DOVER-FOXCROFT — A team ravaged by key injuries even before its regular season began now may be in position to experience life in football’s second season after all.
The Foxcroft Academy Ponies enter the final weekend of regular-season play likely just one victory away from advancing to the Class C North playoffs.
With last Friday’s 48-8 win over Belfast at Oakes Field, coach Danny White’s club became one of four teams in the division with a 3-4 record.
Foxcroft currently is tied for the sixth and final playoff position with 3-4 Oceanside of Rockland, just seven Crabtree points behind fourth-place Belfast (3-4) and less than four points behind fifth-ranked Madison-Carrabec, also 3-4.
And with Belfast at Oceanside this Friday night, one of those teams will finish 3-5, which means that if Foxcroft can defeat 1-6 John Bapst at Husson University in Bangor on Friday night the Ponies could find themselves perhaps surprisingly qualifying for postseason play.
“It’s been so long since Foxcroft hasn’t made the playoffs, I would hate to have that happen this year,” said senior running back and defensive end Brandon Brock, one of the team’s captains.
Brock paced a big-play offense against Belfast that produced all of its touchdowns on gains of 15 yards or longer. He finished with a team-high 145 yards and a touchdown on just eight rushes behind the line play of tackles Connor Holmes and Tanner Strout, guards James Smith and Reggie Johnson and center Michael Pendriss.
“Our line really stepped up,” said Brock. “We have a young line with sophomores starting, but they definitely stepped up and provided the holes for the running backs to hit and we did our best.”
Foxcroft generated 378 yards of total offense behind Brock and sophomore quarterback Nick Clawson — who emerged with the job after star senior Hunter Smith was lost for the season with a dislocated hip suffered during an exhibition game.
Clawson rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Richard to give the Ponies a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Teammate Evan Chadbourne’s lone rushing attempt went for 69 yards and a touchdown later in the period as Foxcroft built a 20-8 halftime advantage. Zach Caron and David Salley each added a 15-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter.
The Ponies also had a balanced defensive effort, with Billy Brock, Caron, Salley and Tanner Strout each in on at least 10 tackles.
Billy Brock — a junior playing with a cast on one hand due to a preseason injury that fully sidelined him for Foxcroft’s first two games and has left him unable to play offense throughout the fall — also contributed a 29-yard interception return for a second-quarter touchdown as well as one of the Ponies’ three quarterback sacks.
“This just speaks tremendous volumes to the character of these kids, to stick it out, to believe in what they’re doing and what we’re coaching them to do, and to trust in each other as teammates,” said Foxcroft coach Danny White. “Tonight finally things came together.
“We caught some breaks, but we made the plays. It was great to see us execute on offense and do a shutdown job on defense. I told the kids in the postgame huddle that everything just fell in place tonight, so let’s enjoy it.”
Foxcroft has won three of its last five games since dropping its first two games in the aftermath of the preseason injuries, and it was the Ponies’ performance during a loss at undefeated Old Town that confirmed to White that his young team was headed in the right direction.
“We really felt after the Old Town game that we could play with the top teams in the league,” he said. “There’s been so much positive energy. They’ve been tested as much or more than anybody else with the adversity they’ve faced, but they’ve stuck with it and shown up at practice every day and continued to work to get better.”
One element of that persistence has been the presence of Hunter Smith at every practice despite his injury. Smith, a Division I college football prospect, was expected to be one of the state’s top players this fall after accepting a bid to participate as a wide receiver at the Blue-Grey North-South All-American Bowl in on Jan. 9, 2016, in Tampa, Florida.
Instead, he has been allowing his hip to heal — Smith was walking without crutches on the sideline at the Belfast game — and providing guidance to the younger Ponies.
“Hunter’s definitely there, he’s pushing everybody,” said Brandon Brock. “He can’t play but he’s doing his part as a captain. He’s inspiring people to play a lot harder and he’s teaching his younger brother (Hyatt) how to step up and play. I think that’s really a great thing for him to do. He’s contributing a lot even though he’s injured.”
The Dexter football team also is in position to earn a playoff berth with one week left in the LTC Class D North regular season.
The Tigers are 3-4 after a 41-20 loss to undefeated Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield last weekend but are ranked tied for fifth with 3-4 Bucksport in the Crabtree points, 12 points ahead of the next eligible team, 3-4 Houlton.
Dexter visits 4-3 Ellsworth/Sumner to close out its regular season on Friday night, while Bucksport hosts 7-0 MCI and Houlton is at 1-6 Stearns of Millinocket.