WINSLOW, Maine — Stability has been one of the hallmarks of the Winslow High School football program for generations.
Since 1958, three men — Wally LaFountain, Harold “Tank” Violette and Mike Siviski — have served as the Black Raiders’ head coach, and throughout that span Winslow has consistently contended for state and Eastern Maine championships.
That stability took a hit of sorts two years ago when the Black Raiders not only were reclassified by enrollment down to Class C, but perhaps more shockingly to their collective football psyche were moved to Western Maine.
The switch from Class B to Class C was merely a reflection of the school’s decreasing enrollment — down to 477 as of April 1, 2012 — but Winslow fans and others associated with the school’s football program were less enamored with the shift from their traditional base in Eastern Maine to the West.
Suffice it to say winning has been the best revenge for the 10-1 Black Raiders, who were crowned Western Maine Class C champions after a 17-6 victory over Dirigo of Dixfield last weekend and will face Foxcroft Academy (10-1) for the state title in a 2:36 p.m. opening kickoff from Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium.
The Winslow-Foxcroft game will be the second of three championship games on tap Saturday, a tripleheader that begins at 11:06 a.m. with the Class A game between Lawrence of Fairfield and Thornton Academy of Saco and concludes with the Class B game at 6:06 p.m. between Mt. Blue of Farmington and Marshwood of South Berwick.
Winslow went 6-2 last fall in its Western Maine debut before falling to Lisbon 34-22 in the 2011 regional quarterfinals.
“I thought we’d have a good season this year after a playoff game last season that we threw away in the last quarter,” said Siviski, a Winslow High School graduate and now the Black Raiders’ 28th-year head football coach. “I thought we’d do a good job.”
But even this season started slowly, with 16 players academically ineligible for the the first two games. In its opener, Winslow barely defeated a Poland team that finished 2-6, then dropped a 32-21 decision at home to Dirigo in Week 2.
“The first thing we had to do was a better job in the classroom to be eligible,” said Siviski. “We had 16 kids who were ineligible for the first couple of games, and besides hurting the team, it hurt the program because we had JVs who had to cancel their first two games. The coaches as a group were not happy with the classroom performance.”
The Black Raiders have won nine straight games since then, emerging as a top contender in Week 6 with a 40-14 victory at previously unbeaten Maranacook of Readfield.
“Coming into the season I knew we had a lot of key players back,” said senior tailback and cornerback Joseph Hopkins, the team’s leading rusher this fall with nearly 1,300 yards. “Even last year we had a lot of the pieces but they were separate, and I knew this year they’d fit into place like a big puzzle and they’d start moving as one.
“Against Maranacook everybody, especially the line, started moving as one and opened big holes. That’s the day everybody clicked.”
Top-ranked Winslow has maintained that momentum throughout the postseason, dethroning two-time defending Class C state champion Yarmouth 50-22 in the quarterfinals and edging No. 4 Traip Academy of Kittery 7-0 in the semifinals before avenging its only loss in the regional final.
“It seemed like every team we played got better and better each week but we stepped up every time,” said Winslow senior defensive back Adam Pelletier.
Hopkins has teamed with junior fullback Zach Guptill and sophomore tailback Dylan Hapworth to generate more than 3,000 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns behind sophomore quarterback Bobby Chenard and a veteran line that includes tackle Brock Deschaine and guard Jon Farrell.
The defense includes Justin Martin, a 6-foot-5 sophomore defensive back who had two interceptions last week, one he returned 73 yards for a touchdown.
“On the field we worked really well together and it’s been improving every week,” said Hopkins. “Off the field we’re a great group of friends, we’ve been playing together since midget football, and the chemistry both on and off the field helps us.”
Winslow may be restored to its Eastern Maine roots during the next reclassification cycle that takes effect next fall, but for now it’s not about East or West for the Black Raiders — it’s about winning a gold ball.
“All of us as a group are excited on the inside, we all know what’s in front of us,” said Hopkins. “We know what we need to do to get there and we know what we need to do to win so we’re not all that overly excited. We’re just putting in the work we need to do.”
Western A champion Thornton Academy (10-1) is making its first trip to the state championship game since defeating Lawrence 47-13 in the 1988 Class A final.
The Trojans came close a year ago, losing to Cheverus of Portland in the Western Maine final, then suffered its only loss of the 2012 regular season to Cheverus 28-14 in Week 7.
Coach Kevin Kezal’s club avenged those losses last weekend, defeating Cheverus 20-13 to end the Stags’ Class A state-record 34-game win streak.
Junior halfback Andrew Libby has accounted for eight postseason touchdowns for the Trojans, including three rushing scores in the WM final. He teams with wingback Dylan Morton, quarterback Eric Christensen and tight end Dakota Tarbox to lead a TA offense that has averaged 37.0 points per game during postseason play.
The Western B champion Marshwood Hawks (10-1) will be playing in their first state final since winning it all in Class A in 1989.
Marshwood, which has won state titles in Classes A, B, C and D, advanced from a balanced regional tournament by defeating Cape Elizabeth 27-7 in the quarterfinals before edging defending state champion Wells 15-13 in the semifinals to avenge its only loss and then outlasting York 21-20 in the title game.
Sophomore running back Brett Geary has rushed for more than 100 yards from the Hawks’ wing-T formation in each of their playoff victories, while junior quarterback Cameron Roll rushed for two touchdowns and passed for a third in the WM final.
Marshwood is coached by Alex Rotsko, who came to the school this year after 19 years at Longmeadow (Mass.) High School where he guided that team to a 184-39 record and 11 Western Massachusetts Super Bowl titles. Before that Rotsko was the head coach at American International College in Springfield, Mass., for 10 years.