Mount Desert Island’s Alex Gray looks to gain separation from Ellsworth’s Noah Hughes during the first half of a 6-on-6 high school football game Oct. 29 in Bar Harbor. MDI closed out the modified fall season last week with games against Ellsworth on back-to-back days. ISLANDER PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

MDI beats Ellsworth in 6-on-6 football clashes

The MDI sidelines react after a big play during the second half of a 6-on-6 high school football game against Ellsworth on Oct. 29 in Bar Harbor. The Trojans will now hold out hope for a season in either the late winter or early spring.

BAR HARBOR — All across America, high school football in 2020 has been in a constant state of flux. Few programs anywhere know that better than Mount Desert Island and Ellsworth

Even before the world as we know it changed, the current year was set to be a new experience for both MDI and its cross-county rival. For the Trojans, the new year marked a crucial offseason for a team making the transition to eight; for the Eagles, the first several months were spent finding a replacement for longtime head coach Duane Crawford.

Then, of course, came the loss of valuable workout and practice time and the delay of contact football until 2021. Even once the modified fall season began, the teams were limited to few game opportunities and forced to deal with additional postponements.

“It’s been a real challenge,” MDI head coach Mark Arnold said. “We’re young and adjusting to something new, and we’ve missed out on all that practice and playing time that’s been invaluable.”

Fortunately, the non-contact season has provided teams throughout the state with at least a little flexibility. Even if that season has been short and less than ideal, two late-October nights provided both MDI and Ellsworth with opportunities to play the game — and do it their way.

MDI battled Ellsworth twice last week with 6-on-6 contests played on consecutive nights at both high schools. The Trojans came away with wins in both matchups, which were tweaked from the 7-on-7 games that have been played throughout the state this fall.

Last Wednesday, MDI won the first of the two battles with a 46-26 triumph over Ellsworth at Ellsworth High School. The game was only the second of the year for the Trojans, who fell to a 44-7 loss to Bucksport in their Oct. 23 opener, and the first of the year for the Eagles, who had both prior games postponed.

MDI’s Hunter Heath runs after the catch during the first half of a 6-on-6 high school football game against Ellsworth on Oct. 29 in Bar Harbor. 

MDI trailed 26-18 at halftime in the game but scored the game’s final four touchdowns in the second half while keeping the Eagles off the scoreboard. Overall, the Trojans got three touchdown passes from Spencer Laurendeau (to Alex Fernald, Hunter Gray and Hunter Heath), two touchdown passes from Baylor Landsman (to Grady Wellman-Webster and Wilder Noyes) and two Fernald interception-return touchdowns.

The first of the back-to-back games saw the two teams play flag football in the first half and touch football in the second. The teams also agreed to play a 6-on-6 contest on a field shortened to 40 yards in width, a format that both coaches agreed was a better fit for eight-man teams, and one they would play again the following night.

“With both of us doing eight-man football, that was a bit better for us in terms of getting our teams prepared,” Arnold said. “You have the same number of guys dropping into zones as in eight-man football. … The even number just provides a better balance for you.”

On Thursday, MDI (2-1) used a stout defensive performance and a second-half offensive breakthrough to defeat Ellsworth (0-2) 28-0 in Bar Harbor.

The Trojans got a touchdown pass from Laurendeau in the first half and three touchdown tosses from Landsman in the second.

Both Arnold and Ellsworth head coach Svec are proponents of run-heavy, smashmouth football. Although the transition from the traditional game to non-contact, pass-only football this fall doesn’t exactly lend itself to that style of play, the two teams have still showed fondness for the alternative form of the sport.

“I’m a power-running guy who likes to take the ball and run it behind big linemen, and I know [Coach Arnold] is, too, but this stuff is fun,” Svec said. “We’re both surprised at how much we’re enjoying it as coaches, and the kids are as well, without question.”

The shortened, modified season, even if enjoyable, has been no substitute what players and coaches thought they would be getting when 2020 began. It didn’t, though, stop the Trojans and Eagles from practicing and competing in ways that both teams can use as building blocks whenever the next football season comes.

“We have a long time between now and then, and we won’t predict exactly what will happen, but this was still a chance to learn and go through things together as a team,” Arnold said. “It’s important for us to get back in the weight room starting next week and prepare for whatever’s next.”

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at [email protected]

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