Playing with heavy hearts, inspired Gorham drops 47-22 decision to Raiders

IN HONOR OF BRANDEN — Gorham captains head to midfield for the opening coin toss carrying late teammate Branden Denis' jersey prior to Saturday's game against Fryeburg Academy. (Rivet Photo)

IN HONOR OF BRANDEN — Gorham captains head to midfield for the opening coin toss carrying late teammate Branden Denis' jersey prior to Saturday's game against Fryeburg Academy. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer
FRYEBURG — On a day when Fryeburg Academy clinched a chance to play in the Class B football playoffs, excitement was replaced by sadness.
Raider players could only imagine what the guys across the field felt as they tried to put forth their best effort in memory of “Superman.”
Superman, in Gorham football nation, was Branden Denis, a strapping lineman considered “the glue” that kept the Rams together through another trying season.
Branden, just 16, died in a motor vehicle accident last Sunday near the SAD 61 Superintendent’s Office on Route 302. The fatality occurred just days after Gorham had ended a losing string that dated back two years, beating Oceanside and putting the Rams in position to make the playoffs.
If, the Rams could beat the Raiders in the regular season finale Saturday at Fryeburg.
Gorham Coach Andy Hager told a daily newspaper columnist that preparing his team to play a game, which was less than 24 hours after attending their teammate’s funeral, “was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life.”
The tragedy touched Raider players and coaches.
“It was a strange week for us, as well,” FA Head  Coach David Turner said. “Something like this certainly puts football in perspective. I know I’m thankful for every day I have with my daughter. Who won or lost this game was, in reality, meant nothing. However, simply playing the game, for that team, meant everything.”
There were signs everywhere remembering Big Branden. Gorham coaches wore blue t-shirts with a diamond in the middle. Instead of the trademark “S” for Superman, the diamond contained BD — Branden Denis. Ram players also wore “Superman” socks, while both teams had Branden’s number — 64 — displayed on the back of their helmets. Even the FA cheerleaders honored the late Ram player by wearing his number on their cheeks, and they handed out maroon ribbons.
When captains for both teams headed to midfield for the coin toss, Gorham players carried Branden’s game jersey.
A game followed.
IMG_9823 copyFryeburg struck quickly as Kyle Bennett burst through a big hole in the right side and then brushed off two Gorham defenders en route to a 41-yard touchdown.
A short time later, Ben Southwick scooted into the end zone from nine yards out, and added the two-point conversion for a 14-0 Raider lead.
With Coach Hager encouraging his Ram offensive line to sustain their blocks downfield, Gorham plowed its way to a score to start the second quarter.
It would be all Fryeburg from that point on. The Raiders got another big run from Bennett, who bounced off a tackler and found daylight along the sideline. The long run set up a 3-yard run by quarterback Ryan Gullikson.
Gullikson torched the Gorham secondary, firing two bullets up the seam to Nick Armstrong for a 29-yard scoring strike. In the closing seconds, Gorham was slapped with a late hit personal foul for 15 yards, setting the stage for another downfield pass by Gullikson, this time a 17-yarder to end Nicholis L’Heureux-Carland as time expired in the half.
FA led 33-8 at intermission.
“We had good pass protection, Ryan made a lot of good reads, and we were able to run the football. Those things allow you to be successful,” Coach Turner said. “The score at then end of the half was big. Ryan made a good read. Gorham took away the deep route, but he hit Nick on the crossing route — in stride — allowing him to run in for the score. It gave us more breathing room.”
Fryeburg did a better job defending the run in the second half as each team put up 14 points — Bennett a 42 yard TD run and Southwick a 31-yard TD pass. Brandon Ludwig booted two extra points. Final score: Fryeburg 47, Gorham 22.
“They have been running the ball well for several weeks. We just tried to be gap sound, key their guards, and gang tackle their running backs — particularly against #28,” Coach Turner said.
The win propelled the Raiders (3-5) into the playoffs this Friday night against top-ranked Marshwood (8-0) in Eliot at 7 p.m. The two teams did not play in the regular season.
“I am very happy for our players. Making the playoffs seemed almost impossible back in August, but the kids just kept working and improving and competing. It paid off for them and they should be proud,” Coach Turner said. “Marshwood is an excellent football team with no weaknesses. Our focus is to play our best. We need to possess the football and try to keep their high-powered offense off the field. Easier said than done.”
High powered, indeed. Marshwood scored 431 points this season — an average of 54 points per game — and closed out the season by whipping York 41-12 to claim the top spot in Class B West.
The Hawks are also stingy on defense, surrendering just 67 points or 8.4 per game. They had three shutouts.
Fryeburg, meanwhile, scored 131 points (16.4 ppg) and gave up 230 (28.8 ppg).
“We need to take what the defense gives us and sustain drives to limit their possessions,” Coach Turner said. “Defensively, we must try to slow them down and force them into long drives. Again easier said than done.”

TAKE DOWN — FA's Angel Escalante, who is a wrestler during the winter season, brings down a Gorham runner for a loss.

TAKE DOWN — FA's Angel Escalante, who is a wrestler during the winter season, brings down a Gorham runner for a loss.

NICE CATCH DOWN THE MIDDLE — FA's Nick Armstrong hauls in a pass down the middle of the field setting up a first half touchdown.

NICE CATCH DOWN THE MIDDLE — FA's Nick Armstrong hauls in a pass down the middle of the field setting up a first half touchdown.

FIRM GRIP — FA linebacker Kyle Bennett holds onto the game jersey of a Gorham running back awaiting help from lineman Isaac Wakefield.

FIRM GRIP — FA linebacker Kyle Bennett holds onto the game jersey of a Gorham running back awaiting help from lineman Isaac Wakefield.

PICKED OFF — Raider defensive back Eli Thompson picks off a deep pass.

PICKED OFF — Raider defensive back Eli Thompson picks off a deep pass.

2-POINT CONVERSION comes up short as FA receiver Ben Southwick is knocked out of bounds. (Rivet Photos)

2-POINT CONVERSION comes up short as FA receiver Ben Southwick is knocked out of bounds. (Rivet Photos)

 

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