Nov. 14—WELLS — Now that the Wells High football team is one of the few teams playing in mid-November, the Warriors point to an early season loss as a primary reason why.
Wells lost a Week 2 game against rival York, 32-14. An early two-touchdown lead evaporated as the Warriors pointed fingers at each other, looking for anybody to blame for the meltdown. Afterward, they knew things had to change.
"As a team, we showed up for that game, and as a team we knew (York wasn't) as good as they were last year. I think we thought we would roll over them," Wells senior Conner Whitten said. "We went up 14-0, then they came back on us. We shut down as a team. We learned we can't let that happen."
Following a 2-2 start, Wells won six of its last seven games. The Warriors (7-3) are playing their best football of the season at the right time, and will face two-time defending Class D state champion Foxcroft Academy (10-0) for the state title at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Lewiston High.
Back in Class D this season after playing the last few seasons in Class C, Wells is 6-0 against Class D competition this season. All three of Wells' losses came to Class C opponents: York, Cheverus and Fryeburg Academy. The Warriors have a win over Class C Cape Elizabeth.
"The York game is the one game I wish we could get back, but you can't get football games back," said Tim Roche, the longtime Wells coach.
As the players used the loss to York as a lesson in dealing with adversity, Roche and his coaching staff used it to tinker with the lineup.
Injuries led to some position changes, along with simply moving players to find the right spot. Junior Nate Malloy moved from center to tackle, with sophomore Will Martinez, a quicker player, taking over the snapping duties. With Whitten fighting injuries, Roche used him as a pass catching tight end, then at defensive end, and finally at cornerback. Dom Buxton moved from the secondary to defensive end, and Dom Carbonneau took over at safety for the injured Calvin Chase.
"It's not major, major things, but we were able to move things around," Roche said. "We had some injuries in the preseason and some injuries in that (York) game, and we were piecing together people. I kept saying, I can't wait to see what we're like when we have everyone playing. ... Since then, I think we've played some great football."
One of the biggest improvements has been in senior quarterback Brooks Fox, who started his high school career as a freshman center. Throwing to receivers like Riley Murphy and Dyllan Davis, Fox has added an element to the Warriors' offense, Roche said.
"He's turned out to be a weapon for us," Roche said. "It's not that I don't want to throw, but if we can run the ball I want to run the ball. I'm a big believer in the run game."
That run game was at its best in the Class D South playoffs. The Warriors ran for 390 yards in a 35-6 win over Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale in the regional championship, with Buxton rushing for 167 yards and three touchdowns, and Eli Potter running for 121 yards. In Wells' 42-7 regional semifinal win over Freeport, Potter ran for four touchdowns in the game's first 14 minutes.
"We've always been a team to carry the rock down the field. It feels good. I'm a lead blocker," said offensive lineman Ethan Haynes. "I don't get the attention, but I like how I get the backs the attention having their big games. It really makes me feel good."
In Foxcroft, Wells faces the opponent it defeated soundly in the 2017 (48-0) and 2018 (55-20) Class D state championship games. This season's version of the Ponies is coming off of back-to-back state titles and has outscored opponents, 498-41.
Haynes said Wells has watched a ton of Foxcroft video, "probably more than we should." Roche is glad his team has improved to the point it has a chance to play Foxcroft, and he expects a good game.
"They're a good team," Whitten said. "They haven't lost a game, but they haven't played us."