November 20, 2018
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How Bangor won its first football game since 2015

John Holyoke | BDN
John Holyoke | BDN
New Bangor High School football coach Dave Morris gives instructions to his players during the first day of preseason at the high school practice field in August. The team won its first game of the season.

BANGOR, Maine — Zach Milliken ran a play he had never experienced before in a game as the Bangor High School football team closed out its 14-0 victory over Windham last Friday night.

It was the “victory formation,” as the Rams snapped the ball back to their senior quarterback and Milliken dropped to a knee as time expired and the scoreboard buzzer sounded.

“I thought we’d never hear that,” he said. “That was just the sweetest moment.”

Not only did the play end an 18-game losing streak that dated to the Rams’ 54-21 Class A quarterfinal victory over Edward Little of Auburn in 2015 — as well as avenge a 48-6 loss at Windham last year — it ended a drought that began long before high school for many of Bangor’s most veteran players.

[Bangor football team shuts out Windham to snap 18-game losing streak]

Senior fullback Gabe Higgins, for instance, hadn’t played on the winning side in a game since the sixth grade while for Milliken it was a first, period.

“We didn’t even know how to act,” Higgins said of his team’s postgame response as Cameron Stadium public address announcer Joe Nelson brought the team’s victory song, Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” out of mothballs.

“When we heard that buzzer go off we just screamed and hugged each other. We saw the fans running onto the field and we ran to them, then we shook hands (with the Windham players) and then we saw the scoreboard. We usually face away from it after the game but on Friday night we looked right at it.”

The 1-1 Rams liked what they saw, not only on the scoreboard but on the stat sheet.

Higgins and sophomore halfback James Neel combined for 214 rushing yards and two touchdowns as the Bangor offense controlled the clock. Higgins and another senior linebacker, Lucas Burt, anchored a defense that did not allow Windham to advance past the Rams’ 38-yard line and limited the Eagles to 112 total yards.

“It started Monday during practice,” Higgins said. “We had a really good week of practice and finished it off Thursday really good. We were just ready.”

But as much as the end of any losing streak is about statistical performance, it’s also about the intangibles that foster success in any sport.

Dave Morris knows that better than most, having been a part of Bangor’s current string of five consecutive Class A state championship baseball teams as either an assistant (three) or head coach (two). He also was a three-time state championship head coach in American Legion baseball.

Since being named the Rams’ head football coach last spring, Morris has integrated the returning upperclassmen with talented contingents of freshmen and sophomores in an effort to reboot a program that played in a Class A state final as recently as 2010.

[New Bangor High football coach goes back to basics to end long losing streak]

“There’s a lot of great things inside a lot of these kids and it’s amazing what kids can do when they’re empowered, whether it be through hard work or a win or developing a relationship with their coach. It’s amazing what they can accomplish,” Morris said.

“Friday night obviously solidified a lot of what we’ve been working on and how hard everyone’s been working, how they’re trusting each other and how much they care for one another.”

The Rams face a new challenge come this Friday night, trying to win back-to-back regular-season games for the first time since the team got off to a 4-0 start in 2014.

“We’ve never had a Monday practice after we’ve won,” Higgins said. “It was different, we didn’t know what to expect. It was actually harder today, they really stepped it up and I think this whole week is going to be a step-up.”

Bangor hosts Deering of Portland, which went 1-7 last fall and is 0-2 so far this year with losses to Class A South powers Thornton Academy of Saco and Scarborough by a combined 116-7.

“It’s real easy to win one game and live in those laurels, but I was proud of the fact that they came back to practice Monday with the businesslike attitude, that we’re going to do what we’ve been doing since (summer workouts began on) June 25 and try to be the best team we can be each day,” Morris said.

“These guys realize that winning and losing are part of the game. We definitely want to win, there’s no question, but it’s really a byproduct of how hard we work.”

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