MDI’s Alex Gray makes a one-handed touchdown catch during the first half of a high school football game against Stearns/Schenck on Sept. 4 in Bar Harbor. MDI will be back at home to face Morse (1-0) at 7 p.m. tomorrow, Sept. 10. PHOTO COURTESY OF PHILLIP NULL

MDI football falls to Stearns/Schenck in thrilling 8-man debut

MDI’s Alex Fernald looks to split the Stearns/Schenck defense during the first half of a high school football game Sept. 4 in Bar Harbor. The game was scheduled last Tuesday after Stearns/Schenck’s original opponent, Mount View, entered quarantine.

BAR HARBOR — The return of regular season football to Mount Desert Island High School didn’t disappoint.

From big plays to constant lead changes to a controversial ending, MDI’s 2021 season opener had it all Saturday afternoon. Although the Trojans weren’t on the winning end this time, if this showdown was any indicator, MDI is in for a fun eight-man debut campaign.

MDI played its first regular season game in 680 days Saturday as it fell to a 48-42 defeat against Stearns/Schenck in Bar Harbor. The game was a shootout throughout with the Minutemen scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 1:16 remaining to prevail in what was the first-ever eight-man contest for both teams.

“That was some exciting football,” MDI head coach Mark Arnold said. “We really did some nice things today against a team that brought 35 kids here. This is really something we can build off of.”

After a 4-yard run from Elliot Shearer with 7:38 left in the first quarter put Stearns/Schenck up 8-0, MDI answered with a 20-yard touchdown run from Aiden Grant with 1:08 left in the period. The Trojans then took a 14-8 lead with 8:08 to go in the half as Alex Gray hauled in a Spencer Laurendeau pass with one hand on fourth-and-goal from the 10.

Stearns/Schenck then tied the game with 4:30 left in the first half on a 1-yard quarterback sneak from Shearer. MDI appeared set to take a 22-14 lead into the break after touchdown and 2-point runs from Laurendeau, but the Trojans instead settled for a 22-20 halftime lead as Caleb Shearer tossed a 7-yard touchdown to Aiden Sanders as the half expired.

MDI scored two touchdowns in the first 6:10 of the second half, first as a Grant fumble recovery in plus territory set up a 30-yard pass from Laurendeau to Brendan Graves and again as Grant scampered 60 yards for his second score. Stearns/Schenck, though, stifled the momentum swing immediately as a 71-yard kick-return score from Sanders cut the Trojans’ lead to 34-28.

“For us, the difference in this game was that kickoff return,” Arnold said. “That was a time when we were up by two touchdowns, and as we tell our guys, those kickoffs can be the big momentum swings. When you’re tired like our guys are, that kind of emotional swing is hard to overcome.”

MDI’s Aiden Grant muscles toward the goal line during the second half of a high school football game against Stearns/Schenck on Sept. 4 in Bar Harbor. Grant ran for 162 yards and three touchdowns for MDI and caught three passes for 51 yards.

Stearns/Schenck took a 36-34 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter before the Trojans pulled ahead 42-36 with 9:50 to play on Grant’s third touchdown run of the evening. The Minutemen answered with the game’s final two scores, the second of which came on a quarterback sneak just moments after officials overruled a 99-yard MDI fumble-return touchdown.

Grant led the way in rushing and receiving for MDI with 162 yards on 20 carries and 51 yards on three receptions. Laurendeau, who replaced injured starting quarterback Alex Fernald early in the contest, rushed for 109 yards and passed for 110 yards.

As recently as Tuesday morning, MDI was preparing for what it thought would be a bye week following Washington Academy’s Aug. 26 announcement that it would be canceling its 2021 season. But after Stearns/Schenck’s original Week 1 opponent, Mount View, was forced to enter quarantine, there was an opening for the two teams to arrange a matchup.

“It’s certainly different because football has methodical preparation with every opponent, but our kids were just excited to play a football game,” Arnold said. “We might not have won this one, but I’m happy because our kids are better right now than when we started this game. They put in a great effort.”

In all, the game featured six lead changes and 13 total touchdowns. The 90 total points were the most in a game involving MDI since the Trojans suffered a 56-41 loss to Gardiner on Sept. 24, 2010.

MDI will have a chance at avenging its loss to Stearns/Schenck when it faces the Minutemen on Sept. 24 in Millinocket. The Trojans must first handle their Week 2 and Week 3 contests starting with a home game against Morse (1-0) at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10.

Morse, like MDI, was involved in a high-scoring game of its own last week as it claimed a 60-46 victory over Mattanawcook Academy in Bath. Such games are becoming the norm in an eight-man format in which smaller on-field personnel free up players to run in space, and Arnold is expecting another when his team battles the Shipbuilders tomorrow.

“That’s the way it’s going to be, especially if teams are willing to throw the ball as well as run it,” Arnold said. “We threw as many times as we’ve thrown in any games of recent, and they also threw it quite a bit. It’s a lot of field to cover for eight guys, so that’s what you tend to see.”

MDI-Orono game moved to UMaine

A week after hosting Morse, MDI will play its first road game of the season in the state’s biggest stadium.

MDI is now set to face Orono at the University of Maine for its Week 3 contest. The game between the Trojans and Red Riots was moved to UMaine’s Alfond Stadium on Friday after Orono High School learned the installations of its new press box and bleachers would be delayed.

“That’s going to be a great experience for our kids,” Arnold said. “It’s really a great experience for any kid in the state of Maine, so it’s great for us to know that we have that coming up after we get ready for Morse.”

MDI’s game against Orono is scheduled for 7 p.m. next Friday, Sept. 17. The game could potentially be pushed back to 7:30 depending on the UMaine football team’s needs.

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]