BUCKSPORT — Many football coaches use a bye week as a chance to breathe a sigh of relief. Joel Sankey is not one of them.
Even though a week off affords a team extra rest and more time to game plan against a particular opponent, Sankey, the longtime Bucksport head coach, is wary of the downsides; complacency can brew when hard work at practice isn’t rewarded with a game under the Friday night lights, and the added time away from the field means more time for distractions.
“When I coached in college, you liked byes, but high school is a little bit different,” Sankey said. “It’s a lot of time for them to have to keep their focus and stay out of trouble.”
After a regular season cancellation gave Bucksport a bye in Week 7, the Golden Bucks got another last week as the No. 1 seed in Class D North. Yet as was the case when it came out of a bye to post a 53-0 win over Foxcroft two weeks ago, Sankey’s team looked focused and prepared once again Friday as it kicked off its second season.
Bucksport cruised to a 49-12 victory Friday night in its Class D North semifinal encounter with visiting Foxcroft. The victory marked another step in the Golden Bucks’ drive for the Gold Ball as Sankey’s team advanced to the Class D North title game for the third straight year.
Top-ranked Bucksport (8-0) took a 6-0 lead after 3 minutes, 12 seconds as Jaxon Gross scored from a half-yard out on the opening possession. A David Gross sack moments later forced a Foxcroft punt, and the Golden Bucks went up 14-0 midway through the first quarter on a 78-yard touchdown run from Josh Miller and a 2-point pass from Brady Findlay to Ty Giberson.
After the Golden Bucks took a 20-0 lead three minutes into the second quarter on a 7-yard run from Jaxon Gross, fifth-ranked Foxcroft (4-6) got on the board on the ensuing kickoff as Logan Martin took the ball 80 yards for a touchdown. That began a frustrating second-quarter spell for Bucksport, which had its next two drives end in fumbles after promising starts.
“Knock on wood, but I think we’ve only had two or three turnovers all year until tonight,” said Sankey, who noted the wetter conditions resulting from the early-morning snow. “We work on ball security a lot, and we’ve been fortunate, but there were a few of those mistakes.”
Just when it appeared as if Bucksport would have to settle for a 20-6 halftime lead, a Logan Stanley interception with a minute to play gave the Golden Bucks the ball in Foxcroft territory. Findlay connected with Stanley for a 28-yard touchdown pass on the next play, and a successful 2-point run from Jaxon Gross made the score 28-6 going into the break.
The second half saw Bucksport start slowly, but the home team would recover with a 29-yard run from Miller late in the third quarter and a 3-yard run from Gross early in the fourth to stretch the lead to 42-6. After Martin scored Foxcroft’s second touchdown on a 55-yard run, the Golden Bucks closed out the scoring with an 8-yard run from Giberson as the game finished in running time.
Bucksport’s success on the ground came as Miller (304 rushing yards), Gross (196 rushing yards) and Giberson ran wild against the Foxcroft defense. That running back trio has spent the entire season wreaking havoc on opposing defenses, and Friday was no different.
“Those three are all similar, but they all have different styles as well,” Sankey said. “When you have guys who are strong and work as hard in the weight room as them running behind this offensive line, it’s fun to watch.”
If Sankey had concerns about how his team would look following a bye, his players certainly didn’t share them; even as Bucksport endured some hiccups during the second quarter, the Golden Bucks’ success early in the game made it clear they were ready to play.
“We weren’t worried about that,” Gross said. “We were ready for this game. … We wanted it.”
Bucksport’s Northern Maine championship game opponent will be the winner of the other Class D North semifinal game between No. 3 Mattanawcook Academy (6-3) and No. 2 Dexter (7-1). Those teams will meet at 1 p.m. tomorrow, Nov. 9, at Dexter Regional High School.
Although Bucksport defeated both Mattanawcook (35-6 on Sept. 6) and Dexter (43-7 on Sept. 13) earlier in the season, the Golden Bucks know the playoffs are a different ballgame. As David Gross spoke in the postgame huddle, he reminded his teammates that their biggest goal is still ahead of them.
“No complacency,” the senior lineman said. “We haven’t won anything yet.”