PORTLAND — They didn’t think anything could be gained by making pregame boasts or guarantees, but the Mountain Valley Falcons knew few outside of the River Valley would have believed them anyway if they let their true feelings show this past week.
“I’ve got to be honest with you,” Mountain Valley coach Jim Aylward said following his team’s 20-0 shutout of Leavitt. “We felt we could shut them down.”
Which is what Mountain Valley did, rendering a Leavitt offense that had averaged nearly 400 yards and 39 points per game helpless on the Fitzpatrick Stadium turf Saturday for the Falcons’ fourth Class B state championship in the last seven years before an estimated crowd of 3,500.
“We felt if we put the kids in alignment and assignment … we knew we’d play hard. We knew we’d hit hard and we believe we can play defense as well as anyone in the state of Maine, in any class,” Aylward said.
The Falcons’ 12th victory of their perfect season was also their eighth shutout. They surrendered 30 points all year, which is exactly what Leavitt’s average margin of victory had been going into Saturday.
“We looked at the tape and scratched our heads and said, ‘Well, (stopping the Hornets) isn’t going to be easy, but nothing is,” said senior quarterback/safety Cam Kaubris, who set the tone with an interception on the game’s first series.
“What we did is just come out with the same mentality that we had every game,” he added, “and that’s just good, old fashioned Mountain Valley football, and that’s to try and stop them from scoring, even when they get close. You know, bend but don’t break.”
Mountain Valley rarely bent and never really came close to breaking while ending defending champion Leavitt’s state-high 23-game winning streak. The Falcons surrendered just 125 total yards and eight first downs while never allowing the Hornets (11-1) past midfield in the first half, or into the red zone while the game was still at least somewhat in doubt.
“They defeated blocks well,” Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway said. “Those guys get off blocks better than anybody I’ve seen. Up front they did a good job, at the second level they did a good job of defeating blocks and getting a lot of guys around the football.”
The focus of the Falcons’ pigskin committee meetings was Leavitt quarterback Jordan Hersom, who had over 1,400 yards rushing this year but was hogtied for 11 yards on 17 carries Saturday.
“They may run spread, but if you watch their guards, they take you to the play,” Aylward said. “It’s the Jordan Hersom show. We came in with basically one philosophy. We don’t really know how good he is because all we’ve watched is film and we felt the outcome of this game was going to depend on whether he was truly the very best player on the field. And man, did we get after him today.”
They got after him from the game’s second play, in which Nick Sterling and Izaak Mills teamed up to drop the elusive junior for a 1-yard loss. On 3rd and 11, Kaubris picked off Hersom’s first pass attempt and returned it to the Hornet 43.
Kaubris passed on Mountain Valley’s first play and hooked up with Christian Durland for a 15-yard completion. A holding penalty pushed the Falcons back, but on 2nd and 15, Kaubris rolled right and found Durland near the right sideline of the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown and, after a failed two-point conversion, a 6-0 lead just 2:32 into the game.
“I looked up, I saw Hersom on him and I knew I had to really put a lot into the throw,” Kaubris said. “Hersom is a great defensive back, but we had the wind and all I did was just throw it up. The wind took it and it floated right over Hersom’s head and Christian caught it and stayed in bounds.”
“I didn’t expect to come up with it,” said Durland, who was on the receiving end of both of Kaubris’ two completions on the day. “It just kind of fell into my hands. I ran my route and I didn’t think I was going to get it, so I just kind of slanted out more and he threw the ball to me. I think I was in bounds. I couldn’t really tell. I was looking up.”
Leavitt went three and out on its next possession, and then things only got worse for the Hornets. Mountain Valley had the wind at its back in the first quarter and a 61-yard punt by Rashaud Lavoie pushed Leavitt back to its own 2.
The Hornets’ defense stepped up to keep them in the game. Another three-and-out and a 22-yard punt set up the Falcons at the Leavitt 28, but back-to-back sacks by Jesse Pelletier dropped Kaubris for an 11-yard loss and the Falcons were forced to punt the ball back.
Lavoie’s punt rolled into the end zone this time, but Leavitt couldn’t do anything with the extra breathing room, running just three plays for the fourth straight possession. A 15-yard punt set the Falcons up in prime real estate again, the Hornet 39. But again the Leavitt defense held, forcing Kaubris to fumble on a QB sneak on 4th and 1 at the 5 to keep it a 6-0 game.
“When you’re backed up, it’s hard to spread them out as much and do some of the things you want to do. They did a good job of controlling the field position and the wind early in the game,” Hathaway said. “I ‘m proud of the way our defense answered. Their backs were against the wall a lot and they held them out of the end zone for quite a time.”
Leavitt started its next series at its own 7 and got its first first down of the game on an 11-yard run by Hersom with 8:20 to go in the second quarter. A fumbled snap immediately snuffed any momentum they got out of moving the chains, though, and they had to punt again.
The Falcons were able to take over again with excellent field position, Leavitt’s 38. Runs on eight consecutive plays by Tyler Mason (8 carries, 37 yards) and Josh Allen (12 carries, 42 yards) drove them to the 1. Kaubris pushed it in from there. He also ran in the two-point conversion to make it 14-0 with 2:01 left in the half.
The Hornets needed a spark in the second half and got it when Ian Durgin tipped a Kaubris pass into the hands of Jake Ouellette, who returned it to the Falcon 44 for Leavitt’s best starting field position of the day. But runs of three and two yards by Hersom preceded two straight incompletions to stall the drive.
Leavitt’s best drive of the day came late in the third quarter. Starting at their own 8, the Hornets got a 13-yard run by Ouellette (10 carries, 68 yards), a 15-yard facemask from the Falcons and a 12-yard run by Hersom to march to the Falcon 30. Ryan Glover sacked Hersom for an eight-yard loss on the final play of the period, and the Hornets were only able to recover four of those yards before turning the ball over on downs.
If having that drive curtailed didn’t break the Hornets’ backs, the next play did. Taylor Bradley took the direct snap on 1st and 10 and busted it around the right side 66 yards for the final touchdown with 10:44 remaining.
Bradley, who toughed out a chronic shoulder injury to finish with a game-high 116 yards on 16 carries, dedicated the run and the game to Danny Garneau, a classmate and football player who lost his battle with leukemia last April.
“That (run) came from my friend Danny,” Bradley said. “This game is for him. We’ve been playing all season for him and I knew he was watching me on that play.”
“The kids swear they can feel Danny’s presence,” Aylward said, “but I don’t think they realize how good a football team they’ve become. They don’t need anyone’s presence. It’s nice to have friends in high places, but we played our fannies off today.”