Dave Hainer’s cell phone was ringing nonstop as he and the Mattanawcook Academy football team headed back home to Lincoln late Friday evening.
Some were calls of congratulations after Hainer earned his first win as the Lynx’s head coach with a 14-12 victory over defending Class C state champion Foxcroft Academy.
But more were calls of thanks for this year’s team doing something many of its predecessors didn’t do — knock off the rival Ponies.
“Our kids just wanted it,” said Hainer, whose team ended an eight-game losing streak against Foxcroft. “These kids haven’t beaten Foxcroft in their years, and they just witnessed a great senior class that we had graduate without beating Foxcroft, and they just wanted it.”
Not only did MA edge Foxcroft, the Lynx ended the Ponies’ 39-game home winning streak at Oakes Field, a streak that had spanned nearly seven years since Bucksport had won at Foxcroft 24-14 on Oct. 5, 2001.
“It’s only the first game, but just to beat Foxcroft, just to get over that hurdle, is important for our kids,” said Hainer. “They’ve always been the team that has beaten us no matter how well we’ve played, no matter how many times we’ve gone over there with that big, physical offensive line that we’ve had in the past.
“They’ve always been that one extra point or one field goal or one touchdown better than us. It’s always been close and they’ve always been slightly better. For us to find a way to win that close one is just great for our kids.”
Mattanawcook persevered thanks largely to a resilient defense that gave up ground grudgingly and did not allow the big play.
“We stayed home and didn’t allow all their counters and misdirection to work against us,” said Hainer, an assistant coach at MA for five years — the last three as defensive coordinator — before being named to replace the retired Art Greenlaw as head coach last spring.
Foxcroft running backs Wade Witham and Ian Champeon combined for 193 rushing yards, but neither was able to reach the end zone.
“They eventually went to a power-I with a lineman and Witham in front of Champeon,” said Hainer. “That’s how they got their yardage against us. You’re going to give up yardage when they go straight ahead, but the key is you can’t let them go all the way down the field, and we were able to do that.
“They were able to go straight ahead against us, but we really limited their big plays.”
Linebackers Nate Ireland, Josh Murchison and Robbie Perry led the defensive charge against the run, while safeties Josh Pelkey and Derek Gardner helped limit the Ponies’ passing attack.
Foxcroft’s defense also was solid, in particular taking away MA’s biggest offensive threat in two-time 1,000-yard rusher Brady Vose.
So the Lynx went elsewhere for offense and found just enough, as Pelkey passed 25 yards to Gardner for one score and fullback Greg Hand scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 10-yard run.
Vose did rush for the two-point conversion on Gardner’s touchdown that ultimately produced the margin of victory.
“It tells me that we’ve got some weapons,” said Hainer of the balanced attack. “Greg Hand is our fullback because he’s a great lead blocker and loves to crush people. It’s the same with Josh Murchison, they’re both great blockers at fullback. But Hand has the speed of a halfback, so we were able to get him outside, and that was a huge weapon for us.”
Hainer also credited special teams with helping to win the battle of field position.
“I thought we did a great job in our punt game,” he said. “Our punter, Kyle Epp, kicked one deep over their heads and another one toward the sideline, and we limited their returns and they’ve had big returns against us in the past.”
Mattanawcook hosts local rival Stearns of Millinocket on Friday, and Hainer hopes his team will build on its opening-week effort, not be satisfied with it.
“Despite this win I don’t think we’re the dominant team that’s going to be beating people 60-0,” he said. “But I think it gives our kids the sense that if we play well, we can play with anybody, not necessarily beat everybody but play with anybody in this league and know that we can be in every game if we play up to our potential.”