ORONO, Maine — There are 13 Maine natives on the University of Maine's football team roster, and being part of the first team in the 126-year history of the program to reach the Football Championship Subdivision's playoff semifinals is a source of pride for them.
"Every kid dreams about something like this, especially if you went to high school here," said Gunnar Docos from Harrison and Oxford Hills High School in South Paris, the team's starting left tackle on offense. "You don't get a lot of shots at it. And to have 13 kids from Maine on the team is (a big deal)."
The 10-3 Black Bears will travel to take on 11-2 Eastern Washington University in Saturday's 2 p.m. semifinal at Roos Field in Cheyney, Washington.
The winner will face the winner of Friday night's semifinal between North Dakota State, 13-0, and South Dakota State, 10-2, in the national championship game at Toyota Stadium in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, Texas on Saturday, Jan. 5 beginning at noon.
"It means a whole lot," said North Yarmouth native and former Cheverus High School of Portland running back Joe Fitzpatrick, the team's second-leading rusher. "To go out there with your best friends and be really successful as a team and as a school means a lot."
Sophomore wide receiver Andre Miller grew up in Old Town and said "this means the world to me.
"This is where I grew up. This is my stomping ground. My mother (April Lawson) and grandmother (Sue Davis) grew up in OId Town, too," said Miller, who has caught seven passes for 158 yards.
"It is a dream come true, really," he added.
Good luck to @BlackBearsFB this weekend and especially to our very own Andre Miller. The entire community could not be more proud of what you and the black bears have accomplished this season. We are very exited to watch you play and tear up that defense. Go get em AirAndre! pic.twitter.com/6A75iqwqGr— Old Town Coyotes (@OldTownCoyotes) December 13, 2018
In addition to this trio, the other Maine natives are freshman quarterback Grant Hartley (Auburn, Edward Little High School), freshman linebacker Adam Bertrand (Pittsfield, Maine Central Institute), linebacker Owen Elliott (Saco, Thornton Academy), tight end Michael Laverriere (Arundel, Thornton Academy), defensive lineman Trey Wood (Brewer, Brewer High School), defensive lineman Raffaele Salamone (Portland, Deering High School), wide receiver Damon Osmond (Bath, Morse High School), wide receiver Hunter Smith (Dover-Foxcroft, Foxcroft Academy), kicker Patrick Leonard (Lowell, John Bapst High School) and defensive lineman Garrett Graham (Veazie, Brewer High School).
Docos, Fitzpatrick and Miller said they have received a lot of messages from their former high school coaches, friends and teammates in regards to the successful run.
"The whole state is really behind us," Fitzpatrick said. "My buddies in Portland sent me a picture of them walking to restaurants and bars where our game was on TV. It's great to see. There's a lot of pride in the state."
"Whenever I get a day off and go home, everyone wants to talk about the (last) game. Everybody is super excited about the opportunity we have," said Docos, who talks or texts his high school coach, Mark Soehren, before and after each game.
Miller said people are always wishing him and the team well and "they tell me we'll be watching. All that support really helps us."
Like Docos, Miller is in constant with his high school coach, Lance Cowan, and others who formerly coached him.
The Black Bears will again be underdogs against an Eastern Washington team that will be playing in its fourth semifinal since it last won the national championship in 2010.
But Fitzpatrick, Miller and Docos said that doesn't faze them.
"We feel like if we do what we have to do and execute, we have a chance to beat anybody," said Miller.
"They're a good solid team. At this point, there are no bad football teams left," Fitzpatrick said. "At the same time, we treat everyone the same. We aren't going to change anything. We're going to show up every day and do what we do."
"We're really excited about the opportunity," said Docos.
This article is written by Larry Mahoney from Bangor Daily News, Maine and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.