Bucksport’s Jaxon Gross carries the ball during the first half of a high school football game against Freeport on Oct. 8 at Bucksport High School. Bucksport fell to a 26-7 loss to Freeport as the visiting Falcons pulled away in the second half to hand the Golden Bucks their third defeat in the past four games. RICK MCHALE PHOTO

Freeport pulls away from Bucksport football team in 2nd half

BUCKSPORT — The Bucksport football team has found life in the overhauled Class D to be anything but easy.

After years in the Little Ten Conference, Bucksport, a longtime football power, is in a much different environment in 2021. With the new nine-team class consisting primarily of high-caliber southern Maine opponents, the Golden Bucks are up against a schedule that’s left little margin for error.

“It’s been very challenging,” Bucksport head coach Joel Sankey said. “We told these kids, ‘Every week, you’re going to have an opponent that’s very, very good.’ It’s a learning experience for us as coaches, and it’s a learning experience for them as players.”

The latest of those learning experiences came as Bucksport marked the midway point of its 2021 schedule. Although the Golden Bucks had their moments, the evening was largely one of growing pains for what is still a relatively young group.

Bucksport fell to a 26-7 defeat in Friday night’s game against Freeport at Bucksport High School. The loss was the third in four games for the Golden Bucks, who were locked in a scoreless game at halftime before falling behind by three scores in the third quarter.

Although both teams moved the ball semi-efficiently early in the game, neither could muster up anything in the way of first-half points. The closest either team came to scoring in the first 24 minutes came when Freeport (4-1) missed a 26-yard field goal with two minutes left in the second quarter.

Bucksport’s Josh Miller makes a tackle during the second half of a high school football game against Freeport on Oct. 8 at Bucksport High School. The Golden Bucks (1-3) will be back in action next Friday, Oct. 15, when they host Madison (0-4) at 7 p.m. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

Freeport would fumble in the red zone on the opening drive of the second half, but a sack and two stuffed run plays gave the Falcons the ball back in good field position as Bucksport (1-3) was forced to punt from its own 2-yard line. Freeport capitalized with 7:43 left in the third quarter as Jordan Knighton sprinted 29 yards to the end zone to put the visitors up 7-0.

In a span of four minutes, that 7-0 Freeport lead would balloon to 20-0. Knighton scored again with just over six minutes left in the quarter after the Falcons forced Ayden Maguire into an interception, and the junior running back added a third three minutes later after the visitors drove 50 yards for a score following a Bucksport muff on the ensuing kickoff.

“We had a heck of a first half, but we had those few minutes there in the second half where those mistakes haunted us,” Sankey said. “We’re young and inexperienced, and we played well, but they’re a good football team, and they took advantage when we made those mistakes.”

Bucksport got on the board late in the third quarter when Josh Miller scored from 2 yards out to give the Golden Bucks a flicker of hope entering the final period. Yet Freeport kept Bucksport from cutting into the lead any further and added the final score of the night with 4:23 remaining before forcing a turnover on downs and kneeling out the clock.

The game kicked off at 6 p.m. rather than 7 in order to accommodate Freeport, which made the 220-mile, four-and-a-half-hour round trip from Cumberland County. Despite suiting up just 18 players following a short week of practice stemming from COVID-19 quarantines, the Falcons prevailed behind a reliable run game and a defense that stifled Bucksport’s potent rushing and passing attacks.

“Coming in here, I thought this was going to be a 50-50 battle,” Freeport head coach Paul St. Pierre said. “I think [Bucksport is] a really good team, and we match up well. We got them this time, but we’re probably going to see them next month. They’ll make adjustments; they have film on us now.”

Bucksport will be back at home next Friday, Oct. 15, when it hosts Madison (0-4) at 7 p.m. That will be the final home game of the season for the Golden Bucks, who will travel to face reigning Class D champion Lisbon in Week 8 and undefeated Foxcroft in Week 9.

Getting wins out of the three remaining contests will be crucial for a Bucksport team still aiming for postseason success. To do so, the Golden Bucks, who have a roster comprised largely of freshmen and sophomores outside of their top skill-position players, will have to grow up fast.

“Most of the players we have on our team, the last time they played a ball game before this year was in seventh or eighth grade,” Sankey said. “That makes a huge difference, and the competition level we have this year is tough and isn’t going to be getting any easier.”

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at [email protected]

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