High school football

MDI breaks open tight game against Oceanside over final three quarters

Host Trojans defeat Mariners 51-14 in Class C North semifinal playoff game
By Mark Haskell | Nov 04, 2017
Photo by: Ken Waltz Oceanside's Michael Norton Jr. tosses the ball to the official after one of his two touchdowns on Nov. 3 during a high school football game against host Mount Desert Island. The Trojans beat the Mariners 51-14 in a Class C semifinal playoff game.

Bar Harbor — It is no secret the success of the Oceanside football team was carried, largely, on the shoulders of the the two-headed running back tandem of Mike Norton Jr. and Ben Ripley.

But good teams tend to take away an opponent's best weapons. And top-seeded Mount Desert Island is not just a good team — it is a great team.

And the No. 1 Trojans proved that again on Friday night, Nov. 3 in a Class C North high school semifinal playoff clash with the No. 5 Mariners.

The Mariners fell behind 8-0 early, but sailed back for a 14-8 lead in the first quarter. However, the Trojans dominated all three phases of the game over the final three quarters, as the hosts scored the final 43 points in a lopsided 51-14 victory over the visitors.

Click for photos from this game.

Watch video below.

With the victory, MDI (9-1) advances to the Class C North regional championship game, where it will host No. 6 Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield (6-4), which beat No. 2 Winslow (8-2) 43-42, on Friday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.

Oceanside, which defeated No. 4 Hermon (6-3) 40-33 in the quarterfinals, saw its season wrap at 6-4.

It was the third straight year Oceanside qualified for the playoffs and third consecutive season its campaign ended in Bar Harbor.

On Friday, the Trojans controlled the line of scrimmage throughout as they outgained the Mariners unofficially 424-108 on the ground.

“The first quarter was awesome,” said veteran Oceanside coach Wes Drinkwater. “The kids came out and played hard, but that’s a good football team [in MDI]. They’re well coached and it showed. We had a game plan, we executed it and they [the Trojans] adjusted like good coaches do and good players do. They’re big, they’re fast [and] they’re physical.”

“We started out pretty good and then some things started to go wrong,” said senior lineman Oliver Vanorse-Jones. “I think we played a lot better than the score showed, but things just didn’t work out like we hoped they would.”

Senior fullback Croix Albee found the end zone four times from short yardage for MDI, while Colby Lee had touchdown runs of 43 and 11 yards and also added a two-point conversion.

Elijah Joyce also added an 18-yard touchdown run late in the game for the Trojans.

Ben Ripley rushed for 68 yards on 13 carries, while quarterback Titus Kaewthong was 4-of-8 under center for 79 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

“We knew coming in this Oceanside team was going to be tough,” said MDI coach Mark Shields. “We looked at them on tape and they’re big up front and that Norton kid is the real deal. They came right out in that double-wing and it took us a few series to figure out what they were doing. You can practice against something like that but until you see it live it’s a whole different ballgame.”

MDI’s secret weapon, of sorts, in the first half was Gilbert Isaacs, a lineman, who, at roughly 6-feet 3-inches and 360 pounds, rushed in three two-point conversions to help the hosts slowly pull away.

“That was the hardest I worked all night,” said the 6-foot 2-inch, 380-pound Mariner lineman Kirt Ilvonen of his battles with Isaacs. “He’s 6-3, got to be close to 350, 360 [pounds]. That’s a big boy right there. I squared up with him a few times and I can move just about anything and that’s a boy I couldn’t move.”

Mike Norton Jr. scored both touchdowns on the night for Oceanside on the visitors' first two possessions of the contest — one on a 2-yard plunge with 6:14 left and the other on a 55-yard touchdown pass from Titus Kaewthong with 26.9 left — in the first quarter. Kaewthong also kicked two extra points.

Norton had 2,001 total yards, including 1,556 rushing on 115 carries, and 23 rushing touchdowns, two scores via the pass, two on kick returns and one on a fumble recovery for 28 overall on the campaign entering Friday's final game. With his performance on Friday, he finished the campaign with 30 touchdowns.

MDI jumped to an 8-0 lead early with a touchdown by Albee and a two-point conversion from Isaacs, but Oceanside rallied with its first possession on a short scoring run from Norton and an extra point from Kaewthong to trail 8-7.

Oceanside shut down MDI on its next possession and then took a 14-8 lead when Norton leapt and hauled down a Kaewthong pass between a pair of Trojan defenders and raced for a 55-yard touchdown to give the Mariners a 14-8 lead.

But the Trojan defense stalled the Mariners throughout the remainder of the game, and the hosts went on the offensive in a big way.

“They’re so disciplined [defensively],” said Drinkwater. “Michael’s made a living this year on counter, [but] they don’t fall for it. They stay home, they play their gap and they eat it up.”

“They made adjustments and they made a lot of plays.”

MDI did not kick the ball deep to Norton and Ripley on kickoffs and instead opted to squib kick for the majority of the game, sacrificing field position instead of giving up a potential big play.

Shields said, “We did not want to kick to Norton and Ripley,” adding “They’re both great returners."

Oceanside got the ball to start the third quarter, but Kaewthong had his pass tipped at the line and was intercepted by Lee, who rumbled all the way back to the three-yard line.

Two plays later, Albee found the end zone as the hosts took a 38-14 lead.

MDI then recovered one of those squib kicks on the ensuing kickoff and chewed up a chunk of the clock before an 11-yard touchdown by Lee put the hosts in front 44-14 with 3:38 left in the stanza, to essentially put the game out of reach.

“We had a good third quarter,” said Shields. “Obviously we got that interception by Colby Lee and we were able to punch it in and that deflates teams. I’ve been there before. But it was a big win and now we get ready for the Northern Maine championship.”

While Ripley and Norton get a great deal of the offensive credit for Oceanside, the offensive line — led by seniors Vanorse-Jones, Alex McLaughlin and Ilvonen — were the unsung heroes of this year’s squad.

“We’ve been playing together since we were kids,” said Ilvonen. “Me, Oliver, Seb [Sanfilippo], all of us right across the front line. We have a strong bond you almost can’t even break. We played tough. The backs always love us for what we do. We’re not always perfect but I wish we were sometimes.”

“I think a big part of it is we’re so close and we see those running backs as our baby brothers,” said Vanorse-Jones. “So we always feel like we need to protect them.”

Drinkwater said things looked bleak early in the season with injuries to Zachariah Cody and Brett Start, in addition to Kaewthong.

But instead of losing hope, the Mariners simplified their playbook — and made the most of what they had all year.

“We had a real good season just doing real simple things well,” said the veteran coach.

Oceanside at Mount Desert Island football
Mount Desert Island hosts Oceanside on Nov. 3 in high school football. (Video by: Zack Miller of VStv)
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