WINDHAM—Eagles sophomore QB Harrison Boyle connected with senior receiver Garrett Peeples for a pair of flashy pass TDs when Edward Little came to town on Friday night, September 14. But those efforts – and more – couldn’t keep Windham afloat against the Red Eddies, who emerged victorious from the bout 41-21.
Windham dropped to 0-3 on the year with the loss, a rematch of last autumn’s semifinal bout. Thus far, the team has come up short vs. No. 2 Portland 49-0 and No. 5 Bangor 14-0. So their work against the Eddies in fact represents a huge improvement – especially given just how young they are.
“We had five freshmen play today,” Eagles head coach Matt Perkins said. “And they played hard. You’re going to have mental mistakes. But I felt like tonight we took a big step, of being more physical, and getting after them. We didn’t play scared. We understood the game better. We still had some crazy mental mistakes, but it all comes with time.”
Windham won the coin toss at the outset of the action, and deferred possession till the start of the second half. EL’s opening drive chewed through more than five of the first 12 minutes – but earned them naught. The Eddies battled all the way to fourth and four at the Eagles’ 19, only to turn over control when Windhamite George Butts laid a huge tackle on EL QB Leighton Girardin for a loss of two.
But the Eagles’ own first drive also turned up no points, and the team soon found themselves setting up to punt. Unfortunately, kicker Brady Afthim slipped on a low snap and accidentally downed the ball; possession returned to the Eddies at the Windham 19. Given another shot at good field position, EL wasted little time capitalizing. Girardin capped a short series with a 10-yard scramble leftward, over the Eagles’ goal line. Misha Boulet added the PAT for 7-0.
“We’re getting there,” Perkins said. “It’s all about being positive, and trying to learn from it, and just keep movin. There’s a lot of positives. When you have a blown coverage, or you make mistakes, you’ve got to look at, ‘All right; how do we fix it?’ not ‘You screwed up.’ No one wants to screw up.’”
“It’s all learning,” Perkins said, “especially when you have a kid who’s 14 going against an 18-year-old who’s probably got 40-80 lbs. on him, and experience.”
Windham pulled even on their next drive. Boyle hit Peeples for some pass yardage early in the push, and Stuart Salom contributed a short dash. The team actually ran out of downs and punted, but an EL player touched the ball without downing it, allowing the Eagles to recover and extend their possession. Salom tacked on a couple more skitters – an eight-yarder and a three-yarder – to inch his boys to first and 10 at the EL 15; from there, Boyle hit Peeples with a pass TD over the middle. Kicker Liam McCusker split the uprights for 7-7.
“They’re an aggressive, blizting team,” Perkins said, asked what allowed his boys to take advantage of EL’s mistakes. “We tried to home in on when and where they were going to do and how they were going to execute it.”
The Eagles turned in a ferocious red-zone stand early in the second quarter. Senior defensive lineman Braxton Cassidy finished it, plowing through the middle and dropping Girardin on an EL fourth and goal with inches to go.
Girardin, though, would soon get his revenge, breaking away from the Windham 29 on the Eddies’ next series and scrambling for his boys’ second score of the night. He would later add their third score as well: After teammate Bobby Tremaine blocked an Afthim punt to set EL up at first and goal on the Eagles’ one, Girardin carried the ball home and ratcheted the scoreboard to 21-7.
“I think we had a couple mistakes – think of the big plays in the game,” Perkins said, asked what role his boys’ relative inexperience played in the defeat. “The punt block, they end up scoring. We have two blown coverages when we have them on third and long. That’s three touchdowns – that’s 21 points.”
“We had two or three drops,” Perkins added. “Wide-open in the middle of the field. So there’s another swing. We were one block away, one cut away. I told these guys, ‘I’ll show you on film how close you are.’”
Windham would notch two more touchdowns as the evening wore on. When a lucky mistake (a false start penalty) pushed the team back from field-goal range in the late second, they changed tacks, went for broke – a touchdown try – and succeeded, Boyle managing to hook up again with Peeples for a 20-yard passing score. Finally, after Boyle checked out injured later in the game, his backup, Anthony Gugliuzza, hit Salom with a throw and Salom ditched the pack, running rightward for a 30-yard six-points. McCusker once more added the PAT. (He’s got quite the kick.)
By this time, though, EL had hashed 35 points of their own. And while they would add yet another score before time expired, Windham would not, leading to the 42-21 result.
Despite the outcome, Perkins applauded a number of his young squad. “There was a ton of guys,” he said. “Braxton, Stuart – I thought those guys really stepped up. Harrison was playing well before he got banged up, but [Gugliuzza] came in and did a good job. We had guys who played hard. Derek Palow made some tackles – smallest guy on the field with the biggest heart.”
Windham’s next bout is on the road at Scarborough. The Storm – 3-0 thus far this fall – ran roughshod over the Eagles in last year’s State Final. It may be another tough go for Windham this time around, but no doubt they’ll continue to learn and take yet another step forward.
Happily, Perkins reports that, even without a win under their belts quite yet, his boys are in good spirits. “We have some really good leaders that are seniors,” he said, “and they know. They know they’re surrounded by young guys, and they’ve kind of taken it on as their task to teach them the game. And not to get hung up on wins and losses – you can’t; you’ve got to look at the whole picture.
“We’ve got kids who are great kids. We love these guys, because they treat each other right and play the game hard.”
Adam Birt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.
Garrett Peeples gets beneath an incoming pass; Peeples would reel in the throw and score for the Eagles.
Anthony Gugliuzza stepped in to QB after teammate Harrison Boyle suffered an injury.
Windham lineman Braxton Cassidy gives an EL opponent the what-for to cap a standout defensive moment – a goal-line stand – for the Eagles.
Windham’s Ben Elliot runs the ball in the team’s bout Friday night vs. EL.
Windhamite Derek Palow, defending, tracks an EL runner.
Harrison Boyle QBs for the Eagles.
Stuart Salom is the Eagles’ chief runningback this autumn.
Windhamite Garrett Peeples falls over the goalline, scoring an early Eagles TD.
The Eagles line up on offense.
Additional photos can be found here:
— Adam Birt (@CurrentSportsME) September 16, 2018