BANGOR, Maine — The stakes were minor compared to most of their previous recent meetings on the football field.
Yet Lawrence of Fairfield and Bangor — suddenly in different classes this season after battling for Eastern Maine Class A supremacy for the better part of the last decade — still had no trouble finding a source of motivation as they met in a preseason contest at Husson University on Friday night.
“Our kids really like to be challenged, and certainly Bangor gives us a challenge every single year we play them,” said said Lawrence coach John Hersom after his Bulldogs secured a hard-fought 13-6 victory. “Having played Bangor early in the season a few times when we played them on the regular schedule kind of helped us get through the double sessions because they knew Bangor’s right around the corner and they had to work and get ready for them.
“So we kind of used that as a little bit of motivation for our preseason, to be honest with you, that we really wanted to strive to get better each day so we knew we could come up here with confidence and have a good night of execution.”
Both teams will begin regular-season play next weekend fielding among their least experienced rosters in several years.
Lawrence has just eight seniors back after graduating 22 from last fall’s Eastern Maine A championship squad.
But one of those veterans is senior running back Ethan Powers, the focal point of the Bulldogs’ offense against Bangor with 150 rushing yards on 29 carries — including a late 9-yard touchdown run that provided Lawrence its margin of victory.
“The strength of our offense right now is to be able to control the football and have our line executing and getting our single returning varsity running back, Ethan Powers, as many carries as we can and keep moving those chains,” said Hersom, whose team finished the night with 232 rushing yards on 48 attempts.
Lawrence’s other touchdown came on a 55-yard pop pass over the middle from senior quarterback James Leathers to sophomore tight end Seth Powers that gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead through the third quarter.
Leathers, who split time behind center with junior Cody Martin, completed 3 of 7 passes for 78 yards.
“It was a little frustrating at times, but I think overall we were pleased,” said Hersom, whose team, now in Eastern B with the expansion of the state’s high school football ranks this fall, opens its season against Gardiner at Keyes Field in Fairfield next Friday night.
“We’re really happy we had some different scenarios during the course of the game where we had to battle and persevere, and I think our kids handled those situations pretty well.”
Bangor was solid defensively, yielding just the one big pass play while getting pass interceptions from Dane Johnson and Xavier Lewis and a fumble recovery by Alex Welch after a ball-stripping play by teammate Jake Fournier.
“We’ve got a young line and I think against a very tough, old-fashioned program I was not unhappy with the defensive line,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett. “They didn’t gash us up and down the field like they’ve done in other years.”
But the Rams struggled at times to generate offense, save for a 22-yard touchdown pass from Lewis to Logan Lanham in the opening minute of the fourth quarter — a play set up by a Lewis interception that he returned to near midfield.
Bangor twice gained possession via turnovers in Lawrence territory during the first quarter but each time was held scoreless, the first time on a third-down sack of Lewis by tackle Ryan Gagne and the second time when defensive end Kyle McLain came up big on a fourth-and-1 stop.
Lewis, back in a Bangor uniform for his senior year after playing last season at Lawrence, managed 59 yards rushing and passing in addition to his interception on defense and several big plays in kick coverage.
“We’ve got to find ways to have X’s hands on the ball facing the line of scrimmage because he’s the best player we have,” said Hackett.
Bangor opens its Class A schedule September 7 in a 7 p.m. start against Edward Little of Auburn, also at Husson.
“It was about what we thought it would be,” said Hackett of his team’s final preseason tuneup. “We’d liked to have won the game, we played to win.
“There’s a lot of stuff to build on, but we’ve got to get going. We’ve got to get a little more zip to us.”