BANGOR, Maine — The motto of the Calais High School boys basketball team is emblazoned on the back of their warmup shirts.
“Hard hats and boots. All out. All game. All season.”
Now, the Blue Devils can add: “All the way to a state championship.”
Calais demonstrated grit, cohesiveness and balance, overcoming foul trouble to two senior starters to post a 57-43 victory over Dirigo of Dixfield in Saturday night’s Class C boys state title game at the Cross Insurance Center.
Senior guard Nathan Newell spearheaded the Blue Devils’ defense and their multifaceted offense with 16 points and six rebounds as Calais took home its first gold ball since 2009.
“They trust each other,” said first-year head coach Chris Woodside, who pointed to the group’s collective heart and determination.
“I’ve never seen a group of guys that absolutely loves each other as much as these guys do. It’s not a team, it’s a family,” he added.
Senior Tyler Niles registered 10 points and 10 rebounds and classmate Kyle Johnson tossed in 10 points for Calais (20-2), while sophomore Travon Rhodes posted eight points and seven rebounds. Speedy guard Andre Paul finished with six points, four rebounds and four blocked shots while freshmen Zach Lola and Matt Perkins provided valuable minutes off the bench.
Prior to the season, Johnson, Niles, Newell and Paul talked about going all the way.
“We sat down and said that anything less than this would be not a failure but a big disappointment, because we knew we could get it,” Johnson said while clutching the gold ball.
The loss snapped a 14-game winning streak for Western Maine champion Dirigo (19-3), which received a 20-point, nine-rebound performance from junior guard Riley Robinson. Gavin Hebert scored nine points, while Clay Swett added eight points and seven rebounds and Gavin Arsenault tallied six points and five rebounds.
“They’re a good defense. We missed a lot of shots,” said coach Travis Magnusson, whose squad was 18-for-55 from the field (33 percent), including 3-for-17 from long distance.
“I’m really proud of our kids. They fought hard,” he added.
Calais held Dirigo to its lowest output of the season with its tenacious man-to-man defense. Woodside said running the Cougars’ shooters off the 3-point line was a point of emphasis.
The Blue Devils’ aggressive approach did pose some problems.
Niles sat out five minutes in the first half after picking up his second foul, then Johnson fouled out with 5:06 to play in the game. The versatile guard trio of Newell, Paul and Lola, along with Rhodes inside, made sure they did not lose any momentum.
“What you see about our team is guys came in and stepped up,” Woodside said. “No one worried when we lost one of our guys, we just came out and kept playing.”
Calais started to make its move late in the second quarter, outscoring Dirigo 12-3 during the last four minutes to take a 25-20 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Johnson and Newell drilled 3-pointers 31 seconds apart to extend the advantage to 33-22. Johnson then buried another 3 at the end of the quarter to make it a 14-point game.
Calais shot 42 percent (10-for-24) in the second half and went 6-for-12 on 3-pointers in the game.
“We all know how to score, but we play as a team more,” Newell said. “We have a great chemistry.”
The Blue Devils spread the floor in the fourth quarter but Dirigo made a push as Swett scored six points amidst an 8-0 run that sliced the deficit to 46-37 with 4:58 to play.
However, Calais rattled off eight unanswered points, including five by Niles, to end the suspense.
The back-breaker came when Paul hustled out near midcourt to save a ball inbounds and fired it all the way into the lane to a waiting Niles.
“We never give up. We work hard the whole game,” Paul said.