Hermon High School football coach Kyle Gallant (center) talks to his team after the Hawks' victory over Nokomis on Sept. 25, 2021. Credit: Ernie Clark / BDN

The Hermon Hawks may have taken the most unconventional route to a regional championship game in Maine high school football history as they approached Saturday’s Class C North final against Winslow at Hampden Academy.

“It’s been by far the oddest football year that I’ve ever been a part of and I’m even including not playing last year,” Hermon head coach Kyle Gallant said. “We didn’t miss anything last year. Whatever you were trying to get out of your 7-on-7, you could at least consistently build on it.

“We couldn’t do that this year.”

The fifth-seeded Hawks (4-3) had their first three games of the season cancelled due to COVID-19 issues before becoming the last Maine high school football team to debut when they played at Nokomis of Newport on Sept. 25 — a game Hermon won 19-12.

“From the first day we knew we were going to be in quarantine, I had no idea that when we came back the amount of time, experience and knowledge that we were going to lose in those three weeks,” Gallant said. “I can’t even explain to people how far behind we were for two or three weeks after we came back.”

The Hawks subsequently endured a three-game losing streak — including losses to top-ranked Medomak Valley of Waldoboro and No. 2 Winslow — before closing out the regular season with a 14-7 victory over Hampden Academy.

Then came another twist, as Hermon won its playoff opener by forfeit when Oceanside of Rockland had COVID-19 issues on the day before a scheduled quarterfinal with the Hawks.

“I think Oceanside losing their playoff game and having control of their own destiny taken away from them at the 11th hour due to COVID was the lightbulb that made [our] kids say, ‘It’s either now or never,’” Gallant said.

That sense of urgency helped Hermon avenge its homecoming week loss to Medomak Valley with a 16-12 semifinal upset of the Panthers last Saturday. The Hawks prevailed through solid defense and first-half touchdown runs by junior quarterback Johnny Kokoska and junior running back Gary Glidden, along with a pair of two-point conversion passes from Kokoska to junior wide receiver Chasen Flanders.

“Our final step was the kids playing for each other and believing and being a family, and that Oceanside week and the week leading up to Medomak you could see it in practice,” Gallant said. “It was a whole different clan.”

The title-game appearance at 1 p.m. Saturday will be Hermon’s third postseason clash against Winslow in four years. The Hawks rallied for a 20-13 semifinal victory over the Black Raiders in 2018, then were ousted by the Black Raiders in the 2019 semifinals before the 2020 tackle football campaign was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Winslow is 6-2 this season, including a 35-12 victory at Hermon on Oct. 15. The Black Raiders are 6-0 against C North competition, with their only losses to Class C South foes York and Wells.

“Winslow is so senior-laden, they have a lot of experience,” said Gallant, whose team will graduate just four players and return 10 starters on both offense and defense next fall.

The Black Raiders defeated No. 7 Old Town 36-6 in the quarterfinals and No. 6 Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield 64-6 in last week’s semifinals behind 179 rushing yards and five touchdowns from sophomore running back Matt Quirion.

Quirion teams with senior fullback Evan Bourget to spearhead Winslow’s offense, which has averaged 45.8 points per outing during the team’s current four-game win streak.

“Winslow’s offense is very hard to stop, they primarily run that double wing and they’re very big up front,” Gallant said. “It’s hard to find the ball. It’s hard to control the line of scrimmage against them.”

Oak Hill Raiders (5-2) vs. Foxcroft Academy Ponies (9-0), 7 p.m. Saturday at Oakes Field, Dover-Foxcroft: The top-ranked and undefeated Ponies hope to maintain their undefeated run atop the Class D ranks in this semifinal rematch of a Sept. 11 clash at Wales where Foxcroft pulled away in the second quarter for a 41-20 victory.

The fourth-seeded Raiders, who edged No. 5 Lisbon-St. Dominic 20-19 in last week’s quarterfinals, will be challenged to contain a diverse Foxcroft offense that has averaged 41.3 points per game this fall, including a 47-0 quarterfinal victory over No. 8 John Bapst of Bangor.

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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...