ELLSWORTH — Fresh off two encouraging performances, the Ellsworth/Sumner football team entered Homecoming week with a new challenge on its hands.
After earning its first win of the season with a shutout of Sacopee Valley and holding its own against Maranacook, eight-man football’s only unbeaten team, Ellsworth/Sumner had plenty of confidence ahead of Friday night’s showdown with Traip Academy. Yet that confidence would mean nothing if the Eagles couldn’t overcome one of their season-long struggles: pass defense.
Led by quarterback Bobby Lane, Traip, one of four contenders in the new eight-man class’s competitive small-school division, has been one of the state’s most pass-heavy teams in 2019. As his team prepared for the Rangers to make the 210-mile trip to Ellsworth from Kittery, Ellsworth/Sumner head coach Duane Crawford anticipated another aerial attack.
“We’ve had issues covering the pass, and we knew coming into the game that they were going to throw it a ton,” Crawford said. “We knew we were going to have to find a way to stop it.”
There were ups and downs, but in the end, Ellsworth/Sumner’s defense made the plays it needed to win. Now, with two weeks of the season remaining, the Eagles can prepare with the knowledge that one more victory will send them to the postseason.
Ellsworth/Sumner defeated Traip Academy 28-14 on Friday to earn a crucial victory in front of a passionate Homecoming and Senior Night crowd. The win was the second in three games for the Eagles, who can clinch a playoff berth with a win in either of their remaining games.
The Eagles got off to an inauspicious start to the game as Traip recovered a perfectly executed onside kick to get the ball in Ellsworth/Sumner territory. Yet after the Eagles (2-4) forced the Rangers to punt on fourth-and-31, senior Connor Crawford sprinted 53 yards to the end zone to put the home team ahead 6-0 with 8 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Ellsworth/Sumner went up 14-0 with 4:27 left in the half on a 3-yard touchdown run from Crawford, but Traip (3-3) cut it to 14-8 with 1:43 left on a 21-yard touchdown pass. The Rangers got another chance in the dying seconds of the half after the Eagles turned the ball over on downs, but Ellsworth/Sumner maintained the lead as a desperation pass attempt went out of bounds.
Although Traip began the second half in good field position, the Eagles turned the momentum back in their favor as J’Von James took an interception to the Rangers’ 34-yard line with a 54-yard return. Traip then committed a facemask on third-and-long to give Ellsworth/Sumner an automatic first down, and the Eagles capitalized as Crawford scored his third touchdown of the night on 12-yard run.
“It feels like yesterday that I was on this field for my first game ever, and for it to already be Senior Night and probably my last game here, it’s crazy,” Crawford said. “I wanted to go out with a bang and play as hard as I could.”
Traip responded with a touchdown late in the third quarter to make the score 22-14 and threatened to tie it in the fourth with a drive into Ellsworth/Sumner territory. Yet Adam Inman got the ball back for the home team with a diving interception on the 19-yard line, and the Eagles provided the final touchdown several plays later as Jack Sandone scored on a 52-yard run.
The touchdown was the second of the year for Sandone, who had previously taken a kickoff return to the end zone in the Eagles’ 50-44 loss to Gray-New Gloucester on Sept. 13. Sandone had zero football experience whatsoever coming into the season, but after James persuaded him to come out for the team, the senior has become a key player on both sides of the ball.
“I’ve always wanted to play football, and J’Von convinced me that I should go out and do it this year,” Sandone said. “It gets easier every practice, and I’m always learning new things. I love it.”
Crawford led Ellsworth/Sumner with 247 rushing yards on 29 carries, and Sandone added 78 yards on 12 carries. Crawford (five solo tackles) and Noah Hughes (one tackle for loss, one sack and three solo tackles) put forth strong defensive performances for the Eagles, who held Traip to nine completions on 34 pass attempts in the win.
Ellsworth/Sumner’s key defensive plays came as Traip appeared to be building momentum following its offensive success late in the first half. Wanting to put more pressure on Lane, Crawford made a halftime adjustment that worked wonders.
“We put Connor on the edge and put Jack over the middle to rush the passer, and we also put Noah back when there was no one on his side,” Crawford said. “Connor gives us a little bit better coverage, and Jack is quick enough to get up the middle. That’s where a lot of our success came from.”
Ellsworth/Sumner will be on the road against Yarmouth (3-3) at 6 p.m. next Friday, Oct. 18. The two teams opened the season against one another Sept. 6 with Yarmouth winning 20-14.
With a win next week against Yarmouth or the following week against Gray-New Gloucester, Ellsworth/Sumner would mathematically clinch a spot in the eight-man playoffs. The Eagles were competitive in their aforementioned losses to Yarmouth and Gray-New Gloucester, and with a healthy team this time, their sights are set on stretching the season into November.
“Those early games were great games, and we had a couple people banged up in both of them,” Connor Crawford said. “Both [upcoming] games are going to be really tough games, but we’re ready to get focused and prepare ourselves to win.”
Bucksport completes late comeback; Bapst shuts out MDI
Senior Night provided a dramatic finish at Bucksport High School on Friday as the Golden Bucks completed a fourth-quarter comeback to top Oak Hill 21-14.
Oak Hill (3-3) led the game 7-0 at halftime and took a 14-0 lead early in the fourth quarter on a Gavin Rawstron touchdown run. Yet the Golden Bucks fought back with three Jaxon Gross touchdown runs in the final eight minutes to snatch the victory and improve to 6-0.
Elsewhere Friday, MDI (1-5) fell to its fifth consecutive loss with a 21-0 defeat to John Bapst (4-2) at Husson University. Baylor Landsman had 95 passing yards for the Trojans in the loss.
Bucksport will have a bye next week in advance of its Week 8 road showdown against Foxcroft. MDI will host Oceanside (3-3) at 7 p.m. next Friday.