Bangor’s Ryan Howard returns the opening kickoff for a 99-yard touchdown in an Oct. 1, 2021, game against Deering at Cameron Stadium in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

It’s back to work this week for the Bangor High School football team, and one major challenge will be to gear up for yet another formidable foe after one of the program’s more significant victories in recent years.

Friday night’s last-minute 37-30 win over perennial power and 2019 state champion Bonny Eagle of Standish should secure the Rams at least a home game in the first round of the Class A playoffs that begin Nov. 5-6.

Now awaiting coach Dave Morris’ club in the regular-season finale is a road trip to South Paris on Friday to face 6-1 Oxford Hills, whose lone setback is a 31-23 decision to undefeated Thornton Academy of Saco on Oct. 15.

The Vikings will be well-rested since they have not played since then, as their game last weekend was canceled due to COVID-19 cases at Scarborough, their scheduled opponent.

Bangor (7-1) will seek to build on the momentum gained from an emotional victory for what suddenly looks like a battle for second place in the final regular-season standings and a first-round playoff bye.

“God tested us [Friday night], all week,” Bangor senior tight end and linebacker Colton Emerson said moments after the Bonny Eagle victory. “We weren’t as healthy as we could be coming in but we came out and played as a team. There’s nothing better we could have done. We played amazing, we were all in. It was the best game we’ve ever played and we’re going to keep rolling. Now we’re rolling on to Oxford Hills.”

The Rams’ 2021 high school football season heading into the Bonny Eagle game had been somewhat difficult to judge save for the bottom line.

Five of the team’s first six victories were against opponents — Lewiston (twice), Edward Little of Auburn and Class B Deering of Portland and Brewer — with a combined two wins this fall.

The sixth was a last-second 37-36 decision at Scarborough when Bangor was missing 12 starters and half of its roster due to COVID-19, only to win when sophomore wideout Landon Clark recovered a fumble by his brother, senior quarterback Max Clark, in the end zone on the game’s final play.

The lone loss was equally stunning, a 71-point defeat at Thornton Academy on the evening those 21 players returned from quarantine with only a morning practice and an afternoon walk-through during a stop on the way to the game for preparation.

So how good are these rebuilding Rams, a senior-laden team trying to restore the program to prominence after seven years of regular-season struggles and playoff futility since the current four-class format for 11-player football was adopted in 2013?

Bangor had gone 16-45 since then entering this season, including three regular-season losses to Bonny Eagle by a combined score of 174-7.

The Scots had won four of their first six games this season, the only losses coming against Thornton Academy and Oxford Hills of South Paris.

Bangor entered the contest at less than full strength, with standout senior halfback Joey Morrison, fellow captain Keegan Cyr and classmate Colton Trisch all on crutches watching the game from the sidelines.

But a 14-0 lead ignited by Ryan Howard’s third game-opening kickoff return for a touchdown this season provided the Rams a quick emotional boost.

“I think we all agreed going into the game that we wanted to get an early jump,” senior quarterback Max Clark said. “We’ve made plenty of trips down south, and after those bus rides it’s sometimes hard to get off the bus so for teams that aren’t used to coming up here to play us that’s a huge thing, too, so we knew a fast start would be key.”

Bonny Eagle rallied to lead by six points at halftime and seven points entering the fourth quarter before Bangor shut out the Scots over the game’s final 12 minutes while Clark threw two touchdown passes — the first a game-tying 11-yard strike to Emerson with 10:45 left in the game and then game-winner on a 5-yard connection with Howard with just 49.5 seconds remaining.

“It was surreal, but at the same time I feel like it wasn’t that much of a surprise to us,” said Max Clark, who completed 18 of 29 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for a score.

“We knew they are a heck of a team, they’re really well coached and really play hard. But we also knew the way we’ve been practicing lately, we’ve been playing really well. We’ve got a lot of skill guys that can play and the line has been blocking their tails off, I can tell you that.”

While Bonny Eagle relied on its imposing front line to amass 266 rushing yards, Bangor went to the air with equal success, as Max Clark completed passes to five different receivers.

Emerson had four catches for 53 yards and two second-half touchdowns, while halfback Cabryn Streams rushed for 65 yards and added two catches for 40 more yards and Howard opened the game with his special-teams touchdown and capped it off with the deciding score.

“I think the cornerback thought I was going to run a slant, and it was a whip route where I fake the slant and then run an out,” said Howard of the go-ahead touchdown play. “I got him on that and Max was able to loft it right over him because he’s a great quarterback.”

Now it’s on to Oxford Hills.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...