The Fryeburg Academy football season has ended with a loss to Cape Elizabeth in the Class C South playoffs. Because of the early end of last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Raiders entered this year short on experience and a little shy on depth. But Coach David Turner’s troops overcame those speed bumps on the road to a winning season.
Fryeburg’s success can be attributed to the dedication of the player to their teammates, along with quality coaching. The season started rather slowly, but with every play, the Raiders gained experience and the confidence in one another grew — the team began to play at a high level.
The community caught on quickly and supported the effort coming out in force to every home game. There were poster-sized pictures hung on the bleachers, and pumpkins with player numbers painted on them lining the walkway into the stadium. Whenever players passed by the bleachers there were loud cheers, and applause heard from the fans who grew to adore this team.
The Raiders had some strong young men upfront and shut down opponents when they attempted to run the football. When teams tried a different route through the air, the Raiders had a strong pass rush from the front four of Will Hallam, Charlie Campbell, Job Fox and Jackson Witchley. Opposing quarterbacks were forced into incompletions or interceptions.
This meant the opposition had to punt the football to Fryeburg’s developing offense. The offensive line, known as The Great Wall, opened holes for tough running backs Hayden Fox and Liam Quinn along with speed demons like Owen Galligan and Caleb Micklon. This usually meant a series with positive yards on first down — keeping the Raiders ahead of the chains.
Quarterback Gunnar Saunders, whose success running the football was more than once called instinctual, also had a stable of talented receivers to throw the ball. Jordan Dutton became a receiver Gunnar counted on, not only for his soft hands but for his ability to run the ball after the catch.
That brings us to the single-digit gang that played its role in the team’s success. This includes No. 3 Owen Galligan, who was one of Gunnar’s favorite targets on third down or on extra points and was a lockdown defender. Owen ran precise pass routes, had great hands, and the ability to gain yards after the catch. No. 7 Cam Johnson was often the first one down on punt coverage or catching line-drive kickoffs to give the team great field position. No. 8 Bobby Hallam from his tight-end position could go deep or run the short quick route for a first down. Bobby also punted, kicked off and place kicked. And, let’s not forget, Bobby at tight-end was a member of the Great Wall and became a skilled blocker.
And there was No. 9 Caleb Micklon, a skilled receiver who could make the tough catch on 50/50 balls where the best athlete wins. Caleb was also a lockdown corner who was skilled at stopping the outside run or the quick flanker screen. Caleb and Owen were also threats to the opposition as punt returners, forcing many short punts resulting in great field position for the Raiders. Add to all this super sub and quick-change guy Gabe McKinney.
Some might call playing strong defense and running the football old school, but the Raiders kept opposing defenses off-balance with a nice mixture of run and pass.
There was a run of Saturdays where fans came out, sat in the same bleacher seats and cheered on their beloved Raiders. The week before the Gardiner playoff game it rained every day during practice, but the Raiders practiced outside anyway. On game day it was very wet, but the fans were in place anyway, although with umbrellas to support the team they loved and were rewarded with a victory.
There were the bench players who were very much in the game calling out a sweep when the opponent ran wide or middle when they ran inside. When players came off the field they were met with compliments and reassurance from coaches and teammates.
It was the York game in the fourth quarter when one of the Raiders made an observation and screamed out loud, “They’re no better than we are.” Nothing could be more right, the Raider football team was as good as any team in Maine. Thanks, Raiders for representing your school and your community with class.