Sep. 30—OK, here is the annual "I can't believe we're already halfway through the season, but it feels like the season only just started" comment. I don't know about you, but I feel like it really does happen every year, and it's not just me. An eight-game (nine games for some divisions) regular season just flies by, and once it starts it's in high gear. So now that we're past that reality check, let's talk about some of the biggest surprises in our area. Is it that Telstar is undefeated and having maybe its best season ever? Is it that Oxford Hills beat one of the Class A big boys? Is it that Gray-New Gloucester had never won a homecoming game before?
I have to be honest, when I talked to Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren during the Lobster Bowl this summer and he told me that last year was going to be the Vikings' year, I didn't know how much I believed him. I know coaches talk up their teams, and I also knew that Bonny Eagle and Thornton were also in Class A. Now I think that this might be the Vikings' year, as well, after their huge win over the Scots last weekend. What a big win.
In eight-man football, Telstar is so tough. The Rebels had some penalties and some turnovers, but they pick each other up and they made enough big plays to put away a pesky Maranacook team to win their fourth straight game. And the players think this team is much different from the 2019 squad that won three consecutive games early in the season then lost the remainder of its games.
I also think Gray-New Gloucester's win on Friday night in the pouring rain was awesome to watch. The team had a full bleacher section cheering it on, and after a tough first half the Patriots turned it on in the second for a commanding win.
For everyone outside of Oxford Hills, the Vikings' win over Bonny Eagle seemed like a statement, but it also seemed like one they have been ready to make for a few years. I would imagine that those within the program would say the win wasn't a surprise, though they're probably relieved they proved their potential.
Having been part of the Gray-NG program and following it ever since, I'm not totally surprised they hadn't ever won on homecoming, but I'm happy for this year's team and it's nice to see the fan support.
I also saw the Patriots lose to Telstar two years ago when the Rebels started making a statement in eight-man football. Still, I'd have to say Telstar's stellar start is the biggest surprise to me. The Rebels often get (unintentionally) overlooked, with Bethel being an outpost of our Lewiston central office, and the football program's history hasn't been ripe with success. Add to that a year off, which included graduating the Rebels' star quarterback from the 2019 team, and they were a question mark heading into this season. But what a statement the Rebels have made so far, and they're a team we can't ignore now.
Should I have been surprised? Should I keep on buying in?
I would buy stock in this year's Telstar squad. The Rebels have a lot of juniors and seniors who have played together for a while, they are led by a soon-to-be-Marine in Andrew Leighton on both sides of the ball and they hold each other accountable. They're tough, score enough and can win messy games, as evidenced by Saturday's victory.
I am interested to see how Mountain Valley, Spruce Mountain and Dirigo continue their eight-man seasons, including a big showdown between the Cougars and Falcons on Friday night. It seems like they're all finding their stride a bit in eight-man and could be playoff contenders for a round or two, maybe more.
Our area eight-man programs are becoming as much-see as our remaining 11-man teams. And it's nice to see that trifecta start finding success after they all were in some decline in 11-man football in recent years. Now they're playing catch-up to the momentum that Telstar has found in the ever-growing eight-man ranks.