ELLSWORTH — As the Ellsworth/Sumner football players shook hands with Mattanawcook Academy following Friday night’s home game, the tones from both sides could hardly have been more different.
While the visiting Lynx hooted and hollered as they headed toward the stadium’s north end zone, the Eagles let out sighs of frustration after a season-opening defeat.
Ellsworth/Sumner had just suffered a 58-8 loss to Mattanawcook, and that final score didn’t sit well with the Eagles. They were far from perfect, but a series of mental mistakes — seven turnovers and multiple penalties, for instance — had prevented them from playing the Lynx much closer than they otherwise could have.
Yet head coach Duane Crawford, whose team was all too familiar with blowout losses against Mattanawcook from its meetings with the Lynx in previous seasons, saw that as a positive. As such, he had an encouraging message for his dissatisfied team.
“You know what I saw tonight? I saw a team that’s really close to figuring it out,” Crawford told his players. “Think about how many chances we had. The mistakes I saw and the other coaches saw, those are fixable mistakes. Let’s work on fixing them.”
Although Mattanawcook began the game with a 14-0 lead halfway through the first quarter, that could hardly have been attributed to a poor performance from Ellsworth/Sumner’s defense. In both instances, the Lynx took over deep in Eagles territory after Ellsworth/Sumner turned the ball over to them good field position. They scored touchdowns both times.
Despite those early touchdowns, Ellsworth/Sumner still showed signs of making this contest competitive early on. The Eagles responded to Mattanawcook’s second score with a long touchdown drive, one that ended with a touchdown run from Jacob Shorey and a successful 2-point conversion that made the score 14-8 with 3:58 left in the first quarter.
“Mattanawcook has a good team, and they deserved this win, but I don’t feel like they outmuscled us or beat us up too much,” Crawford said. “It’s disappointing when you beat yourselves in certain areas, but as a coach, you know you can get those things turned around.”
Unfortunately for Ellsworth/Sumner (0-1), the team continued to make the same mistakes throughout the game. Even when it looked as if the Eagles would finally get a second touchdown as they reached the red zone with just over a minute left in the second half, Mattanawcook (1-0) returned an interception 100 yards for a score of its own.
After each of Ellsworth/Sumner’s players and coaches had gathered in the south end zone, senior lineman Keith Jordan spoke up. He wanted the Eagles, who were scheduled to have Monday off for Labor Day, to hold a 5 p.m. practice instead. Other players agreed; this type of loss wasn’t acceptable, and they wanted to rectify the mistakes that made the score look more lopsided than it really was.
“I saw so much improvement tonight compared to what we did last week [in the preseason game] against MDI,” assistant coach Toog McKay told his players. “We’re very close — very close, guys — to taking that next step, and we’re getting better as the season goes on. That’s all you can ask for.”
Ellsworth/Sumner’s next game will be on the road against the Orono Red Riots (1-0) at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9. The Eagles lost to the Red Riots 36-12 last season.
“We’ll see how we improve over the week, but I really think we’re going to be competitive [against Orono],” Crawford said. “It’ll be a big test, but we have to learn from tonight and get ready for it.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated Ellsworth/Sumner’s first opponent last year. The Eagles opened the 2015 season against Orono.