Ricky Gibson’s dream came true last Friday night — and so did that of his teammates — when Maranacook defeated Traip Academy of Kittery 13-6 in a Campbell Conference Class C football season opener at Readfield.
That win came in the first home contest under the lights at Maranacook — a movement sparked by Gibson’s inspirational seven-month battle against an inoperable brain tumor that ended with his death in April.
Gibson was diagnosed with the tumor last fall. When contacted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Black Bears’ sophomore wide receiver and defensive back said his wish was to bring Friday night football to his school by having lights and permanent bleachers installed at Maranacook’s football field.
Make-A-Wish made an initial $6,000 donation toward that effort, and what followed was an outpouring of fundraising support from the high school community and interested groups and individuals from throughout the state and beyond that led to the realization of Gibson’s wish.
Gibson turned on the lights for the first time at the newly named Ricky Gibson Field of Dreams last December, and the anticipation of playing a game under those lights had built up among his teammates ever since then.
The lights finally were turned on for varsity competition Friday night, and Maranacook — playing its first game in Western Maine Class C after being reclassified from Eastern B — fought through the emotion of the evening as well as an early 6-0 deficit for a come-from-behind victory.
“It went really well. We had some problems with penalties because the kids were too hyped up,” said first-year Maranacook head coach Joe Emery, whose players are wearing helmet decals in Gibson’s honor this season.
“It was a real emotional evening for the kids. They’ve been looking forward to having the chance to play under the lights all summer, and they were on Cloud 9 for the whole game.”
Several hundred fans turned out for the contest, “the biggest crowd I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said Emery, now in his seventh season of coaching in the Maranacook football program.
Some work remains to be completed at the refurbished facility. Installation of the permanent bleachers should be finished this week, Emery said, while plans also call for the construction of a press box.
A formal dedication ceremony for the Ricky Gibson Field of Dreams is scheduled in conjunction with Maranacook’s homecoming game against Winthrop on Oct. 2.
Emery is hopeful the atmosphere of Friday night football and the shift from Class B to Class C will combine to help rejuvenate a struggling Maranacook program.
“It’s a level playing field now,” said Emery, who is fielding a 38-player roster, up from 25 at the end of the 2008 season. “We can win on desire and heart now, because the numbers are more even.”
Youth football in the area has thrived in recent years, but Emery said with the lack of success at the varsity level players have started to drop out of the program in junior high and then pursued other interests at an accelerated level once they reached high school.
“We really need to get some more wins,” said Emery, who played his high school football at Mt. Blue of Farmington. “There are so many kids who need to believe in something bigger than themselves, and football is a great way for them to do that.”
Rams’ opener gets passing grade
The Bangor football team displayed a solid running game Saturday in its season-opening 41-12 victory over Skowhegan at Cameron Stadium, no real surprise since the Rams returned a 1,000-yard rusher in senior tailback Lonnie Hackett.
But what may bode well for coach Mark Hackett’s club in a long-term sense was the team’s offensive balance against the Indians.
While Bangor rushed for 171 yards, it also gained 122 yards through the air — and stopping that aerial game may prove to be a tall order for the Rams’ future opponents.
Not only does junior quarterback Joe Seccareccia stand 6-foot-6, but two of his three top receivers also boast considerable height, with senior split end Nate Henigan at 6-3 and junior flanker Josiah Hartley at 6-4 to complement 5-10 senior speedster Ethan Vance.
“[Henigan and Hartley] both play basketball, they’re 6-3 or 6-4, so you’ve got to use that as much as you can,” said Seccareccia. “I feel a lot more comfortable in the pocket, and I can see them running passing routes, so I’ve just got to put the ball where they’re going to be so they can run to it. It’s a lot easier when you have receivers who not only are taller but can jump, too.”
Seccareccia completed 9 of 14 passes for 122 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He completed six of his last seven passes in the game, including a 13-yard TD pass to Henigan in the third quarter and a 30-yard scoring strike to Vance in the fourth quarter.
“We were a little conservative, but we can throw the ball, and it helps that Joe’s 6-6 and can see over the defense,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett, whose team visits 0-1 Mount Ararat of Topsham on Friday night. “And those guys all can catch the ball and they can run deep.”
Seccareccia also benefited from solid pass protection, as he was not sacked during the game by the defending Eastern Maine Class A champions.
“Skowhegan was sending a lot of people and the line picked them up well enough,” said Hackett. “It wasn’t perfect, but I’m proud of them on both sides of the line.”
Indians’ Bradley back at practice
Taylor Bradley, a junior running back and linebacker for the Skowhegan football team who was injured in Saturday’s Class A season opener at Bangor, was back at practice on Monday, according to Indians’ coach Mike Marston.
“He’s doing great,” said Marston. “He might even play next weekend.”
Bradley, who rushed for a team-high 84 yards on 20 carries, was taken from Cameron Stadium by ambulance late in the fourth quarter after suffering a neck injury, and the game then was ended by mutual consent with 2:37 left to play.
“He had complained about his neck, and you certainly don’t want to mess around with any neck injuries,” said Marston, who described the decision to take Bradley to the hospital as precautionary.
Skowhegan, which returned only two offensive starters this season, is back in action Friday night in its home opener against 1-0 Brunswick.
Knuckle sidelines Lynx QB
Mattanawcook Academy senior quarterback Josh Pelkey won’t be in the starting lineup on offense for Friday night’s LTC Class C football game against Stearns of Millinocket.
Pelkey broke a knuckle at the base of the pinkie finger of his right hand after hitting the helmet of a Foxcroft Academy defender while making a throw during the second quarter of last weekend’s season-opening 28-7 loss to the Ponies at Curry Field in Lincoln.
According to MA coach Dave Hainer, Pelkey was scheduled to see a doctor about his hand on Tuesday.
Originally, it was feared Pelkey might have to have his hand in a cast for four to six weeks, rendering him unlikely to play quarterback for the rest of the regular season. But Hainer said it’s possible Pelkey will require a cast for just 10 days, and if the healing process goes well he could return as the Lynx’ starting quarterback midway through the season.
“We’re a little bit more optimistic now than we were at first,” said Hainer.
Hainer said Pelkey could return to the lineup on defense “perhaps as soon as this weekend.”