Foxcroft Academy boys basketball coach Toby Nelson talks to his players during a timeout in 2020. Credit: Courtesy of Foxcroft Academy

The Foxcroft Academy football team walked off the artificial turf at Cameron Stadium in Bangor barely a month ago as the undefeated and newly crowned Class D football state champion.

Eight of those players have since redirected their athletic focus to basketball, and they still haven’t lost.

Foxcroft, seeking its first winning regular season since 2010, is 3-0 entering Tuesday night’s matchup in Dover-Foxcroft against 3-0 Orono in a battle of two of the five undefeated teams left  in Class B North along with Ellsworth, Presque Isle and Winslow.

The Ponies don’t seem affected by the move indoors after a rugged, lengthy season on the gridiron that began before Labor Day and continued until the brink of Thanksgiving.

“We know they’re two completely different sports as far as the physical demands, the exertion level, how you’re running, sprinting, cutting, all of that is different,” third-year Foxcroft basketball head coach Toby Nelson said.

“In football you’re just going in 5- to 8-second bursts where in basketball you might have to go up and down and up and down the court, so it’s a little different. But this is just a different group that plays hard all the time, not only for themselves but for one another. I don’t think I’ve been around a group of guys where the team concept is like this right now.”

Foxcroft’s roster features just three seniors, including guards Gideon Topolski and Austin Seavey, the starting quarterback from football and a semifinalist for the Fitzpatrick Trophy, symbolic of Maine’s top high school senior player in that sport.

Other football veterans are juniors Caden Crocker and Cameron Chase and sophomores Jackson Smith, Wyatt Rayfield, Jaydon Richard and Devin Henderson, all who have contributed to their school’s fast start on the basketball court.

“They understand what it takes to win,” Nelson said. “They understand that it takes hard work and dedication and that there’s more to a game than just scoring. There’s some dirty work that needs to be done and they’re doing it right now.”

The team’s three other members played for a Foxcroft soccer squad that went 8-3-2 this fall, including Filip Brkic, a 6-foot-3 senior from Croatia who is Foxcroft’s leading scorer at 23.0 points per game along with 5.5 rebounds, 2.87 assists and 1.55 steals per outing.

“He’s a scorer but, he’s got the mentality that if he’s driving into the lane and draws traffic he’s looking for the open guy,” Nelson said. “He can distribute, he can rebound, he can shoot, and he’s been a nice presence for the younger guys.”

Junior forward Adam Connor and sophomore guard Josh Cornett round out the Ponies’ soccer-turned-basketball players, with Cornett joining Brkic, Seavey, Richard and Crocker (11.3 points, 5.5 rebounds per game) in the starting five.

“I think record-wise 3-0 is a good start,” Nelson said. “We’re probably a little smoother and more defensive-minded and things have clicked a little bit more quickly than I expected, but then I probably shouldn’t have felt that way because their basketball IQ is very, very high.”

Nelson said the Ponies’ success will depend on a defense that has yielded just 46.3 points per game in victories over Houlton, Central of Corinth and Washington Academy of East Machias.

“If we’re going to win games, it’s going to have to be on defense this year,” he said. “We can score but our defense has triggered a lot of what we do.”

Foxcroft will be challenged by an Orono club with a similar defensive average, having allowed 45.7 points per game in victories over Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield, Hermon and Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor.

“Right now we’re just trying to get better every day and make our teammates better every day,” Nelson said.

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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...