WALDOBORO — The term “next man up,” in its simplest terms, is when one player goes down with an injury that a teammate has the opportunity to step into that player’s role seamlessly.

That phrase was uttered more than a few times on the Medomak Valley sidelines on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 30 as the No. 1 Panthers — who hosted the first playoff football game in school history — found themselves down 7-0 at halftime to No. 8 Nokomis of Newport in the Class C North quarterfinal playoffs.

Medomak Valley’s Gabe Lash. Photo by Mark Haskell

And with Medomak Valley’s core of running backs all but depleted, coach Ryan Snell dug deep into his bench for junior Tucker Holgerson, who shouldered the load on the ground for the Panthers.

Holgerson, listed on the program as a wide receiver and defensive end, accounted for Medomak Valley’s points in the fourth quarter as the top seed rallied late and emerged with a soggy, but satisfying, 14-7 high school gridiron win over the Warriors.

Medomak Valley and Nokomis players on the line of scrimmage. Photo by Mark Haskell

It was the first playoff victory in program history.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Snell. “To be here from the beginning and just the culmination of all the hard work and everybody in the youth program and the players obviously. To everyone on the outside this was a one-eight-seed thing, but to us it was a one-score game between them.”

Medomak Valley also defeated Nokomis (1-7) 14-6 on Oct. 9 in Newport in a regular-season game.

With Saturday’s victory, Medomak Valley (7-2) advances to the semifinals, where it will face No. 5 Hermon (3-3), Saturday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. at McMann Stadium in Bath. The Panthers defeated the Hawks 19-7 during the regular season.

Medomak Valley’s Tucker Holgerson, front. Photo by Mark Haskell

The Hawks advanced by forfeit when No. 4 Oceanside of Rockand was forced to pull out of its scheduled quarterfinal with the Hawks due to nearly half the Mariner team being quarantined due to COVID-19 protocols.

How far the Panthers have come since a season-opening 38-0 home loss to Fryeburg Academy, third in Class C South, is, on many levels, remarkable.

Holgerson rushed for 148 yards on 35 carries and Levi Ward 76 yards on 18 carries.

On Saturday, Grady Hartsgrove scored the lone touchdown for Nokomis and Hunter Simpson the extra point on the visitors’ first drive of the game.

Life in the muddy trenches. Photo by Mark Haskell

This season the Panther offense has gone primarily through running backs Hayden Staples and Levi Ward. Staples suffered a wrist injury during the team’s regular-season finale with Oceanside and was unavailable Saturday. Ward left Saturday’s playoff game midway through the third quarter with a lower body injury and third-string back Nolan Gahagan left the game with an injury on special teams in the first half.

Where to turn?

“Tucker was a running back in our youth program and he played some fullback as a freshman,” the coach said. “He stepped up big. And we had a freshman, Porter Gahagan at fullback today all day. He got his first varsity reps at fullback last week against Oceanside. Guys have stepped up. We’ve had injuries and guys have stepped up all year.”

Medomak Valley’s Connor Light, middle. Photo by Mark Haskell

Holgerson continued to slowly, but surely, move the chains on a slippery, rain-soaked playing surface, which chewed up the clock over the final 12 minutes.

Snell credited his offensive line of Connor Light, Marshall Addy, Isaac Simmons, Jethro Pease and Nathan Gess, in addition to tight end Jacob Craig, for opening muddy holes for Holgerson to slop through.

“We had a timeout in the second half and we called them over and said, ‘Look, the backs have changed, you guys have not changed. You five are out there so show that it’s you. No matter who’s back there, get the job done.’ And they continued to block and work hard and they did it.”

Medomak Valley’s Kaden Wright, below. Photo by Mark Haskell

Medomak Valley fumbled away its first possession of the second half, but Nokomis promptly punted the ball back to the hosts. The Panthers then began to run the ball with Ward before he limped off with an injury and Holgerson came in at running back. The hosts also were aided by a few Nokomis encroachment penalties, which helped move the chains.

Holgerson plunged in for a one-yard touchdown and added the two-point conversion with 11:36 to go.

“Once we got over the hump getting in the end zone, the juices were flowing,” the coach said. “And the defense did their thing.”

On Nokomis’s next possession, the Panther defense got behind the line of scrimmage and tackled a Warrior running back for a loss on fourth down, which gave the hosts the ball back and a short field.

After grinding down a lot of clock, Holgerson again rushed in from one yard, this time with 2:47 remaining, to give Medomak Valley a 14-7 lead after the failed two-point conversion.

Gabe Lash then made an interception, a nose-for-the-ball skill he has demonstrated this season, on the next Nokomis possession, which essentially sealed the win for the Panthers.

Other defensive stalwarts for the Panthers on Saturday included Holgerson (5 solo tackles, assisted tackle), Isaac Bickford (5 solos), Aaron Reed (4 solos), Isaac Simmons (3 solos), Marshall Addy (2 solos, assist), Kaden Wright (2 solos, assist, forced fumble), Lash (interception, 2 solos), Garret Hutchins (2 solos, assist), Gatlin Bedenik (2 solos), Kory Donlin (solo), Xavier Woodbury (solo), Porter Gahagan (solo, assist), Nolan Gahagan (2 solos) and Ward (solo).

Snell said he has no idea who will be healthy for the team’s semifinal playoff with the Hawks.

“Who knows? Maybe we have a sixth-string tailback no one knows about,” he said with a laugh. “Someone will step up.”