Greely erupts for emphatic win at Westbrook
WESTBROOK—There's something about making a trip to Westbrook that brings out the beast in the Greely Rangers.
A year after announcing their arrival as a top-notch contender with a three-touchdown win at the Blue Blazes, Greely returned to Olmstead Field Friday evening and triumphed with even more ease.
Although it didn't start out that way.
Westbrook took an 8-0 lead late in the first quarter and appeared to have the momentum, but it turned in an instant as Rangers senior Connor Hanley took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 84 yards to paydirt to get Greely going.
Then, the Rangers' defense came up with a huge stop, giving the ball back to the offense, which proceeded to drive 92 yards to take the lead for good on a touchdown run from senior Will Peck.
Greely was just getting warmed up and by halftime, was in command, up, 27-8, thanks to a 9-yard scoring run from sophomore Matt Pisini and a 24-yard TD pass from Pisini to sophomore Sam Peck.
Senior James Ferrar then ruled the second half, milking the clock and setting the stage for two more scores, a 5-yard Sam Peck run and a 20-yard Ferrar scamper.
The Rangers' defense slammed the door from there and Greely enjoyed a stunningly decisive 41-8 triumph, its third in a row and third in four games this autumn, dropping Westbrook to 2-2 in the process.
"I'm stunned the way the kids reacted," said Rangers coach David Higgins. "Westbrook's a good team, but the kids just came to play. Our kids are tough. I'm so proud of these guys. I'm surprised how quickly they've come along."
Both teams entered the final game of the first half of the regular season with 2-1 records, eager for a victory to stay in the upper echelon of the newly organized Western Class B.
Greely opened with a 41-16 home loss to defending regional champion Marshwood, but after spotting the Hawks the first 27 points, the Rangers gained momentum by playing well late in the game.
"One of the biggest things for us was how we played against Marshwood,' Higgins said. "They kicked our backsides the first quarter-and-a-half, then the kids played them tough. They knew they were in a game."
Greely then won, 38-24, at Fryeburg, before dominating visiting Gorham last week, 69-3.
Westbrook edged visiting York, 20-14, in its opener, then rolled at Mt. Ararat, 30-0, before tumbling from the unbeaten ranks last week, 33-0, at Marshwood.
Friday, the Rangers once again showed their doubters that this is a team to be reckoned with, even if it took almost 12 minutes to get going.
Greely got the ball first and went three-and-out, gaining nary a yard.
The Blue Blazes then drove into Rangers' territory, but on fourth-and-5 from the 45, senior Collin Joyce only rushed for one and Greely took over on downs.
This time, the Rangers only managed to gain six yards and had to punt again.
Westbrook took over at its 30 and promptly drove for what would prove to be its only score of the game.
It took seven plays and 3 minutes, 18 seconds to traverse 70 yards.
Joyce got things started with a 16-yard run. On third-and-7 from the 49, junior Maurice Johnson ran for nine, breaking several tackles in the process.
On the next snap, freshman quarterback Bailey Sawyer's pass was tipped and Greely freshman Andrew Ray had a great shot at an interception, but couldn't hold it, allowing the drive to continue. Two plays later, Joyce got the ball, broke a couple tackles, then outran the pursuit to the end zone for a 38-yard score to break the ice.
Westbrook went for two and Joyce got the ball again, crossing the goal line to make it 8-0 in favor of the hosts with 32.7 seconds to go in the first quarter.
"We have a lot of young kids who are playing," Higgins said. "They get so excited that they forget about things. It's all about being composed."
The lanky senior fielded the ensuing kickoff at the 16 and took off, not being slowed or stopped until he completed an 84-yard scoring return.
"We work hard all week long," Hanley said. "Sometimes in games you face adversity, but we know if we get down in a game, we have to keep fighting. I took the kickoff and just found a hole. It was that simple. It was all blocking. I just ran in a straight line. It felt pretty good. That brought us back in it. It convinced us we could do it."
"That was huge," Higgins said. "Hanley's had a great year. After that, the kids started to believe in themselves."
The Rangers hoped to tie with their own two-point conversion, but Pisini's pass was incomplete and the Blue Blazes took an 8-6 lead to the second period.
It didn't last.
Westbrook, which had 92 yards of offense to just 6 for Greely in the first period, embarked on another drive, moving from its 44 to a first down at the Rangers' 12 (another 38-yard run from Joyce was the big blow), but on fourth-and-8 from the 10, Johnson was held to just two yards and Greely had dodged a bullet and got the ball back.
"It was all the defense in this game, I thought," said Pisini. "We hit hard and stepped up. That was a big red zone stop."
"The defense played great," said Higgins. "We have a few new guys in at starting positions and they played awesome. They answered the call. It was fun to watch."
After gaining just six yards on their first two series, the Rangers' offense finally came to life, marching 92 yards on nine plays to take the lead for good.
A 21-yard scamper by Ferrar on first down gave Greely some breathing room. On third-and-6 from the 33, Pisini danced along the right sideline for 12 yards before being shoved out of bounds. Three plays later, on third-and-5 from midfield, Pisini threw his first pass and hit Hanley for 13 yards on a slant. On the next snap, Pisini dropped back again and threw a bomb to Hanley down the right sideline for 30 yards and a first-and-goal at the 7. Will Peck did the honors from there, scoring on a 7-yard run to the right side and an extra point from senior Christian Kroot with exactly 6 minutes to go before halftime put the Rangers in the lead by a 13-8 margin.
