WALES, Maine — Oak Hill’s special teams didn’t waste any time in Saturday’s Campbell Conference opener letting two-time defending Class C champion Yarmouth know what it thought of its 24-game winning streak.
Then the Raiders’ punishing offense and defense drove the point home. Repeatedly.
Joel Wells’ 79-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the game stunned the Clippers. An early turnover put them on the mat and the Raiders’ physical offensive and defensive lines never let them back up, pulling away in the second half for a stunning 33-7 victory.
“The kickoff return got us pumped up,” said sophomore fullback Kyle Flaherty, who rushed for 52 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. “We knew how much this game meant to our seniors, so we just played our hearts out.”
Oak Hill’s senior-laden offensive line of Mike Saunders, Caleb Provost, Brian Daniels and Richard Fillion, joined by juniors Bayley Beaulieu and tight end Luke Washburn, wore down Yarmouth’s defense.
“It finally paid off, all of this hard work for the past four years,” said Daniels, whose team had lost four in a row to Yarmouth, including two playoff games. “It was just hard work, honestly. Every day, working hard, 110 percent, not giving up.”
Longtime Lisbon assistant coach Stacen Doucette, making his head coaching debut for Oak Hill, substituted freely on the warm, cloudless day. Six different Raiders ran for a combined 298 yards behind that veteran offensive line, led by Flaherty, Alex Mace (17 carries, 83 yards, TD) and QB Parker Asselin (10 carries, 49 yards, TD).
“We thought we’d be able to come out and be physical right from the beginning,” Doucette said. “We do have some good skill players and we felt that we could put them in situations to be successful.”
Success was just one cut away on the opening kickoff for the speedy Wells, who ran virtually untouched to pay dirt.
“That’s the first kickoff returned against us in three years,” said Yarmouth coach Chris Pingatore, who was also making his head coaching debut. “Those hurt. And then the fumble down deep hurt and that really changes the momentum of the game.”
Cody Collingwood set up the fumble with a 56-yard punt that pinned Yarmouth back to its own 3 to start its second offensive series. Chris Harlow stripped Matthew Woodbury and Collingwood recovered at the 8. Mace went four yards apiece on the next two plays and added the two-point run to give the Raiders a 14-0 lead little more than four minutes into the contest.
“We kind of found our kicking game at the beginning of this week,” said Doucette. “Cody’s been getting better every week. We found out he could kick off pretty well, too. We feel that’s a weapon in the field position game.”
Collingwood forced a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, but Yarmouth answered on its next play from scrimmage with an 80-yard TD run by Matt Klepinger to make it 14-7.
“We’ve got a bunch of kids who haven’t lost since the sixth grade, so having their backs against the wall is something a little bit different for them,” Pingatore said. “They responded at times. We’ve got a young team. They’re still learning out there. I think defensively, we made Oak Hill work. Offensively, they certainly made us work.”
Led by the defensive front of Harlow, Provost, Washburn, Saunders, Collingwood and Donnie Vannah, the Raiders limited Yarmouth to just one first down in the first half and only 33 net yards over the second and third quarters.
The defense’s stinginess and Collingwood’s punting gave the offense excellent field position throughout the first half. The Raiders only had to drive 49 yards for their third score, a 15-yard waggle pass from Asselin to the 6-foot-3-inch Washburn that gave them a 21-7 lead to take into halftime.
“It was wide open. Nobody was around me,” Asselin said. “I just tossed it to Luke. He’s a huge target.”
Asselin’s one-yard sneak made it 27-7 early in the fourth. Wells picked off a pass and returned it 74 yards just shy of the end zone to set up the game’s final score, a two-yard run by Flaherty.
Following the game, the players presented Doucette with the game ball, then christened his first victory with a Gatorade shower.
“It’s completely different than last year,” said Collingwood. “The coaches are bringing new ideas, new skills … They’re taking the team up to our potential.”