MDI enjoys gradual rise to success in PTC ‘B’

Posted Nov. 06, 2008, at 9:19 p.m.

It was a little more than three years ago, Sept. 16, 2005, when this space was devoted to the fact the Mount Desert Island football team had won its first two games of the season.

Not a big deal in the grand scheme of sports, except when considering the Trojans had gone 4-31 in the previous four seasons — including a winless 2004 campaign when they were outscored 386-34.

Truth be told, that column was written at that time in order to recognize the team’s modest success before it was too late — and, indeed, five straight losses followed.

Now comes the time to address the Trojans again, and the fact this sequel is coming in November rather than September speaks volumes about how far this program has come.

For November games are reserved for the surviving few, and for this year, at least, MDI is firmly ensconced in those ranks.

Coach Mark Shields’ club finished the 2008 regular season with a 6-1 record believed to be the best in school history, or at least since the early 1950s.

The Trojans followed that with the program’s first playoff victory since 1992 and just the second since the school was formed in the mid-1960s, a 28-27 home-field survival of Waterville in a Pine Tree Conference Class B quarterfinal.

“We’d gone 5-3 the last two years and been in the playoffs,” said Shields, “and I think the kids have started to figure out what it takes to win big ballgames.”

Last weekend’s win certainly didn’t come without considerable angst, as MDI scored late in the game to take the lead, only to have Waterville draw within one point on a long touchdown pass with 0.1 seconds to play.

That’s 0.1 seconds — just long enough to leave a team that hadn’t experienced any post-season success in a generation to wonder if the gods were against them.

Turns out they weren’t. Waterville went for the two-point conversion and the win rather than an extra-point kick that would have forced overtime, and MDI’s Terrence Jones batted down a pass near the goal line to preserve the victory.

“We’ve had a few games like that this season,” said Shields. “We were down at Oak Hill, they probably should have beaten us, but we were able to battle back in the fourth quarter, and we were down against Belfast in the last game of the year, but we were able to make some plays late in the game.

“But one thing these kids don’t do is panic. They don’t press, they just keep playing hard.”

MDI features a strong senior class with considerable experience led by Jones, Odane Gaynor, Camden Fernald, Tyler Crawford and Nolan Hall and another top playmaker in junior Jasper Cousins.

“We’ve got some kids who all they need is a step and they’re gone,” said Shields, “We’ve also got a pretty good line. We’re not that big, but they all play hard.”

And that hard work, from the youth level of the Acadia Football League through the varsity ranks, is being rewarded.

MDI will seek to extend its season for yet another week tonight, at home in an Eastern Maine Class B semifinal against defending state champion Gardiner.

Win or lose, just having the chance to measure themselves against such a perennial power in postseason play represents an arrival of sorts among the competitive elite for the Trojans.

It also represents the possibilities for any struggling high school football program in Maine — that a solid feeder program, stable leadership and perseverance can pay off.

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