Greely's special teams got in the act next, forcing a fumble on the ensuing kickoff with Ferrar falling on the loose ball at the Westbrook 25.
After Pisini ran for 16 yards on first down, Pisini broke free for a 9-yard TD run and Kroot's point-after with 5:17 to go before the half pushed the lead to 20-8.
"It started to click," Pisini said. "I owe it all to the linemen. The blockers opened up holes everywhere."
"(Pisini's) a sophomore, so he gets very excited," Higgins said. "We try to keep him within himself. He's a good athlete, a smart kid. Thankfully for us, he's only a sophomore."
The Rangers' defense kept the pressure on, forcing a three-and-out, and the offense got the ball back at midfield.
Four plays later, Greely struck paydirt once more.
After an 18-yard run from Will Peck got them close, the Rangers scored their fourth touchdown in a little over 11 minutes, as Pisini launched a pass to Sam Peck in the back of the end zone for a 24-yard TD.
"I love throwing," said Pisini. "I love everything about quarterbacking. I love being on the field, getting to control everything."
Kroot's PAT made it 27-8 with 1:17 left in the half.
In the second period, Greely outgained the hosts, 167-40 and outscored them, 21-0.
"We all got together and it all of sudden clicked," said Ferrar. "Our linemen blocked. The defense held strong. We couldn't do anything without our linemen."
Any remaining doubts were dashed in the third period, as the Rangers added two more touchdowns.
The opening kickoff set the tone as Greely lofted a short kick which the Blue Blazes couldn't handle and freshman Gabe Palizay fell on the loose ball at the Westbrook 39.
Six plays later, Sam Peck scored on a 5-yard dash and Kroot's extra point made it a 34-8 game.
After another Blue Blazes' three-and-out, the Rangers drove 43 yards in five plays for their final score.
A 10-yard Pisini run got Greely close and Ferrar did the rest, bursting through the line en route to a 20-yard TD scamper with 5:44 to play.
"My coach told me they were going to run me," Ferrar said. "I was pumped. I was ready to go."
"Ferrar was in beast mode," Pisini said. "He was a workhorse. I just gave it to him."
"Our plan all the time is to let James run out the clock," Higgins added. "He's a tough kid. We give him the ball and let him run. We have high expectations of him."
Kroot's PAT made the score 41-8.
The Rangers' defense didn't let up, forcing another Blue Blazes' punt.
Greely took over at its 24 and as the third quarter gave way to the fourth, it drove to the Westbrook 40, but the march stalled and the Rangers had to punt.
Greely's defense held again, but the Rangers' offense went three-and-out in their final series, giving the ball to the Blue Blazes one last time.
Westbrook marched to Greely's 33, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty backed them up and time soon ran out on the Rangers' 41-8 triumph.
"The hype's on the other teams," Hanley said. "Every year, we lose players, but we have good players and we had to come out and show it. I think this was a symbolic win."
"Everyone thinks we're the underdog," said Pisini. "We just wanted to send a message and we sent one tonight."
"I love this schedule," Ferrar said. "It shows we can beat the best teams. I'm proud of how we rose above it after losing to Marshwood. I'm proud of how we won tonight."
Greely finished with a 298-215 advantage in yardage, but that was just an example of statistics hardly telling the story.
On the ground, the Rangers picked up 226 yards, as Ferrar had 115 (and a TD) on 15 rushes, Pisini collected 86 (and a score) on 15 attempts and both Sam Peck and Will Peck had scoring runs.
Pisini only threw the ball five times, but completed four passes, good for 70 yards and a TD. Hanley had two catches for 43, while Sam Peck caught one ball for a 24-yard touchdown.
Most impressively, Greely didn't turn the ball over and didn't commit a penalty until the penultimate play of the game (a harmless offsides with the second team defense on the field).
Westbrook got a strong performance from Joyce (136 yards and a TD on a dozen carries), but got little else. The Blue Blazes had the one fumble and were penalized four times for 45 yards.
Westbrook returns to action Friday night, when it hosts Falmouth. The Blue Blazes also face host Lawrence and Kennebunk and visit Oceanside to wrap up the regular season.
Greely's remaining road is even more fraught with potential potholes. Next week, the Rangers play at dangerous Kennebunk (which beat Marshwood Friday). Home games versus York and high-powered Cony follow before Greely closes at rival Falmouth.
But as the Rangers reminded us again Friday, don't bet against them.
"Everybody will start to notice us," said Hanley. "We have to keep working. Every week we set our goals and work toward them for that Friday. Even if a loss comes, we'll keep getting better."
"We'll take the positives from every game," Pisini said. "There's still a lot to work on."
"The league's changed," Higgins added. "We've had injuries, but now, hopefully, we'll stay healthy in this closing stretch. We know Kennebunk will throw it. We'll have our hands full. We have to focus on them. They give us a plethora of issues we'll need to worry about. We have work to do."