BAR HARBOR — They came, they saw, they wallowed in mud.
By a score that doesn’t hint at how hard the Mount Desert Island High School football team actually fought, the Foxcroft Academy Ponies beat the Trojans under the lights Friday by a score of 43-6.
Amidst a cold, intermittent rain on a field that received more than three inches of precipitation over the previous two days, the two teams slugged it out, mostly grinding it for short yardage plays on the ground.
They’ll meet again in a quarterfinal playoff this weekend.
“I was disappointed that we didn’t get the victory,” MDI Head Coach Mark Shields said. “But we’re excited to get to the playoffs and have another shot.”
The Ponies, now 6 and 2, and in third place in the Class C Crabtree standings, won the coin toss and elected to receive. MDI’s Isaiah Keene kicked off, with the Foxcroft receiver taking the ball at his own 35-yard line and dancing it back seven yards to the 42.
Ponies quarterback Hunter Smith, who would be Dover Foxcroft’s most prolific star on both sides of the ball on the night, swept left on first-and-ten, slipped on the mud and was tackled for a one-yard loss. Foxcroft pounded it up the middle for short yardage on the next two downs and decided to go for it on fourth-and-3. Smith took it down the middle himself for a first.
Two first downs later, the Ponies found themselves with first-and-goal on the MDI six-yard line. Foxcroft’s running back fumbled on the next play, but the ball was recovered by the Ponies with a loss of only two yards. An encroachment penalty against the Trojans put the ball on the MDI 4. Smith was able to take it in for the score with 7:24 left to play in the first quarter.
The MDI defense dropped Foxcroft’s Peter Boyer in the backfield during the two-point conversion attempt, leaving the score at 6-0.
On MDI’s first series, the Trojans went backwards, finding themselves in a second-and-20 situation after being called for holding. The series ended with MDI punting from its own end zone.
Despite fumbling once on the next series, Foxcroft was able to score another touchdown with around 3 minutes to go in the quarter. The two-point conversion was good, nudging the score to 14-0.
MDI began to see some success partway into the second quarter. MDI defensive back Chris Farnsworth tipped a pass spiking a major Foxcroft gain in the air. Trojan running backs Sandy Henggeler and Taner Bickford began racking up gains on the ground for a couple of first downs but couldn’t reach the red zone.
It wasn’t until MDI’s Colby Candage recovered a Foxcroft fumble that the momentum began to swing. Henggeler went into the end zone on the ground from two yards out to pick up six with 4:57 left to go in the half. With the score 14-6, Candage was stopped just short of getting in for the two-point conversion.
Despite some heads-up defense by MDI, including Brandon Davies’ dropping of Boyer in the backfield for a four-yard loss, the Ponies continued to advance. They scored another touchdown with 3:04 left. Smith scampered in himself for two more putting the score at 22-6 at the half.
An already thin crowd melted away as the rain picked up during the break.
In the third period, Boyer went in for another six. The point-after kick was good for a score of 29-6.
A 47-yard kickoff return by Boyer was called back when a Ponies’ player was penalized for an illegal block in the back. The third quarter ended with the score still 29-6.
MDI hopes were buoyed early in the fourth when Evan Jeannotte dove onto a loose ball to gain possession. But the Trojans were stymied again, eventually punting it away. With 7:57 left in the game, Foxcroft got into MDI’s end zone again and with the extra-point kick, pushed the margin higher to 36-6.
Despite several herculean efforts by Candage to power through the Ponies’ line, MDI’s recovery of a Foxcroft fumble and numerous penalty calls against the Ponies, the Trojans were unable to convert repeated short-ground gains into points. A pass from Trojan quarterback Andrew Phelps to Keene was intercepted by Smith playing on defense.
With less than a minute to go, Foxcroft special teams player Chris Storer slipped and slid his way between mud-covered defenders as he headed downfield on a 66-yard kickoff return for the final touchdown with less than a minute left. The point-after attempt was good, sealing the final score at 43-6.
MDI ended the regular season with a 3 and 5 record. It is ranked number seven in the Class C Eastern division.
According to Shields, the Trojans plan to reshuffle the offense for the rematch.
“We might have to mix it up a little bit with the lineup,” he said. “We want to run the football on offense. That’s what we do; and tackle a little better on defense.”
MDI is set to take on the Ponies again, this time in the quarterfinal playoff game, on Saturday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m. in Dover-Foxcroft.
Reporter Liz Graves contributed to this story.