2016-11-18 / Front Page

Rams roll into championship game

Kennebunk claims Class B South title with 42-21 romp over Biddeford
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

Kennebunk fullback Patrick Saunders takes the ball through some heavy traffic during the Rams’ 42-21 Class B South Regional Championship win over Biddeford Friday evening. Kennebunk will play Brunswick for the Class B state title. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at the University of Maine. (Kevin A. Byron photo) Kennebunk fullback Patrick Saunders takes the ball through some heavy traffic during the Rams’ 42-21 Class B South Regional Championship win over Biddeford Friday evening. Kennebunk will play Brunswick for the Class B state title. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at the University of Maine. (Kevin A. Byron photo) KENNEBUNK — It’s been a quarter century since Kennebunk High School last won a state football championship, when it prevailed over Old Town in 1991.

In fact, in the 38-year career of head coach Joe Rafferty, which encompasses 177 wins, the Rams have only made the final game two other times, in 1999 and 2013. So, it’s not surprising the atmosphere around school has been positively electric since Nov. 11, when the team prevailed over Biddeford, 42-21 to claim the Class B South championship and continue an unbeaten season.

“The students have been going crazy,” said team co-captain Andrew Bouchard, a senior who plays defensive tackle and offensive guard.

“It’s great to walk into a classroom and see even the teachers have a little sparkle in their eye because they’re so happy for you,” he said, “and its great to bring everyone in school and in town something they haven’t had in a little while.”

Now, the Rams are on their way to the Class B state championship game in Orono on Friday, Nov. 18, where they will square off against another undefeated team, the Brunswick Dragons. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:06 p.m.

“We weren’t picked as one of the top two or three teams going into the season. So, I think we’ve definitely overachieved,” said assistant coach Brian Dill, who, like head coach Joe Rafferty, is in his 38th year with the Rams, a tenure seen by many Maine football aficionados as near to, if not an actual record.

“I think Joe has done maybe some of the best coaching he’s ever done, to keep those kids in some of those close games,” Dill said.

Rafferty, meanwhile, in characteristic fashion, gives credit to his players.

“I’ve just been really pleased with how they’ve come along,” he said. “Coming in, we had a small senior group and a lot of underclassmen we were counting on. I’m just really thrilled the juniors and sophomores have contributed up in a big way.

“I’ve certainly been blessed with a lot of good teams and a lot of quality kids, but this is a very unselfish group as a whole, with a lot of camaraderie, and a lot of caring and concern for one another. That’s been pretty prevalent here for the last few years. I don’t know what’s at the base of it all, but I think that’s become something they just expect of one another.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the Rams are starting just four seniors. What makes the team special, the players all agree, is the way the non-starting seniors have stepped it up off the field as well as when they rotate in during the game.

Rather than sulking on the bench because some sophomore took their starting spot that, anywhere else might have been their due as a senior, those players in their final year have owned their roles.

“They’ve led on and off the field,” said sophomore linebacker Cameron Lovejoy. “Whether it’s in the locker room, in the school, they’ve led 100 percent of the time. If we’re doing something wrong, they’ll step up and confront us about it.”

“We might not have all the seniors as starters, but we all believe you don’t have to be a starter to be a key contributor on this team,” Bouchard said. “So, those seniors have embraced that role and helped everyone out. They’re all in it for everyone.

“There’s not one kid on this team who thinks it’s all about them alone. Everyone has been in it for the team’s sake, with everyone chipping in to do their part, 100 percent.”

This year has been a huge bonding experience,” said starting right tackle Brennan Schatzabel, a junior. “The winning is nice, but mainly it’s about being here with this group of people. It feels amazing honestly. Being out here every day with this group of kids, and giving our all out on the field. It feels like nothing else. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.”

“We really like each other. We don’t have any little cliques, like some teams might have. We’re all just one group,” Lovejoy said.

“It’s not divided at all,” agreed Nolan Ragnarsson, a senior who plays outside linebacker and running back. “Even though not a lot of seniors start, they’re all really good leaders and they’ve really brought the whole team together. Honesty, it’s kind of awesome, because it’s not this one person or another person, it’s everyone, all together. It’s the Kennebunk Rams. It’s not just the seniors and then the best of the rest to fill things out.”

One thing the younger Rams will give up when they face the Dragons will be size.

Dill said the Brunswick front line averages 15 to 20 pounds per man heavier than Kennebunk. Still, he’s confident the players will make Brunswick work for every yard.

“We’ve been really good defensively all year,” he said. “If you can stop the other team from scoring, that’s always a plus. But our offense also has stepped up in the last few weeks. I mean, last week, we never expected to gain nearly 500 yards.”

“Honestly, we’ve got a lot out of everyone,” Rafferty said, adding that the key will be not giving up any turnovers.

After being a bit fumble happy in its last few games, the Rams held on to the ball in the Class B South final, leading to big nights for fullback co-captain Patrick Saunders (19 carries for 176 yards), junior tailback Jake Littlefield (13 carries, 121 yards), and sophomore quarterback Tripp Bush (nine carries, 137 yards).

The players all say big plays, big games, and even championships, are not the be-all-and end-all of their football careers.

“What football has done for me is, it’s given me a new sense of work ethic,” Schatzabel says. “Every day I come here and put everything I have into it, and that ethic carries over and applies to everything I do, in the classroom and in life.”

“It teaches you a lot of lessons – to stay focused, to do your job, but to have fun while you’re doing it,” agreed Ragnarsson. “That’s all stuff we’ve learned from coach Raff. He’s an awesome guy. He always knows just what to say at just the right time.”

“It’s been an absolute pleasure to have him as my coach,” Bouchard said. “I don’t think I’d be who I am without him. He’s probably the most humble person I’ve ever met in my life. Any time you try to give him any credit he always puts it back on the players.

“He’s taught me how to work hard, how not to get down on myself, and how to be more than just myself — to be there for everybody no matter how much it requires. To make myself available and to try and be a leader, whether you are one or not, to do the best you can to help others bring out the best in themselves.”

“He’s a great guy and a great coach. I think he loves each one of us like we’re his own kids,” Lovejoy said.

Whether they win or lose come the big game, the players say they’ll always have their undefeated regular season — that belongs to them forever, and can never be taken away. But they’ll also have the lessons learned with coach Raff, and the memories of that one season when they were part of something bigger than themselves.

“It’s not necessarily the Friday night lights that are so special, or even being out here in practice,” Bouchard said, “it’s that team atmosphere, knowing I’ve got their back and they’ve got mine, and knowing whatever it is, whether its about football or not, I can always talk to coach Raff about it.

“I hope I do, but honestly, I don’t know if I’ll have a mentor like that, or friends like these, ever again.”

Ram caravan

The unbeaten Kennebunk Rams will face the Brunswick Dragons in the Class B football state championship game at 7:06 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18. The contest will be played at on Morse Field at the Alfond Sports Stadium at the University of Maine. Fan buses will leave Kennebunk High School at 3:30 p.m.

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