How about those Rangers! Greely no match for Westbrook
WESTBROOK—At the quarter pole of the high school football regular season, the Westbrook Blue Blazes, deserving so, were getting the lion's share of attention.
Westbrook had opened by beating perennial powerhouse Mountain Valley and defending state champion Wells, but the Blue Blazes weren't the only 2-0 team in Western Class B.
Not many miles away, the Greely Rangers were also off to a perfect start and while all eyes were on Westbrook, the Rangers were biding their time, waiting for their moment in the limelight.
It came Friday night at Olmstead Field where Greely unleashed an unstoppable passing attack, played superb defense and never trailed.
Despite giving up a tying touchdown with one second to go before halftime. the Rangers were in control virtually throughout.
They went ahead to stay on a 16-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Drew Hodge to junior Connor Hanley in the third quarter, added another score through the air when Hodge hooked up with classmate Svenn Jacobson, then ended all doubt in the fourth period when Jacobson scored on a TD scamper and senior Pat Finnegan returned an interception 40 yards to paydirt.
Greely went on to a most impressive 33-12 triumph, improving to 3-0, while handing Westbrook a dose of reality and its first setback in three tries.
"This is huge," said Hodge. "We knew it was a big game. We were pumped. We wanted to come in and make a point and I think we did that tonight."
Turned upside down
Entering the year, consensus held that Wells and Mountain Valley were once again the teams to beat in Western B, but Westbrook, a semifinalist in 2011, quickly dispelled that notion by shocking the visiting Falcons (30-0) before holding off the host Warriors, 28-20.
Greely, which made the playoffs in 2011, losing to Cape Elizabeth in the quarterfinals, began this autumn with a 33-7 romp at Spruce Mountain before blanking visiting Lake Region, 54-0, last week.
The teams had met just once previously. Last year, Westbrook's first in Class B, the Rangers enjoyed a 28-0 home win over the Blue Blazes.
Friday, most pundits liked Westbrook's chances, but it was Greely celebrating at game's end.
The Rangers set the tone in the first quarter, even though they couldn't reach paydirt.
Freshman Matt Pisini, who returned the opening kickoff for a score in Week 2 versus Lake Region, returned the opening kickoff of this one 43 yards to the Blue Blazes' 47.
The bruising Jacobson rushed for 11 yards and a first down, but Greely fumbled an exchange two plays later and Westbrook senior Cale Bollig recovered.
The Rangers' defense picked up the offense by holding the Blue Blazes to one yard on three plays, forcing a punt.
Then, Greely's special teams stepped up as senior Nick Vogel blocked the punt and the Rangers recovered at the Westbrook 28.
After Hodge found Maynard for 15 yards, two runs from junior James Ferrar set up a first-and-goal at the 3. Jacobson picked up two, then Ferrar appeared to barrel into the end zone, but before the play, Greely moved, negating the score.
Making matters worse, the Rangers were flagged for an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which pushed the ball all the way back to the 20. The offense wasn't able to recover and two incomplete passes from Hodge gave the ball back to the Blue Blazes on downs.
"We hadn't had any adversity to date, then we did when we had a TD called back when a couple guys acted silly," said Rangers coach David Higgins.
Again the Greely defense forced a three-and-out, but on their next series, the Rangers lost six yards and had to punt.
Westbrook, on its third possession, began to move the ball.
As the first quarter gave way to the second (the teams combined for just 44 first period yards), the Blue Blazes marched from their 34 into Greely territory.
A pass interference penalty set Westbrook up first-and-10 at the Rangers' 13, but after two runs moved the ball to the 5, junior Collin Joyce was thrown for a five yard loss and on fourth down, Greely junior Will Peck sacked Blue Blazes' junior quarterback Kyle Heath for a nine yard loss, giving the ball back to the Rangers' offense, which finally reached the end zone.
Greely would drive 81 yards in seven plays in just under three minutes to break the ice.
A 12-yard Hodge-to-Maynard pass moved the chains. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the hosts put the ball at the Westbrook 41. On third-and-5 from the 36, Hodge dropped back and launched a pass for Maynard, who had a step on the cornerback. A Blue Blazes' safety raced into the picture at the last second and appeared to have an interception sized up, but Maynard was the one who came down with the football and he ran into the end zone to complete the 36-yard scoring play.
