Oxford Hills quarterback Colton Carson breaks through the line, aided by a block by JJ Worster, against Cheverus in Saturday’s Class A North semifinal at Gouin Athletic Complex. (Brewster Burns photo)
The Oxford Hills Vikings took a few drives to get their offense and defense back into the flow of football against Cheverus after earning a first-round bye in the Class A playoffs.
The Vikings couldn’t get much going after their opening touchdown until the coaching staff got some help from the offensive line.
“My offensive linemen did a good job of coming back and telling me what they saw and what was happening on one side and that we could run it inside again,” Oxford Hills head coach Mark Soehren said. “When they focused on the outside run then we could go inside. We tried to take what they would give us and those picks were big.”
The running game got going with Janek Luksza breaking a couple big runs as well as quarterback Colton Carson rushing for over 100 yards and two touchdowns, and the Vikings came away with a 35-6 win.
The offense clicked eventually, and so did the defense. In the third, when Greyden Lindstedt ran for a total of 49 yards in one drive, Carson came up big with an interception. Outside of that drive, the Stags couldn’t find many answers against Oxford Hills’ front seven.
It’s going to take the same effort, and even maybe more, to defeat Portland this coming week in the Class A North final. But the Vikings have been tested and are ready for their rematch with the top team in the region after losing to them last month.
“We have to focus on playing our game,” Carson said.
LEAVITT LEANS ON OVERLOOKED ‘D’
Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway understands why the Hornets’ defense usually takes a back seat to their offense in terms of notoriety.
“I think we continually get overlooked each year because we’re a spread offense that scores a fair amount of points,” he said. “But our defense every year has been pretty solid. Nothing different this year.”
The offense may get the headlines, but history has shown the other side of the ball is just as critical to Leavitt’s success. During one recent five-year stretch, 2009-13, the Hornets’ defense led their region in points allowed. They reached the state final in four of those seasons (2009-11 in Class B, 2013 in Class C).
This year, the Hornets (9-1) allowed 6.8 points per game during the regular season, tops in Class C South. They’ve tightened things up even more in the playoffs, shutting out Lake Region in the quarterfinals and allowing seven points in Saturday’s semifinal against Cape Elizabeth.
“They’ve been awesome. Mark Bonnevie’s done an awesome job coordinating that and the defensive staff that works with him, they do a great job each week of putting together a game plan,” Hathaway said. “Our guys do a good job of executing. We take a lot of pride in that side of the ball.”
Cape scored the most points of any opponent in a 42-20 loss to Leavitt during the regular season. The Capers evolved into a more run-oriented offense since then and hoped to control the ball and the clock in Saturday’s semifinal. But the Hornets’ defensive front, led by linemen Cam Jordan, Cole Melanson, Max Pelkey and Jacob Spugnardi and linebackers Tommy Casey and Riley Parmenter, allowed just 3.1 yards per carry to put the Capers in third-and-long situations.
“Our front seven had a nice game. We really stuffed the run pretty well,” Hathaway said.
If any defense has matched Leavitt’s this season, it’s the Hornets’ opponent in the C South final, Fryeburg Academy (9-1). The Raiders yielded 6.9 points per game during the regular season. In the playoffs, they allowed six points to Yarmouth and seven to Gardiner.
Since allowing 36 points to Lisbon in the season opener, the Raiders have given up 46 points in the last nine games. No one has reached double digits against them, and they’ve thrown two shutouts, including a 13-0 win over Leavitt on Oct. 5.
“They’re a great defense, a great offense, too, and they’re very well-coached,” Hathaway said. “It’s a tough matchup. But I think the two best teams are left.”
The Hornets will need to be at their best for the sequel and avoid the costly mistakes of the first game.
“We’ve got to stay away from penalties and turnovers against them. That’s what killed us last time,” Hathaway said. “I think we’re a more disciplined team. We put a big emphasis on it after that game.”
“Ever since we took that loss, it’s been in the back of our mind,” sophomore QB Wyatt Hathaway said. “We know if we execute our game plan, we should beat them. They’re obviously a great team. Their offense is good. Their defense is good. We just have to come out and battle like we did (against Cape Elizabeth).”
