ORONO — Brendan Graves couldn’t believe it when he first learned he would be playing at Alfond Stadium.
No stage in the Pine Tree State is bigger for football players than the University of Maine’s home stadium, the state’s largest at a capacity of 10,000. So when the Mount Desert Island junior learned that his team’s Week 3 game against Orono would be moved to Alfond, it took a little while for the news to set in.
“Honestly, I kind of thought it was a joke at first,” Graves said. “I was so pumped. You dream of coming here and getting to play in a place like this.”
With UMaine typically host to just one or two high school football games a year, chances to play under the state’s biggest, brightest lights are rare for the state’s boys of fall. The Trojans, then, were determined to mark the occasion with a historic win — and did so in emphatic fashion.
MDI rolled to a 60-20 win over Orono in Friday night’s game at UMaine’s Alfond Stadium. The victory gave the Trojans their first win in eight-man play as the team put forth the program’s highest scoring output in six years to win the first high school game played on the stadium’s brand-new turf.
MDI took the lead after just 48 seconds as Aiden Grant scored on a 12-yard touchdown run to put the visitors ahead 6-0. After forcing a fumble later in the first quarter, the Trojans (1-1) doubled their advantage after a conversion on fourth-and-9 from the Orono 20 set up an 8-yard scamper from quarterback Spencer Laurendeau inside the period’s final minute.
Orono (0-3) answered with an eight-minute drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 4:43 left in the half. The Trojans, who gave up three fourth-down conversions on the Red Riots’ scoring drive, responded with a vengeance as Laurendeau ran for a 49-yard score less than a minute later and then tossed a 20-yard touchdown to A.J. Lozano with 1:16 remaining.
“When they [came back after our second touchdown and scored], that was fuel to our fire,” Laurendeau said. “That was too close for comfort for us. We knew that was unacceptable and that we had to come back out there and add some more, and we did.”
Leading 28-6 at the break, MDI maintained its momentum with a score just nine seconds into the second half. That touchdown, the fifth of the night for the Trojans, came as Laurendeau followed an Orono muff on the second-half kickoff with a 25-yard run to the end zone that put MDI ahead 36-6.
“Anytime you can start the second half by getting the ball right back, that’s pretty big,” MDI head coach Mark Arnold said. “We had gotten off to a bit of a slow start, so at halftime, we told our players that we wanted to see better execution in the second half. That was a big play for us that really kept the momentum going.”
MDI took a 52-13 lead into the fourth quarter as a 75-yard punt-return score by Jacob Shields and a 75-yard kickoff-return score by Alex Gray bookended an Orono touchdown pass. The Trojans then got their final points of the night with 4:12 remaining on yet another 75-yard touchdown, a long run by Graves down the right sideline.
MDI’s three-touchdown third quarter came as the Trojans ran just one offensive play in the entire period. Thanks to the team’s solid play on special teams and a key stop on defense setting up Shields’ punt-return score, MDI was able to put the game in running time while giving its offense a breather.
“That’s the kind of stuff you like to hear,” Graves said when informed of MDI’s third-quarter effort. “That’s the kind of stuff that you fear when you hear our stats. To know we can come together as a team and do something like that, it feels really good.”
Laurendeau carried the ball nine times for 153 yards for MDI and threw for 40 yards on his two pass attempts. The Trojans, who ran for 310 yards on the evening, also got 81 yards on seven carries from Graves and 71 yards on five carries from Grant in the win.
The game was originally scheduled to take place at Orono High School. But with renovations to Orono’s football field and press box making that venue unavailable for the last two weeks of September, the Trojans were presented with a unique opportunity to claim their first eight-man win on a special stage.
“We wanted this, and to do it on this field, that’s some next-level stuff,” said Laurendeau, whose team’s 60 points were MDI’s most in a game since a 62-6 win over Hermon on Sept. 25, 2015. “I grew up watching UMaine play here, so getting that chance to play here and getting the dub, like Brendan said, it’s a dream.”
Although Arnold had known since the first week of practices that the game would be played at UMaine, he kept it under wraps until MDI was beginning preparations for its scheduled Week 2 game against Morse. Despite some frustrations following the last-minute cancellation of that Morse game, the opportunity ahead of them had the Trojans rejuvenated and focused upon the team’s return to practice Monday.
“Everything right now is day to day, so I didn’t want to jinx it by telling them way ahead of time and then having it not work out,” Arnold said. “We talked earlier in the week about this being a game where we could get everyone on the field at some point, and we were able to do that. It’s a memory that our kids will always carry with them.”
MDI’s next game will be on the road against Stearns/Schenck (1-2) at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24. The game will be the second against Stearns/Schenck this year for the Trojans, who fell to the Minutemen 48-42 when the teams met Sept. 4 in Bar Harbor.