2016-10-03 / Sports

Mt. Ararat football falls on late FG


Kennebunk’s Jake Littlefield is tackled by Mt. Ararat defenders Saturday. 
The Times Record Kennebunk’s Jake Littlefield is tackled by Mt. Ararat defenders Saturday. The Times Record TOPSHAM — It pays to have a good high school kicker.

The Mt. Ararat High School football team found that out the hard way on Saturday afternoon against Kennebunk, where a late field goal by Jared Dyer erased an improbable second-half comeback and left the Eagles crushed. For a while, it looked as if the eventual 24-21 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference setback might have been coach O’Neil LaPlante’s first signature win at the helm.

“I wanted to win it, and so did the kids,” LaPlante said. “We have to keep on growing. But, that means when you grow physically, you also have to grow mentally. Our biggest challenge right now is up here – it’s not here, we’ve got the heart. Physically we’re there, but we need to have that emotional stability, that emotional clarity that keeps us from committing penalties. We committed a lot of penalties this game.”

Kennebunk’s Brian Hickey carries the ball on Saturday. 
The Times Record Kennebunk’s Brian Hickey carries the ball on Saturday. The Times Record None of Mt. Ararat’s (2-3) 11 penalties were more costly than the last one. With the ball at midfield and overtime looming, Kennebunk (5-0) ran its second hook-and-ladder play of the game to get the offense within striking distance for one last heave into the end zone. But, a 15-yard penalty pushed the ball to the 14-yard line and more importantly, into Dyer’s range.

With six seconds left, he struck the 31-yarder through the uprights for the win.

“Not an easy field goal at all,” Kennebunk coach Joe Rafferty said. “For a kid to go out there, he was flying solo basically, everybody’s watching, but he did it. He practices hard and it was a great play for him.”

“I was nervous, but it’s stuff I go through every day in warm-ups,” Dyer said. “I was hoping for an opportunity like this.”

Down 14-0 a mere minute into the second half, LaPlante and his staff had some adjustments to make on offense. After four straight punts in the first half and a fifth to start the second, the Eagles dialed up the no-huddle offense and put the ball in the hands of senior quarterback Jacob O’Neil. On just his third completion of the game, O’Neil found junior Ryan Mello on a 42-yard pass play over the middle that brought the offense to the one-yard line. A penalty backed things up, but eventually Ethan Minchin punched it in and got Mt. Ararat on the board.

Then, senior captain Robert Hetherman followed up a defensive stop with a 42-yard sprint down the sideline to get the Eagles back in the red zone. Four plays later, Minchin charged into the end zone again on a gutsy fourth down call. A missed extra point made the score 14-13.

“I think they played great,” Rafferty said of the Eagles. “I thought they had a great game plan. Defensively, they were very physical – we thought they would be, but I think they surprised some of our guys in terms of their level of physicality.”

It took the Rams just three plays to bolster their lead, when a 25-yard run by Patrick Saunders set up a 17-yard hook-and-ladder play into the end zone. Quarterback Tripp Bush slung it out to Zack Sullivan, who pitched to Justin Wiggins on his way to the goal line to make it 21-13.

Though, O’Neil wasn’t finished yet.

A 10-play, 45-yard drive of all passing plays appeared to come to an end on a 4th-down call at the 19, but an inadvertent whistle gave Mt. Ararat one more shot. Flushed out of the pocket, O’Neil scrambled to his left and lofted a ball into the front corner of the end zone, where Mello reeled it in for another 4th-down touchdown. A two-point conversion run tied the game.

“It’s something we’ve practiced all season long,” LaPlante said of the hurry-up offense. “Jacob (O’Neil) had an injury in his left shoulder, but he made some great throws. We had our opportunities – we could have won it. But, this is the fun part of what we’re doing and I’m hoping we can really bring it together.”

O’Neil finished 11-of-23 through the air, with all of his 144 yards coming in the second half. Mello notched five catches for 80 yards, while Jacob Steinman added four for 32. Hetherman led the Eagles on the ground with 101 yards.

Slow start

There was no score in the opening 23 minutes of the first half, but Kennebunk changed that on its final possession of the frame. Two short runs and an incompletion brought up a crucial fourth-down chance at the Mt. Ararat 19-yard line. Lafferty elected to go for it and soon saw Bush frantically running out of the pocket under pressure. Falling back, he heaved it up to an open Dante Delorenzo across the field, who shed a tackle and ran into the end zone.

Before that, the Eagles had sacked Bush once and forced two turnovers-on-downs. Still, the Rams wore down the defense with 8-, 9- and 7-play drives before their touchdown, and committed just two penalties in the first half.

On just the third play of the second, running back Jake Littlefield broke a pair of tackles up front and hauled his way 58 yards down the sideline to the end zone. The junior finished with a 103 yards on 13 carries. Through the air, Bush completed 12 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

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