Dave Morris is not one to dwell on different degrees of defeat.
For the veteran Bangor High School football and baseball coach, a loss is a result used in great part to identify areas of needed improvement in order to maximize his team’s potential.
That philosophy has served the Rams’ baseball program well, with Bangor winning five Class A state championships under Morris’ watch between 2014 and 2018 and returning to the final last spring before falling to South Portland 3-2 on a last-inning run.
Morris has applied a similar approach since becoming the school’s head football coach in 2018, guiding a program that had gone 3-23 over the previous three seasons to steady improvement from 1-8 in his first season to 4-6 in 2019 and a 3-0 start this fall after a signature 37-36 victory at Scarborough on Sept. 17 despite missing 21 players due to COVID-19.
But last Saturday night’s 84-13 loss at undefeated Thornton Academy of Saco offered a reminder not only to Bangor but the rest of the Class A football world of the current divide between mere contender’s status and the very top of the standings.
“I can only speak for our situation, but in our situation there were a lot of different factors,” said Morris of the defeat. “No. 1, Thornton Academy is a very good football program. “They’re well-coached, they have very good football players and all the credit goes to them.”
Bangor is not alone among teams that have suffered at least one high-scoring defeat early in the season after last year was limited to non-tackle play due to COVID-19.
Of 37 games scheduled statewide last weekend, six were canceled while 15 others were decided by at least 30 points — including six by 40 points or more and four by 50-plus points.
Morris somewhat likens the challenge faced by many football teams this fall to what he experienced while coaching baseball last spring after that sport’s 2020 season was wiped out due to COVID-19’s arrival.
“When you look at baseball games last spring, it wasn’t necessarily high scores but in terms of fundamentals and how people were playing the game and how people were getting used to practicing, It took a while to get acclimated,” he said.
“When you miss a year of a sport it’s difficult.”
The tradition of Thornton Academy’s program under current coach Kevin Kezal looks to have overcome the year off. The Golden Trojans are now 74-11 since the start of the 2012 season when they won the first of their four state titles in the last eight seasons.
In its four victories this fall entering its Week 5 test at its closest rival, 2019 Class A state champion Bonny Eagle of Standish, Thornton Academy has outscored its opponents 204-37. That includes a 33-17 Week 2 victory over fellow dynasty Marshwood of South Berwick, which has won five of the last six Class B state championships.
Much of the Golden Trojans’ offense against Bangor came from big plays, including two kickoff returns and one punt return for touchdowns and at least four other scoring plays of more than 20 yards each.
The reunited Bangor team practiced together Saturday morning for the first time since nearly half of its roster began its COVID-19 quarantine leading up to the Scarborough game.
Then came the 3-hour bus ride to Hill Stadium in Saco.
“In our situation we definitely felt like we got beat by a better football team, and some of the factors we couldn’t control was that we had guys out for 10 days and weren’t able to practice and [then] we had to practice that day so it was a long day for kids,” Morris said.
“We know we did not go out and put our best foot forward for a lot of different reasons, some within the game and within our control and some obviously outside the game and outside our control. That’s how we’re viewing it, and we’re moving on.”
Bangor is poised to continue its quest for the program’s first winning season since 2014 on Friday night in what it hopes is its debut at the newly modernized Cameron Stadium.
Bangor is scheduled to host 0-4 Class B South entry Deering of Portland for a 7:30 p.m. opening kickoff. If decent weather prevails the final touches on the new eight-lane track that surrounds the new artificial turf, multipurpose field will be completed and the facility will be ready for use later this week.
“There have been a lot of people behind the scenes that have worked really hard to get us on this field,” Morris said. “It’s kind of like painting your house. You work really hard and you can’t wait to see the end result to enjoy it.”