BANGOR — Consider it a return to normalcy for the Bangor High School football team.
Dane Johnson rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns, and the Rams’ defense shut out Oxford Hills of South Paris until the game’s final seconds Friday night as Bangor secured a 24-7 victory over the Vikings in an Eastern Maine Class A quarterfinal.
The win avenged an 18-0 loss to the Vikings seven nights earlier, but this was a different Bangor team that stepped onto the Cameron Stadium grass for the rematch, as several starters suspended for the regular-season contest by head coach Mark Hackett in the wake of a locker-room incident completed additional disciplinary steps subsequently issued by school officials in time to return for their team’s playoff opener.
The difference was noticeable on both sides of the ball, but particularly on defense, where Bangor limited an Oxford Hills team that rushed for 245 yards last week to just 59 total yards through three quarters of the rematch while building a 21-0 lead.
“Those guys love each other, they played hard, they overcame some huge adversity and learned a lot,” said Hackett, whose fourth-seeded Rams (6-3) will play at No. 1 Cheverus of Portland in a regional semifinal next Saturday.
“I’m proud of the school. I’m proud of the community, and I’m just proud of the way it was handled. If it wasn’t handled right, it would have shown up tonight. I just believe that.”
The Vikings also proved themselves rugged defensively, particularly against the run, as they limited Johnson to an average of 3.3 yards on his 39 carries.
It ultimately took Bangor unleashing its infrequently used passing game to break the game open, with junior quarterback Jeff Lewis completing 6 of 12 attempts for 122 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown strike to Joe Johnson with 5:46 left in the third quarter to provide the Rams a 21-0 comfort zone.
“We had to throw the ball,” Hackett said. “It took us a while to get there but the adjustment was to throw the ball because our defense was playing so well that if we had to we’d punt the ball and play defense, and that was huge. Because of the defense you dare to play offense and you don’t have to be so conservative.”
Bangor amassed 309 yards of total offense compared to 159 for fifth-ranked Oxford Hills, which concluded its season at 4-5 after making its first playoff appearance in nine years.
“Our season’s not going to be defined by this game,” Vikings’ coach Mark Soehren said. “They did a great job this year. We made the playoffs and it’s been a long time since we had four wins. I was proud of the way they competed all year.”
Bangor held Oxford Hills to 16 yards of total offense and without a first down during the first two periods while Johnson was a workhorse in the Bangor backfield — rushing 30 times for 98 yards before intermission.
“We had a lot of people out on defense last week,” Bangor senior linebacker Evan McAuliffe said. “This week we got them all back, and we were ready to play.”
Yet Bangor’s lead was just 6-0 thanks mainly to Oxford Hills linebacker Davis Turner, who made two drive-stopping big plays near the goal line.
The first was his tackle of Johnson at the Vikings’ 1 on fourth-and-goal after Bangor had driven 49 yards to the brink of the end zone on the previous 11 plays — all runs by Johnson.
The field position did ultimately pay off for Bangor two possessions later, as Johnson scored on a 1-yard plunge with 7:23 left in the first half.
Bangor mounted another drive on its next possession after forcing Oxford Hills’ fourth three-and-out of the of the half, but the march again ended at the 1, this time when Johnson couldn’t handle a pitch and Turner made the fumble recovery with 43 seconds left in the second quarter.
Bangor finally did extend its lead midway through the third quarter after an exchange of pass interceptions on back-to-back plays.
First Oxford Hills’ Caleb Jewell picked off a Lewis pass at the Vikings’ 35. Then Bangor’s John Clement intercepted a deflected pass from Oxford Hills quarterback Matt Smith on the next play and returned it 15 yards to the 16.
Johnson scored from 2 yards out three plays later, and Lewis passed Nick Graham to give Bangor a 14-0 lead with 7:01 left in the period.
Lewis then hit Johnson in stride down the right sideline for a 49-yard touchdown pass on the second play of Bangor’s next possession to make it 21-0 with still 5:46 left in the quarter.
“Defensively we played well and had those couple of stops inside the 5,” Soehren said, “but it was hard because they were on the field so much.”
Oxford Hills averted the shutout with 8.7 seconds left on a 61-yard touchdown pass from Brady LaFrance to Jacob Spinhirn.