CUMBERLAND—The Greely football team did battle with the Spruce Mountain Phoenix in the 2011 season opener last night, but came up just short, 22-20, as a last-second touchdown pass to junior Nick Maynard could not be followed up with a successful two-point conversion.
Spruce Mountain is new to Class B and is a combination of Jay and Livermore Falls, both of whom competed individually in Western Class C last year. Spruce Mountain has an incredibly deep roster, especially compared to Greely.
While Spruce Mountain coach Mark Bonnevie had to deal with merging schools, Greely coach David Higgins had to deal with losing 14 players to graduation. The Rangers (who had a superb 6-3 season in 2010 only to fall short of the playoffs due to a coin toss) are a young and inexperienced squad for the most part, but they have plenty of fight in them, as seen by their last minute march down the field to nearly tie the game.
But at the end of the night, Spuce Mountain’s electrifying and relentless running game in the second half, specifically from senior running back Bill Calden, proved to be too much for Greely.
“I thought we played well,” said Higgins. “We graduated a lot of kids and the most important thing for us is that they came back in the end and scored that touchdown. We had opportunities on the two-point play and we just couldn’t convert.”
So about that two-point conversion play…
Greely’s offensive line was whistled for a false start, which immediately sent the offense back five yards. On that attempt from the seven-yard line, Greely freshman receiver Nick Dubois was hit while running his route, a pass interference call, giving Greely another chance at the conversion from the one-yard line, however, this time the Phoenix covered everyone cleanly and junior quarterback Drew Hodge’s pass was high and incomplete, setting off cheers throughout the impressively huge Spruce Mountain fan base and silencing the always decent home Greely crowd.
Maynard had made an amazing diving catch barely in bounds in the right of the end zone to make it 22-20 with 7.3 seconds left. It looked as though he may have bobbled the ball, so the refs talked it out for a second, adding some more drama throughout the crowd, before raising their arms for the touchdown confirmation. That was the first and only time the Rangers put up points in the second half, as it was 14-0 Greely at halftime.
Greely was clicking on all cylinders in the first two quarters, as the offense looked crisp with many different play calls and the defense was on absolute lockdown grabbing two interceptions, recovering a fumble, and making big time stops on fourth downs when the Phoenix was in the red zone.
Senior Mike Leeman tore off for a 79-yard touchdown run on an option play to the left, something the Rangers ran and will run frequently. A combination of nice blocks, a couple broken tackles, and some shifty cuts from Leeman resulted in the score, making it 14-0 with just 23 seconds left in the second quarter. Early in the second quarter, Spruce Mountain’s Luke Greenwood busted free from defenders and looked to be on his way to the end zone, but the versatile Leeman tracked him down to make it only a 60-yard gain instead of a six point score. The defense then put the clamps down and covered all Phoenix receivers and caused a turnover on downs.
Hodge, who is starting for the first time in his high school career, looked poised throughout the first half, making sharp passes and excellent reads and pitches on the option. Junior Svenn Jacobson was also running with authority on numerous handoffs.
However, the second half proved to be a completely different story for the Rangers, as Calden literally started taking over the game. He had 30 carries on the night and three touchdowns, easily racking up 200 yards on the ground himself.
“All the time we’re just looking for first downs and then when you break through it’s just all the way to the end zone. It feels great,” Calden said. “I couldn’t do it without every block. Everything matters. Everyone on this team contributed to the win.”
Calden’s first touchdown came with 7:37 left in the third quarter as he took a handoff from senior quarterback Zach Bonnevie and punched it in from point blank range to make it 14-6. The point after attempt was blocked. His second touchdown was what you might call a big play. From its own 15, the Phoenix called on Calden again and he didn’t disappoint. He took another handoff and raced all the way to the endzone for an 85-yard burst in which he shook a Leeman tackle attempt as Leeman tried to cut him off with about 30 yards to the endzone. A two-point conversion up the gut by sophomore Alwayne Uter tied the score at 14-14 with 2:57 remaining in the third.
“It just feels great, we all came out here and we felt like we were going to play a good game,” Calden said. “The first half, we were a little bit frustrated, but we came out in the second half just ecstatic and we did what we had to do to win the game. It was a great ball game.”
“He was fast and he ran the holes hard,” Leeman said. “And we couldn’t stop him, he’d just bust through us all.”
Uter also had numerous gains, providing a solid number two back. As the season progresses, be on the lookout for the Calden and Uter duo. Calden is short, compact, and explosive. Uter on the other hand is tall, semi-lanky, and not quite as powerful and elusive with the ball, resembling more of a stereotypical wide receiver than a running back. But he’s only a sophomore and he will only improve.
Early in the fourth quarter, Greely freshman Nick Dubois snagged an interception very close to the end zone and took it out to near the 20-yard line. However, the Rangers went three-and-out and a 20-yard punt gave the ball right back to the Phoenix at the 40. The two teams traded punts and possessions once again until Calden busted through the middle and went up the left sideline for 39 yards to complete the hat trick. Uter again took the handoff for another successful two-point conversion, making the score 22-14 with 58 seconds left in the game.
Spruce Mountain did a squib kick on the kickoff and Greely got the ball on its own 43. With the clock working against the Rangers, Higgins dialed up a nifty hook-and-ladder play. Maynard caught the ball over the middle and as he was being tackled, he pitched it back and to the right a bit to Jacobson who took it to the Spruce Mountain 36 for a gain of 21. With 28.9 seconds remaining, Spruce Mountain was whistled for an illegal hit to the head on Hodge and the Rangers got to move up 15 yards. Next play, Hodge scanned for a receiver but had to scramble and picked up nine. From 12 yards out with 16.4 seconds on the clock, Hodge fired for six-foot-four sophomore Conner Hanley, but he was covered and the throw was off a bit. The next play was Maynard’s touchdown to make it 22-20.
“I’m happy for the kids,” Bonnevie said, about his combined squad. “There’s been a lot of pressure on them here the past few weeks. They just stuck together. They could have hung their heads at halftime with all the penalties and turnovers we had. But they truly stuck together. I’m awfully proud of them.”
Speaking of penalties, there were 17 called in the game. It seemed like false starts were a dime a dozen, but that is sometimes common early in the season, especially with a young (Greely) or new (Spruce Mountain) roster.
“They were just running off tackle and we couldn’t stop it,” Higgins said. “It’s one of those things we couldn’t stop no matter what coach was calling. It is what it is. They took advantage of it, and good for them, the better team won tonight.”
The Greely Rangers travel to Lake Region next week to take on the Lakers, while the Phoenix will travel to Falmouth to duke it out against the powerful Yachtsmen.
Greely junior Svenn Jacobson looks for running room on the sidelines during Friday’s contest.r
Greely junior quarterback Drew Hodge looks for an open receiver.
Greely junior receiver Nick Maynard skies to make a reception.
Greely coach David Higgins gives instructions during a pivotal moment in Friday’s game.r
Senior Mike Leeman races into the end zone for a first half touchdown during Greely’s home game versus Spruce Mountain. The Rangers led in the first half and fought hard throughout, but fell to the newly-formed Phoenix, 22-20.
More photos below.