Finnegan's extra point bounced off the crossbar and back on to the field, no good, so the Rangers' lead was 6-0 with 6:36 to go in the first half.
Greely tried an onside kick after the score but Westbrook recovered at its 47. The Blue Blazes drove to the Rangers' 39, but on third-and-8, senior Ben Grant was thrown for a three yard loss and Westbrook had to punt.
Greely was pinned at its 3, but managed to pick up a couple first downs and almost run out the first half clock before disaster struck.
On fourth-and-4 from the 35, Higgins had Finnegan attempt a fake punt, but the Blue Blazes were ready for it and Finnegan was thrown for a loss of a yard, giving Westbrook the ball at the Greely 34 with 6.2 seconds left.
"Everyone questioned my fake call," Higgins said. "That's OK."
Everyone on hand knew the final play of the half was going to be a pass to the end zone, but somehow, Joyce snuck behind the secondary and caught Heath's pass in stride for a stunning 34-yard score with just 1 second showing.
A two-point conversion rush by senior Kyle Schumacher was denied, but the Blue Blazes appeared to have all the momentum at the half, having tied the score, 6-6.
Of course, Westbrook was supposed to be riding high entering the game as well and Greely had done a nice job slowing the Blue Blazes down. After controlling play for much of the first 24 minutes, but having nothing to show for it on the scoreboard, the Rangers could have been demoralized, but instead, closed ranks and played even better in the second half.
Westbrook got the ball first, but Greely forced a three-and-out.
The Rangers took over at their 47 with 10:09 to play in quarter number three and promptly marched 53 yards on nine plays in 4:32 to go ahead to stay.
After a bad option pitch set up a second-and-20, Hodge set the tone with a 14-yard completion to Hanley. On the next snap, Hodge found Maynard for 10 more and a first down at the Blue Blazes' 39. Two Hodge runs and an incomplete pass set up a fourth-and-2 at the 31, where Jacobson, who had hardly been used to that point, got the handoff and bulled forward for 11 yards and a first down. Hodge threw a short pass to Jacobson for four yards, then dropped back again and hit Hanley on a post pattern for a 16-yard touchdown.
"We had a mental breakdown (before halftime), but we knew we had to come out and be mentally tough," said Hodge. "We did and got the job done. Svenn's a great back. We have that in our offense, but we can throw the ball. We showed tonight we can do it. Connor is a great receiver. He's a big target."
Finnegan added the extra point and with 5:37 left in the third, Greely had a 13-6 advantage.
After the Rangers' defense allowed Westbrook just one yard on three plays, the Blue Blazes had to punt again and after a short kick, Greely had great field position, at the Westbrook 43.
Five plays later, the Rangers were in the end zone again.
The first of two big plays on the drive came on third-and-12 at the 45 when Hodge had time to find Maynard for a 16-yard completion. Two plays later, Hodge tossed a short pass to Jacobson in the flat, who broke a tackle, ran outside, then beat the pursuit while dancing down the left sideline, barely staying inbounds, en route to a 28-yard score.
Finnegan's extra point made it 20-6 with 1:15 remaining in the third.
The now desperate Blue Blazes managed to move into Greely territory as the third quarter gave way to the fourth, but despite the drive staying alive due to a Rangers' late hit penalty, it came to an end on second-and-8 from the 21 when Heath was intercepted by Greely sophomore Nick Dubois at the 5. Dubois returned the ball all the way to the 39 and to make matters even better for the visitors, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was tacked on and the Rangers took over at the Westbrook 46 with 8:47 left in the game.
"(Nick) played corner last year as a freshman," said Higgins. "It's his first game at safety. The reason we love him is that he comes up and whacks people."
Greely then drove for the backbreaking touchdown.
It took just five plays and 1:57 to do so.
The big play came on fourth-and-9 from the 30, when Hodge found Hanley for 26 yards. On the next play, Jacobson took the carry and managed to reach the end zone for a 4-yard score. Finnegan's extra point was blocked, but with 6:50 to play, the Rangers were in command, up, 26-6.
