ELLSWORTH — Long after everyone else had left the stadium, the Ellsworth/Sumner Eagles weren’t about to stop savoring a special moment.
Fans of the Ellsworth/Sumner football team and the visiting Houlton Shiretowners had flocked to the parking lot to begin their journeys home, but the Eagles’ players and coaches weren’t going anywhere. As the team gathered in the south end zone at Harold “Tug” White Stadium, everyone wanted to keep celebrating a breakthrough triumph.
Javon Williams and Connor Crawford hollered as they brushed shoulder pads and high-fived. Junior Charlie Hughes, sweat dripping down his face, took off his helmet and raised his arms toward the night sky as he jumped on Crawford’s back. Before long, the players’ head coach was there to join them.
“That was fun, wasn’t it?” Duane Crawford yelled to Hughes and Williams as the three shared a hug. “Let’s do that again!”
On a night that saw the Ellsworth/Sumner football team earn its first win of the season, that exuberance told the whole story. After losing tight games to start the year, battling roster attrition and dealing with numerous injuries, the Eagles fought back from a second-half deficit against visiting Houlton to deliver a 28-14 victory on Homecoming Friday.
“We might be going up against teams that have twice as many players as us because we have 23 guys, but our boys don’t quit,” Williams said. “All that hard work we’ve put in and the conditioning we’ve done in the offseason, it paid off for us tonight and gave us a win that’s going to boost our confidence.”
Ellsworth/Sumner didn’t get a first down on its first drive, but the Eagles’ bend-but-don’t-break defense kept Houlton off the scoreboard on the ensuing possession. After getting the ball back, Connor Crawford took the snap under center and ran 94 yards to the end zone to put the Eagles ahead 6-0 as time expired in the first quarter.
“I saw a bit of a lane, and I cut back and started running as hard as I could,” Crawford said. “They had a guy coming after me who I thought was going to get me, but I kicked it into full gear from there and just kept sprinting.”
Houlton, though, had a response. The Shiretowners immediately set off on a drive that lasted over nine minutes and had three conversions on third or fourth down. With 2 minutes, 44 seconds left in the half, Seth Holston plowed his way into the end zone to tie the game at 6.
Neither team scored for the remainder of the first half, but a 55-yard run by Houlton on the first play of the second set up a touchdown run and 2-point conversion that put the Shiretowners ahead 14-6. Three possessions later, Ellsworth/Sumner tied the game after Crawford ran the ball in from a yard out and threw a pass to Williams for the 2-point conversion.
From there, the Eagles (1-3) seized the momentum — and caught the break they needed in the process.
After Ellsworth/Sumner stopped Houlton (2-2) on the next drive, a bad snap by the Shiretowners on the ensuing punt gave the Eagles the ball deep in the red zone. Two plays later, Charlie Hughes scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to put Ellsworth/Sumner ahead 20-14 with 12 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
“We took advantage of their mistakes and made plays when we needed them,” Duane Crawford said. “It was a total team effort, and as a coach, I really couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Following another Houlton punt, Ellsworth/Sumner made the visitors pay once again. Midway through the fourth quarter, Connor Crawford spun past a defender and dove over the goal line for an 8-yard score. The ensuing 2-point try put the home team up 28-14, and an interception with a minute left allowed the Eagles to run out the clock.
Crawford totaled 163 yards on 15 carries for Ellsworth/Sumner’s offense, and Hughes recorded 58 yards on nine carries. Andrew Brown and Malcolm Svec both had four solo tackles and nine assisted tackles on defense, and the former provided the game-ending interception for the Eagles.
In addition to giving the team its first win of the season, the game had yet another piece of significance for Ellsworth/Sumner. The team is now in fifth place in Class D North, and when it faces Winthrop/Monmouth (1-3) on the road at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29, it will enter the game occupying a playoff spot for the first time after being ineligible the past five years.
For the moment, though, it wasn’t time to look ahead. When the scoreboard in the northeast corner of the stadium turned off after the team’s postgame pep talk, a familiar face at Ellsworth High School voiced his objection.
“Turn it back on!” the voice yelled. It was longtime teacher and head wrestling coach J.F. Burns, who wanted a picture of his team with the winning score in the background. And with two teams Houlton shut out by a combined margin of 50-0 left on Ellsworth/Sumner’s schedule, the Eagles have an opportunity to make Burns take a few more scoreboard photos before season’s end.
“We can build on this,” Williams said. “When you haven’t won yet, the games seem longer and start to get you down. We don’t have to worry about that now. We finally have that win and know we can make some noise.”