Josiah Richard was a golfer during the first two years of his athletic career at Foxcroft Academy, and never played football save for the occasional backyard pickup game.
But the Ponies’ tradition on the gridiron — reaching the Class C state final during his freshman year in 2006, then winning it all a year later — convinced Richard to try something new.
“I switched to football just last year, and I switched because I wanted that state championship and knew Foxcroft was all about football,” said Richard, a wide receiver and defensive back.
“After watching them my sophomore year I decided I wanted a state championship, and when it didn’t happen last year I definitely was looking for it this year. That was my goal.”
Foxcroft is now just one game away from realizing Richard’s goal, and the home-schooled senior from Charleston has played a major role in making that happen.
Richard leads coach Danny White’s club in receiving with 39 receptions for 648 yards and eight touchdowns.
He’s had 12 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns during postseason play, including a 34-yard scoring strike from senior quarterback Ryan Stroud during the second quarter of last Saturday’s LTC championship game that provided the winning points as Foxcroft edged 2008 state champion John Bapst of Bangor 14-13.
On defense, he led the LTC with seven interceptions during the regular season, then added his eighth pickoff during Foxcroft’s 28-8 victory over Stearns of Millinocket in the regional semifinals.
Richard also is the Ponies’ placekicker, making 48 of 56 extra-point kicks and all three of his field-goal tries this fall.
Yet he is just one of several playmakers who will lead Foxcroft into its sixth state final in the last eight years when the Ponies face Western Maine Class C champion Dirigo of Dixfield in a battle of 11-0 teams scheduled for 2:30 p.m. at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
Stroud has completed 84 of 160 passes for 1,487 yards with 28 touchdowns and just eight interceptions – and set an LTC record with 20 touchdown passes during the regular season.
Senior halfback Ian Champeon, one of the key veterans back from the Ponies’ 2007 state championship run, has gained 1,001 yards on 130 carries this season, with 15 rushing touchdowns among his 24 touchdowns overall.
Wingback Chase Hutchinson and fullbacks Dylan Andrews and Cody Coiley add to the running game, while senior wideout Robbie Harmon adds speed to the passing game.
Linebackers Champeon and Andrews are the team’s leading tacklers for a defense that has generated more than 40 turnovers in its first 11 games.
Dirigo, which last fielded a championship team in 1975, boasts a similarly diversified offense led by senior quarterback Nic Crutchfield and tailback Spencer Ross.
The Cougars also get major offensive contributions from tailback Bryan Blackman, fullback Tyler Chiasson, 6-foot-3 wideout Alex Miele and tight end Kyle Hutchinson.
Chaisson and Hutchinson lead the Dirigo defensive front, while Mason Cote, Jake Dowland and Arik Fenstermacher are among the Cougars’ leading tacklers at linebacker while and Miele and Ross anchor the secondary.
“I see a lot of similarities between the two teams,” said Dirigo coach Doug Gilbert. “The quarterbacks are both above average, they have a good runner in Champeon, and the lines aren’t that big but they’re quick.
“Both teams are 11-0, it should be a very, very good game.”
While Dirigo is attempting to end a generation-long championship drought – which includes a decade without even fielding a team after the school dropped the sport in 1990 – Foxcroft is seeking its fifth state crown overall, and fourth in the last 14 years.
That frequency in the championship spotlight fosters high expectations for the Ponies every year, and 2009 is no exception.
“This is not that much of a surprise to me, because since fourth grade our class has only lost one, maybe two games,” said Foxcroft senior tackler Brad Dow. “The majority of us have been playing together since then, and we’ve been looking forward to the state championship game this season ever since I was in fourth grade.
“I remember coming to the FA games when I was younger and seeing those guys and thinking ‘wow, those guys are awesome,’ it seemed almost like a professional level. Now that it’s here for us, it seems almost surreal at times.”