the Rangers got the job done defensively, bending and allowing Westbrook to drive to the Greely 31, but never breaking and on fourth-and-15 from the Rangers' 40, the Blue Blazes somewhat surprisingly eschewed the punt and threw a pass that was incomplete.

Instead of taking over near its goal line, Greely got the ball at its 40 and promptly drove to double its lead.

On third-and-10, Hodge found Leeman for 19 yards and a first down at the Westbrook 41. Three plays later, on third-and-4 from the 35, Jacobson broke a 14-yard run to the 21. The Rangers would be backed up after an illegal block penalty and faced a fourth-and-18 from the 29, but Leeman took a short pass, broke two tackles and wasn't brought down until he reached the 7, setting up a first-and-goal. On the next play, Jacobson ran up the gut for a 7-yard TD and Finnegan's extra point made it 14-0 Greely with 2:46 to play in the first half.

On their final possession of the half, the Blue Blazes' passing game finally made its presence felt.

First, senior quarterback Terry Webber found senior Sam Johnson for 14 yards. He then hit (in succession) senior Graham Strondak for nine, senior Magnes Lewis for 20 and junior Aaron Duncanson for 12 and a first down at the Rangers' 22. A questionable pass interference penalty put the ball at the 11, but senior Christian Pisini then came up huge for Greely, sacking Webber for a 12 yard loss. On the next play, Webber was picked off by Rangers junior Eric Coyne and the hosts took a 14-0 lead to the break.

After letting a lead slip away in the opener, the Rangers knew the game was far from over.

"I didn't have to remind them," Higgins said. "They knew."

"The message at halftime was to stay focused and rowdy," Jacobson said. "We knew we could win this game."

Jacobson only rushed seven times for 41 yards in the first half, but he'd become a workhorse in the second as he and Leeman moved the ball, while on the other side, the Greely defense continued to stymie the visitors.

Westbrook got the ball to start the third period and gained one first down before it had to punt. After the Rangers went three-and-out, the Blue Blazes drove from their 27 to the Greely 39 before Webber's fourth down pass fell incomplete.

The Rangers took over at their 39 with 3:40 to go in the stanza, and drove 61 yards in 10 plays to get some breathing room.

The drive was almost all Jacobson. He set the tone with an eight-yard run. After a Hodge incomplete pass, Jacobson ran for five more and a first down. Jacobson then ran for six, 15, two and three yards before an incomplete pass set up and fourth-and-5 at the Westbrook 22. Hodge would keep the drive alive, dropping back to pass before scrambling for nine yards and a first down. On the next snap, Leeman got in on the fun, taking an option pitch from Hodge and outracing the defense to the left pylon for a touchdown. Finnegan added the point-after and with 26 seconds to go in the third, the Rangers were up 21-0.

The Blue Blazes' first drive of the fourth quarter ended in a Finnegan interception. Greely would ultimately punt and Westbrook embarked on a promising drive as Webber found Lewis for 23 yards, Strondak for five and Duncanson for 19 into Rangers' territory. Three straight incompletions set up a fourth-and-10. Webber tried to run for it, but only gained four yards and the hosts took over on downs at their 37.

Five plays later, Greely ended all doubt.

After Jacobson ran for five, four, seven and three yards, Leeman did the rest, taking an option pitch and breaking free down the left sideline. He didn't stop until he fell across the goal line, due more to cramping than tackling, and completed a 44-yard score. With 3:24 left, Finnegan booted the extra point and it was 28-0 Rangers.

Westbrook fumbled away the ensuing kickoff (sophomore Nick Dubois recovered for Greely) and the hosts ran out the clock on their impressive win.

"The kids played great," Higgins said. "It's a great win for our program. We're getting there."

Jacobson had 19 second half carries for 104 yards and finished 26-145 with two scores. He also caught one pass for two yards.

"I started cramping up, but I kept running," Jacobson said. "We just moved up to the second line to the linebackers and that's what made it open. The line did a great job. I didn't read the predictions or anything. (Westbrook) came out strong, but we fought back."

Leeman gained 59 yards with two TDs on his 10 rushes. He also caught four passes for 52 yards.

"Svenn's amazing," Higgins said. "He's coming back to his form and what can you say about Leeman? They wouldn't get those holes if it wasn't for the linemen."

Hodge wound up 7-of-13 throwing for 79 yards. He ran twice for 14 yards. Maynard made two catches for 25.

Greely finished with a 263-237 edge in total yardage.

Westbrook did move the ball through the air behind Webber, who wound up 13 of 33 for 173 yards, but he was intercepted twice. Lewis had three catches for 71 yards, Duncanson three for 44, Johnson three for 32 and Strondak two for 14. The Blue Blazes did gain 91 yards on 23 rushes (led by Lewis' 7-53).

All in all, Greely's defense did what it had to do to produce the program's first shutout since Sept. 24, 2010 (26-0 at Lake Region).

"We had trouble reading the receivers, but we found a way and came through," Jacobson said. "I didn't know about their passing game. We played our zone. We didn't have to make adjustments."

"Westbrook's a good team and we were concerned the way they played Mountain Valley and Wells and could move the ball," Higgins said. "I'm stunned at the score. When we watched them on film, they moved the ball on Wells running. We wanted to stop the run and the kids answered the bell. They're a very good passing team. We're very excited about the shutout."

Big test

Greely will face its biggest obstacle to date Friday night when it hosts 2-1 York, a perennial contender. The Wildcats have enjoyed easy home wins over Marshwood and Fryeburg and lost at Cape Elizabeth.

Last year, the Rangers beat York for the first time in eight tries, 21-6.

Doing it again won't be easy.

"We need to bring down the penalties, block and keep on moving," said Jacobson.

"Every week's a test for us," Higgins said. "York's a very good team. The kids improve every week. We passed the test this week, fortunately. Hopefully, we'll rise to the occasion again next week. York's always tough. (Coach) Randy (Small) always has his kids prepared. I hope it's as exciting as this game was for us."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Photo: R. Steven Sharp / For The Forecaster

Greely senior Mike Leeman tries to fight off a Westbrook tackler.

Photo: R. Steven Sharp / For The Forecaster

Greely junior quarterback Drew Hodge rolls out and looks for an open receiver.

Photo: R. Steven Sharp / For The Forecaster

Greely senior Mike Leeman dives to make a tackle on Westbrook senior Brandon Steele.

Photo: R. Steven Sharp / For The Forecaster

Greely junior Fred Bower goes low to make a tackle.

Photo: R. Steven Sharp / For The Forecaster

Greely junior Nick Maynard makes a catch in the first half Saturday.

Photo: R. Steven Sharp / For The Forecaster

Greely coach David Higgins is all smiles as he congratulates senior Christian Pisini after a big defensive play.