LINCOLN, Maine — A new era in Foxcroft Academy football began inauspiciously, with Mattanawcook Academy scoring on its first possession in their season opener against the Ponies on Friday night.
But Foxcroft rebounded in impressive fashion, forcing four MA turnovers and scoring 28 unanswered points to defeat the Lynx 28-7 in an LTC battle at Curry Field.
The win was the first for new Foxcroft head coach Danny White, who replaced Paul Withee after 19 seasons.
“What we said going back all the way to before we started was that we needed to find an identity, we needed to find ourselves and who we are, and it’s really tough to do that until you actually compete against someone else,” said the 24-year-old White, a former three-sport standout at Foxcroft.
“I told the guys tonight we find out who we are, we form an identity for ourselves, and I really, truly feel like it happened. We responded in a tough situation. They came right down and scored on us, but then we made the plays we needed to play.”
Senior quarterback Ryan Stroud led the Foxcroft offense, completing 7 of 15 passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns, as well as scoring twice on 3-yard runs.
Classmate Ian Champeon caught touchdown passes of 34 and 13 yards, and finished the night with 66 receiving yards, 39 rushing yards and a big defensive effort from his linebacker slot.
Stroud, Josiah Richard and Robbie Harmon each had an interception for the Ponies, who limited MA quarterbacks Josh Pelkey — who left the game with an injured throwing hand in the second quarter — and Ethan White to a combined 6 of 18 for 43 yards.
“We were playing in a three-deep zone, so basically we had the field split into three parts and if they crossed our face we jumped on it,” said Stroud. “We executed on a couple of their missed throws and got some interceptions.”
For Champeon, there also was redemption in defeating the Lynx on their home field after MA had ended Foxcroft’s 39-game, eight-year home winning streak last fall.
“After last year when they came to our place and kind of ruined our entire season, we’ve had that sour taste in our mouth ever since,” said Champeon.
“I’m just so proud of everybody on this team that we came up here tonight and performed like we did.”
While Foxcroft’s offense did not commit a turnover, the Ponies converted three takeaways directly into touchdowns with drives of 34, 52 and 12 yards.
“You can’t lose the turnover battle and expect to win a game, especially when the opponent is as good as you are,” said Mattanawcook coach Dave Hainer, whose team took a 7-0 lead on a 7-yard pass from Pelkey to Derek Gardner with 4:24 left in the opening quarter. “I don’t know that they’re better than us, but they’re as good and when you’ve got two evenly matched teams turnovers are going to make the difference.”
The most important of those drives came after the Ponies stripped MA punt returner Ethan White of the ball and Chase Hutchinson recovered at the Lynx 34 late in the first quarter.
Stroud scored on a 3-yard run five plays later, and Richard added the first of his four extra-point kicks to forge a 7-7 tie.
MA drove inside the Foxcroft 20 late in the second quarter, but Richard intercepted a Pelkey pass over the middle at the 5. His 43-yard return set up a 34-yard pass down the left sideline from Stroud to Champeon that gave the Ponies a 14-7 lead at the break.
Pelkey’s absence after intermission limited MA’s spread offense, and Foxcroft was able to put the game away with a pair of fourth-quarter scores.
Stroud hit 4 of 5 passes for 45 yards on the first drive, including three completions for 32 yards to Richard, before throwing a low, 13-yard strike to Champeon on a crossing pattern to the end zone to extend Foxcroft’s lead to 21-7 with 9:18 to play.
Harmon intercepted a White pass and returned it 44 yards to the MA 12 with 2:48 left. On fourth-and-1 from the 3, Stroud rolled left into the end zone to cap off a satisfying comeback.
“We got started a little slow,” said Stroud, “but once we got turnovers and got a little momentum in our favor, our crowd got behind us and we just kept flying from there.”