BANGOR, Maine — Each practice or game spent on a football field yields tons of lessons to be learned, particularly for the more inexperienced high school team.
For the Bangor Rams, Saturday night’s 14-13 survival of Edward Little of Auburn in their Class A season opener at Husson University provided both a lesson and a victory — albeit by the slightest of margins.
While there was little statistical separation between the teams, the Rams’ energy level in the final minutes helped enable coach Mark Hackett’s club to breathe a collective sigh of relief as it left the artificial turf at the Winkin Complex.
“In the past few years we’ve had these little ‘48’ stickers on our helmets that reminded us to play 48 minutes every game because in the last three or four years as a program sometimes we’ve gone away in the second half,” said Bangor senior lineman Brendan Moore. “But tonight we literally played down to the last play.”
Edward Little matched the Rams in offensive production — Bangor finished with a 210-206 edge in total yardage while EL had a 12-11 advantage in first downs — but three turnovers by the Red Eddies and the vagaries of the extra-point play ultimately proved decisive.
“We’re a good defensive team, but we gave up a couple of opportunities to a really good team, we missed an extra point that cost us the game, and that’s the game of football,” said Edward Little coach Dave Sterling. “But we’re a young group of guys that really believes in ourselves now, and we’ll build from here.”
Bangor broke a scoreless deadlock on a 26-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Xavier Lewis to Ozzie Degnan with 5:16 left in the first half, a play that required an over-the-shoulder grab by the senior wide receiver.
“Ozzie had a spectacular catch on that, over the shoulder with contact,” said Lewis of the timing pattern. “He helped me out on that one, for sure.”
Lewis successfully kicked the extra point, but Edward Little was called for offsides on the play, advancing the ball to the 1½-yard line and prompting Bangor to go for two — which it got on an Alex Welch rush to extend its lead to 8-0.
That additional extra point proved pivotal in this one-point game.
“The (officials) apologized to me because it was supposed to be a dead ball, and I hate to take the point off the board but whenever there’s a penalty on an extra point we always go for (two) because we think it’s easier to get a yard and a half than it is to snap it, hold it and kick it, and it tends to work,” said Hackett. “That was huge.”
Edward Little pulled within 8-7 just before halftime on a 25-yard keeper by quarterback Ian Mileikis (87 rushing yards, 70 passing yards).
Bangor took the second-half kickoff and marched 64 yards in 10 plays, with Welch scoring on a 2-yard run to give the Rams a 14-7 lead after Mileikis blocked Lewis’ extra-point kick.
EL responded with a 16-play march of its own, capped off when senior running back Johnny Boyd (15 carries, 49 yards) used second effort to score from the 2 on the second play of the fourth quarter.
But EL’s extra-point kick went wide right, leaving Bangor with a 14-13 lead it nursed the rest of the way.
The Red Eddies were due to get the ball back with decent field position and just under five minutes remaining but mishandled a punt return for the second time in the contest.
Bangor’s Logan Lanham recovered at the EL 35, enabling the Rams to power the ball inside the 10 behind the blocking of junior fullback Langston Hamer-Nagle and run the clock down to its final 8.7 seconds before turning the ball over on a fourth-down fumble.
Mileikis then was sacked by Bangor defensive end Nick Ashey on the game’s final play.
Welch finished with 77 yards on 15 rushing attempts for Bangor while Lanham added 43 yards on 14 punishing second-half carries. Lewis completed 4 of 6 passes for 69 yards.
“The longer the game went on we realized we needed to play the whole time,” said Lanham. “We’re starting to realize that 48 minutes does mean something. We have to play the entire game and can’t take any minutes off.”