Greely's defense still had one big play remaining. On first-and-10 from the 29, Heath, pressured by Vogel, threw to the left sideline where Finnegan was lurking. Finnegan picked off the pass and had clear sailing down the sideline, not stopping until he reached paydirt to complete a 40-yard scoring return.
"It was a great play by Nick Vogel," said Finnegan. "(The quarterback) threw a bad pass, I intercepted it and brought it back for a TD. I owe it all to my teammates and coaches. (Wetbrook's touchdown before halftime) gave us more motivation for sure. We forgot it and we moved on, like a good team should."
Finnegan's extra point made it 33-6 with 5:36 to go.
Westbrook finally embarked on a long scoring drive on its final series, moving 50 yards in 10 plays after a nice 45-yard kickoff return from Joyce. Steady runs from Bollig, Heath and Joyce got the Blue Blazes close and with 1:18 remaining, Bollig capped the march with a 3-yard run. The two-point conversion run failed.
Greely got the ball back with 1:14 showing and two runs sealed the deal. The final horn sounded and the Rangers got to celebrate one of the bigger wins in recent program history.
"I guess you can say we're the real deal," said Finnegan. "We were confident. We know how good we are. We made good plays."
"(Westbrook's) a great team, very tough, and I expect to see them down the road, but we knew exactly what we could do," Hodge said. "We're just playing football right now and getting the job done. We're having fun."
"I'm proud of the kids," added Higgins. "They did a great job. We talked about all the things we've done so far. We were pretty confident. I have a lot of seniors and leaders. They came out and played football in the second half. We can do a lot of things. When Hodge is on, he's a very good quarterback. He runs the option well. He can throw well too. Nick Maynard can catch on the outside. Connor's a tall kid who can catch the ball. Svenn can run or catch the ball. Tonight, we were clicking. Coach (Jay) Demick, our defensive coordinator, did a great job. No doubt. More importantly, we can set all the plans we want, but the kids implemented it. The kids came back and played very hard. That speaks well about the team. I have great leaders."
Statistically, Greely managed 285 yards of offense. Hodge led the way by completing 13-of-20 passes for 187 yards and three scores. Maynard had five receptions for 89 yards and a TD. Jacobson also caught five balls, including a touchdown, good for 42 yards. Hanley had three catches, including a TD, and 56 yards. On the ground, Jacobson carried six times for 48 yards and a score. Hodge had 11 carries for 39 yards. Ferrar rushed three times for 9, Finnegan three times for negative-5, Dubois and freshman Josh Lopez once each for a yard apiece. The Rangers did commit one turnover and were flagged four times for 48 yards.
The Greely defense held Westbrook to 223 yards as Dubois and Finnegan each had interceptions.
"We had a gameplan coming in," said Hodge. "We wanted to stop the run. Once we did that, they had to go to the air. We have a great secondary."
For the Blue Blazes, Bollig was the horse, carrying 16 times for 78 yards and a score. Heath rushed 11 times for 30 yards, Grant five times for a dozen. Joyce had four carries for 18 yards and senior Aaron Pierce one for 14. Heath finished 7-of-14 passing, for 71 yards and a touchdown, but he was picked twice. Joyce had five catches for 51 yards and a TD. Bollig caught one pass for 4 yards and senior Aaron Duncanson caught one ball for 16.
The Blue Blazes committed two turnovers, had a punt blocked and worst of all, were flagged 10 times for a whopping 116 yards.
While Westbrook looks to get back in the win column next weekend against visiting Fryeburg, Greely will go to York Friday for what's sure to be a tough test with the 3-0 Wildcats. Last year, the Rangers beat the visiting Wildcats, 23-14.
"York's a very good team," Hodge said. "We want to keep the rhythm going."
Greely's goals go much higher than a 3-0 start.
"I think the seniors came in with a mission of going to states," said Finnegan. "I think we can do better on offense, defense and special teams. There's always room for improvement."
"I hope (this win) dosesn't give us a big head," said Higgins. "We hope to be focused at York. Class B is tough. You have to show up every week. We're excited, but we need more attention to detail. There's always something to work on."