Orono High School football coach Bob Sinclair said the team prides itself on being different, and different it is.
The Red Riots’ football team throws the ball 40 times a game, scores 44.2 points per game and is barreling through the eight-player small school North playoffs.
In Orono’s playoff game with Dexter, the Red Riots threw the ball 38 times compared with Dexter’s 23.
Spearheaded by quarterback Jack Brewer, the No. 5 Red Riots (6-3) have deviated from many Maine high school football teams’ offensive schemes that heavily feature running the ball as it’s often easier for inexperienced players to master. And that strategy is working. Orono has upset No. 4 Bucksport and No. 1 Dexter on its march to the regional final where Orono will face No. 2 Stearns on Friday for a spot in the state title game.
Orono runs the ball some, but Brewer has been slinging the ball around the field, especially in the playoffs where the sophomore QB has thrown seven touchdown passes in both the regional quarterfinals and semifinals.
“I think it fits my skill set very well and it fits the skill set of our team very well,” Brewer said of the team’s offensive philosophy. “We have a lot of athletic guys that can catch the ball. It is a lot more fun to be able to throw the ball around.”
In Orono’s first win of the playoffs, a 51-46 win over Bucksport, Brewer threw all seven touchdowns to sophomore receiver Will Francis, who has been turning heads all season. It’s Francis’ first season playing football.
“It was exciting,” Francis said. “It was really fun to be a part of but it was my guys setting me up, it wasn’t just me. The receivers blocking in the open field, the linemen blocking especially, they gave Jack enough time to get it to me.”
Last week, Orono upset defending state champions Dexter 61-22 with five different receivers catching touchdowns.
“It’s amazing, we have a lot of talented receivers,” sophomore receiver Kase Walston said. “Everyone is going to get the ball at some point so if they lock someone down then someone else will step up.”
Jack Brewer’s father, Mark, runs the Red Riots’ offense. He gives his son a lot of credit, but said that it’s the athletes that surround his son that make a difference.
Mark Brewer said that seven players have games of at least two touchdowns.
“The offensive system we have, we rely much more on throwing the ball more than maybe any other school in Maine,” Mark Brewer said. “The biggest difference I think is the players we have. We are seven deep at receiver. We are so deep and it’s so hard for teams to cover us all. We’ve got four guys on the offensive line that rotate in and that are really good pass blockers.”
Mark Brewer also said his son has control of the offense from behind center. He’ll audible at the line — meaning he will change the play if he sees a vulnerability in the defense — and he’ll come to the sideline with ideas and can make all the throws.
Jack Brewer has been working with Ryan Stroud, a former Foxcroft Academy quarterback and owner of QB1 Incorporated out of Sebec, Maine.
“I made this statement to his dad the other day, and I said he was masterful,” Sinclair said. “The biggest growth I’ve seen in Jack was how he can read a defense and know who to throw to. People fell in love with the Jack and Will seven touchdowns story but he wasn’t only looking for Will, he was checking down, too.”
Just three years ago in 2019, the number of players dropped so low at Orono that the Red Riots scrapped its varsity season and played a junior varsity schedule instead. There was no varsity football season in 2020 due to the pandemic and last season, in its first year of eight-player football, the team went 0-7.
Fast-forward to this season and the Red Riots are having fun at 6-3. The culture that has been growing around the team was strong enough that it lured junior Pierce Walston back to the game of football, a sport he had not played since eighth grade.
“It’s a lot more fun,” receiver Caden Gray said. “Running is fun, too, but when you throw like this it’s electrifying. The crowd on the sidelines, everyone. Jack throws the ball and we go make a play. It’s how we play.”
The Red Riots are preparing for the North final against Stearns (6-2), a team they lost to in Week 2 of the season.
Orono also lost to Bucksport and Dexter but rebounded in the postseason rematches. It looks to do the same on the road Friday.
“We wanted these teams back,” Kase Walston said. “We could have had them earlier in the season but we’re playing them for real this time. We’ve put in the work and we’ll put on a show.”
“I’m definitely in a zone, I feel good, I feel in a groove and I’m just focused on Stearns,” Jack Brewer added.