By Ernie Clark - Bangor Daily News: DEXTER - For the Dexter High football team, it was a morale-boosting Saturday afternoon.
For the Tigers' Jana Kenney, it was a moment of history.
Dexter used a punishing ground game and a solid defense to earn its first win of the season, a 16-6 victory over Mount View of Thorndike in an LTC Class C matchup at Tiger Field.
And while no official records are kept on the subject in Maine, Kenney joined a select group of schoolgirl athletes nationwide to kick a field goal in a 11-player varsity football game, her 25-yarder with 3:58 left in the fourth quarter providing coach Tim Wilson's club some valuable insurance points.
"That was nice," said Kenney, a senior who also plays field hockey during the fall sports season at Dexter. "I've been working on it all summer because kicking isn't something you can just pick up, and to finally be able to pull something through felt good."
Kenney is one of a rare breed of schoolgirl football players in the state. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, there were just seven female high school football players in Maine during the 2006 season, compared to 2,918 males.
Nationwide, 1,035 girls participated in 11-player high school football last year compared 1,104,548 boys, according to the recently released NFHS study.
"I knew the guys needed a kicker, and I love learning new things," said Kenney. "Everyone is always like, 'Girls can't play football.' I just thought it would be a good chance for me to learn something new, help the guys out and play football."
Kenney didn't get the chance to attempt an extra point or field goal in Dexter's first game of the season, a 48-0 loss at Bucksport on Aug. 31. But presented an opportunity in the Tigers' home opener, she capitalized — and her teammates were grateful for the assistance.
"Our field-goal kicker is amazing," said senior fullback Mike Lockhart. "They say girls can't play football, but she's proving them wrong. She scored four of our 16 points in the game, I couldn't be more proud of her. I have no problems with having a girl on our team. It's amazing."
Kenney also went 1 of 2 on extra-point kicks and punted twice against Mount View, including a 33-yard effort in the second quarter.
"It's a completely different game for both of them, depending on the situation," said Kenney of punting and place-kicking. "Punting's a little bit scarier for me because people are out to get me, but I like them both."
And there has been the inevitable contact that's at the core of the sport.
"I've been hit a couple of times," she said, "and I've tried to hit a couple of people on punt returns when they get by everyone. I just try to slow them down to give the guys a chance to get back and get them."
Wilson, who first coached football at Dexter during the late 1960s and early 1970s before returning to the Tigers last year after retiring as director of the Seeds of Peace camp in Otisfield, appreciates Kenney's commitment to all facets of the game.
"Did you see on the punt when she tried to tackle the guy?" Wilson said. "Now Miss [field hockey coach Margaret] Veazie, I didn't tell her to do that. Margaret's probably going to kill me because Jana's a great player for her, too."
Sophomore tailback Doug Richardson sparked Dexter to its win over Mount View, rushing for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, while Lockhart added 69 yards on 12 rushes behind the strong line play of Adam Rush, Justin Domenech, John Johnson, Quinten Gildden and Jeff White.
While Dexter amassed 213 yards on the ground, the Tigers' defense held 0-2 Mount View — a first-year varsity program — to 46 rushing yards on 28 carries. Mustangs' quarterback Edwin Santana completed five of seven passes for 105 yards, 60 on a touchdown pass to Tyler Rednour with 2:14 left in the game.
"We knew they were going to run a lot outside on us, so we tried to contain them," said Rush. "They were good, though, they got some good plays on us."
Dexter drove 72 yards in 16 plays to take a 6-0 lead when Richardson powered in from the 5 on fourth-and-2 with 3:35 left in the first quarter. Kenney's extra-point kick hit the top of the left goalpost and caromed away.
"It could have gone either way," she said.
The Tigers extended their lead late in the first half with a 53-yard march. A 16-yard gain by Cameron Doncet-Hall moved the ball inside the 10, and Richardson scored one play later on a 5-yard run. Kenney's extra-point kick gave Dexter a 13-0 lead at the break.
Dexter drove inside the Mount View 10 midway through the fourth quarter, but when the Tigers faced fourth-and-3 at the 8 with a chance to extend their lead to two touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions, Wilson turned confidently to his place-kicker.
Kenney's kick clipped the top of the crossbar just left of center, but went solidly through.
"I've improved a lot since the summer," said Kenney, a lifelong soccer player until switching to field hockey in her sophomore year. "I couldn't kick it 20 yards this summer, but I feel more confident now than I did when I started out.
"I feel like if I keep trying and the guys stay behind me like they have, I'll keep expanding my capabilities."
And while Kenney doesn't necessarily consider herself the trailblazing type, her interest in football seems to be catching on in the community.
"Jana's a good person and a fine lady," said Wilson. "And guess what, you look at our little Pop Warner program, there must be 10 girls over there playing right now, and there are two girls in the middle-school program.
"There's nothing wrong with that. If a girl wants to play football, so be it."
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