BAR HARBOR — Last fall, one year removed from their second consecutive No. 1 playoff seed and Northern Maine title game, the Mount Desert Island High School football team had their hands full entering 2018 as they had to replace one of their largest and most accomplished senior classes along with a legendary head coach. With a tough schedule that included four straight contests against the top teams in the Big 11 Conference, MDI lost five of its first six games.
Then, in a Week 7 game against John Bapst, things clicked for the Trojans with the offense bulldozing the Crusaders on the ground and the defense recording three interceptions in a 52-8 win. MDI was just as dominant the following week, holding Belfast to negative rushing yards and using a balanced effort on offense to win 56-14.
The Belfast game proved to be MDI’s last of the season as the Trojans finished mere points short of the last Class C North playoff spot in the Heals. But as they begin the 2019 season, the players haven’t forgotten the feeling of finishing last year with a pair of blowout wins.
“That energy [from those games] has carried over to this season,” junior Baylor Landsman said. “Those of us who came back, we know what we can do when we come together as a team because of what we dug deep and did at the end of last year.”
MDI also began last season with a new head coach, Mark Arnold, following Mark Shields’ decision to step down from the post in January. Shields’ retirement coincided with the departure of the 2018 graduating class, whose 18-4 record over its final two seasons included a Northern Maine championship win in 2016 and a regional runner-up finish the following year.
Last season’s Trojans did have several seniors to whom they could turn. Yet with freshmen and sophomores comprising 20 of the 33 players on MDI’s roster, the Trojans were still a largely young squad that had to adapt quickly to the varsity game.
“A lot of us sophomores last year didn’t have that confidence at the start because we weren’t used to going out there, getting hit and having to get back up,” Landsman said. “Later on last year and now coming in this year, that confidence is there for us because we know how to deal with that.”
Despite the 1-5 start, MDI showed flashes of potential all season; the offense scored 30 points in the team’s Week 1 loss to Oceanside, and the defense shut out Hampden Academy a week later before holding its own against powerhouses Maine Central Institute and Winslow.
“We were working hard and really wanting to win, and we knew we were getting better even though we were losing to good teams,” junior Hunter Gray said. “At the end of the season, we found where we were supposed to be, and I think that’s stayed with us.”
Gray, an honorable mention All-Big 11 selection who averaged 5.5 yards per carry last year, is one of MDI’s top choices to take over the top spot at running back, though Aiden Grant, Ethan Harkins and Sam Mitchell will also contribute at the position.
Landsman, who shined against Oceanside and Belfast, is back at quarterback, and Porter Isaacs, another All-Big 11 honorable mention recipient, will anchor the offensive line.
With a roster of 37 healthy players and record turnouts at summer practices and workouts, the team has taken big steps in finding players that can do so.
“Usually we have about 20 guys at the beginning of the season, but we have a lot of kids who have stayed all summer, and it’s really good to see that,” Gray said.
Those numbers are a good sign for MDI, which has been able to split into varsity and junior varsity units in practices. The program contemplated a move to the new eight-man class in the offseason, but Arnold now says he’s feeling comfortable with the Trojans’ decision to stay in Class C.
“We’ve gotten a couple of new upperclassmen who can make an impact in terms of our varsity team, but it’s really our incoming freshman class and a couple of kids in our sophomore class that’s given us a nice influx in numbers,” he said. “Not only are we going to play 11-man varsity this year, but we’re hoping we’ve got enough kids to keep that going in the future.”
MDI’s first game will be at home against Old Town at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6. Ahead of that contest, the Trojans held a jamboree play day against Belfast, Orono and Washington Academy last Monday and were scheduled to face Hampden Academy in an exhibition game Friday night.
So far, Arnold has liked what he’s seen.
“I’m really happy with where we’re at right now,” Arnold said. “The kids have been learning a lot, and even though we lost some guys, I’m hoping that the way we ended last year is going to give them a boost.”
Orono cancels season
MDI had its 2019 schedule thrown for a loop last Wednesday as Orono elected to forego its entire season of varsity play.
Orono, which has battled low roster numbers in recent years, has 18 players on its roster and suited just 15 for its Aug. 24 scrimmage against Washington Academy, according to the Bangor Daily News. The school will play a JV schedule this year in lieu of its previous slate of opponents.
“We apologize for the inconvenience that this creates for our 2019 opponents,” Orono Athletic Director Mike Archer said in a press release. “I will work with Big East Commissioner Bunky Dow to assist in filling the void with other opponents due to the void we have created in their schedules.”
As a result of Orono’s decision, MDI filled its newly vacant Sept. 20 slot by moving its originally scheduled opener at Old Town to 7 p.m. that evening. The Trojans will instead open the season tomorrow against their former Week 4 opponent, Stearns/Schenck, and face a new opponent, Washington Academy, on Sept. 27.