Maine Central Institute’s Adam Bertrand (6) breaks a tackle by Cape Elizabeth High School’s Zach Stewart (5) in the first half of the Class C state championship game at Harold Alfond Stadium at the University of Maine in Orono on Friday. (Michael G. Seamans/Kennebec Journal)
ORONO — New class, new foes, no problem.
For the second consecutive year, the Maine Central Institute football team is a state champion.
Senior Adam Bertrand ran for 166 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and classmate Pedro Matos ripped off a key 93-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, leading MCI to a 30-13 win over Cape Elizabeth in the Class C title game Friday night at Alfond Stadium on the campus of the University of Maine.
Last season, the Huskies (8-4) won their first state championship playing in Class D. This season, making the jump to Class C, MCI rallied from a 4-4 regular season to emerge as the No. 6 seed out of the North region en route to the state title. After losing three of their first five games to start the year, the Huskies won six of their final seven to secure the school’s second Gold Ball in program history.
“Belief,” Bertrand said. “We started believing we could do it, big-time.”
The victory Friday avenged a 35-15 MCI defeat at the hands of Cape Elizabeth during the regular season in late September.
Matos’ touchdown effectively put the game out of reach for Cape Elizabeth (9-3). He finished with 166 yards rushing of his own.
“I just tried to take (the opportunity) and go for it,” Matos said. “Me and Adam, it was a our last game. We’ve been through this ride together for the longest time… and we just wanted to do it for each other. We came out here and did everything we could.”
Backed to their own 7-yard line and facing a second and extremely long following a holding penalty, Huskies freshman quarterback Ryan Friend handed the ball off to Matos on a counter to the right side. All Matos saw was wide open space, and his blistering speed made sure nobody would catch him from behind as MCI took a 21-13 lead with 1:29 remaining in the third quarter.
The Capers weren’t quite done, with a pair of forays deep into Huskies’ territory.
The first, early in the fourth quarter, stalled out on a fourth and 1 that only gained a half a yard, and the second — led by junior QB Andrew Hartel’s right arm — died inside the red zone when Jacob Brydson dropped a third-down pass and a fumbled snap was recovered by MCI linebacker Isaac Bussell on the ensuing play.
A 45-yard punt to the Cape 1-yard line by Husky Will Russell handed the Capers a final long shot — with under 4:30 remaining — but an intentional grounding penalty to Hartel in the end zone resulted in a safety and a 30-13 MCI lead.
MCI ran the clock down from there to the final buzzer, ensuring they would not need the same final-seconds heroics they pulled off in last season’s state title win over Lisbon.
“We had nothing to lose. We were not favored,” MCI head coach Tom Bertrand said. “We had some scores to settle… We got healthy, we got better, we started to peak. Our kids came together and we just buckled down.
“I’m just ecstatic the kids get some glory.”
MCI took all the momentum into the second half, both on the legs of an impressive running game and on a wild finish to the second quarter.
Bertrand, who had topped the century mark on the ground before the first quarter was over, opened the scoring with a 52-yard touchdown run just 1:32 into the game to give the Huskies the early lead. Not to be outdone, Caper quarterback Hartel threw the first of his two first-half touchdown passes to Jacob Brydson, putting the exclamation point on Cape Elizabeth’s first possession with a 16-yard strike.
Bertrand’s plunge from 1-yard out handed MCI the lead once again, 14-7, with just 12 seconds left in the opening period, but Hartel took advantage of a Bertrand fumble at the Cape 19-yard line midway through the second quarter to lead his team on an 81-yard scoring march.
The drive ended with Hartel’s 10-yard TD pass to Matt Conley. The Capers’ two-point try failed.
Hartel was 6 for 12 for 111 yards in the first half, making up for a start-and-stop running game for the Capers in the first two quarters. The South champions ran the ball 19 times for just 65 yards in the opening half.
Bertrand finished with 144 of MCI’s 214 first-half rushing yards.
Maine Central Institute’s Adam Bertrand (6) celebrates his touchdown run against Cape Elizabeth High School in the first half of the Class C state championship game at Harold Alfond Stadium at the University of Maine in Orono on Friday (Michael G. Seamans/Kennebec Journal)