Oak Hill’s first three games of the season were decided by a total of seven points, which hit the fast forward button on the maturation of the young Raiders.
The Raiders won two of those three barn-burners, a good omen for when the games got bigger later in the season. But there were a lot of growing pains in between, which ultimately made Oak Hill (5-5) the most dangerous team in the D South playoffs.
Friday night’s 34-33 semifinal victory at No. 6 Madison was Oak Hill’s second overtime triumph of the playoffs, following a 6-0 overtime win at No. 2 Lisbon in the quarterfinals. It was also the Raiders’ sixth game decided by six points or less. They are 4-2 in those games.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games, four decided by a total of six points,” Raiders coach Stacen Doucette said. “Even the first game against Lisbon (a 47-27 Greyhound win in the regular-season finale) was closer than the score indicates. It was a seven-point game with a minute-and-a-half left.”
Unbeaten Wells, which will host the Raiders in the D South final (7 p.m. Friday), broke up the early string of thrillers with a 56-13 win in Week 4 at Wales. The game showed how much growing Oak Hill still had to do at the season’s midway point.
“We were young. We took the first two drives right down the field and scored, and they did, too,” Doucette said. “Then we blinked and Wells didn’t.”
They lost four of their last five games, but the final month of the season was anything but a loss. They developed enviable depth on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and their skill position players, led by dynamic sophomore QB Gavin Rawstron, started to assert themselves as reliable playmakers.
“We play all of our kids,” Doucette said. “I think our younger kids are the ones that touch the ball, and they’re starting to play pretty well.”
The Raiders’ offensive line rotation goes eight deep. The defensive line “has seven or eight kids in the rotation, and that’s not counting defensive ends,” Doucette said.
“We try to play fresh kids with a mixture of young and old,” he said. “Everyone’s got something in their tool box to the overall project.”
That depth should come in handy against the Warriors (10-0), who are notorious for wearing down opponents and ultimately breaking their will.
Doucette noted his team has been winning the fourth quarter for most of the season. Staying within striking distance through the first three quarters will be key for the Raiders, and shift even more pressure to the defending state champions.
“We’re the seven seed,” he said. “We’re just going to go do what we do and just hope things work out for the better. We’ve got nothing to lose.”
COUGARS FIND LEG TO STAND ON
Teams usually like to have at least one timeout left in their pocket for scenarios such as the one that unfurled in the final minute of Friday night’s Class E semifinal.
But Dirigo sophomore Dallas Berry believes the Cougars’ not having a timeout to burn before his game-winning field goal in their 17-14 win over Maranacook may have been a blessing in disguise.
“That really helped. I wasn’t really looking to think about that any more than I had to,” said Berry, who also converted both of his PAT kicks.
With the clock ticking down below 30 seconds remaining in regulation, Berry lined up for his 22-yard field goal immediately after Chandler Redmond’s three-yard run got the ball centered for the attempt. Planting his feet on a slick Harlow Park field, he calmly split the uprights from 22 yards, with plenty of room to spare.
“He banged it through,” Dirigo coach Jim Hersom said. “I’ll tell ya, we’ve been working on hard on (those situations). He’s got a good leg.”
Both of Berry’s legs got a little more work than usual due to a nagging ankle injury that limited leading rusher Alex Gorham for much of the game. The senior was relegated to playing mostly defense after tweaking the ankle on a carry early in the second quarter.
Berry delivered with the extra workload, rushing 17 times for 75 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown that put Dirigo up, 14-0, late in the first half.
“I knew with Alex out I was going to have to step up. But our line stepped up big and got their blocks. I was able to run behind them and get some good yards to keep us going,” Berry said.
Gorham’s health will be a concern going into next week’s Class E title game against top-seeded Freeport, which handed the Cougars their only loss of the season, 34-14, on Sept. 28 in Freeport.
“I don’t think Alex can go on offense, so we’re going to have to regroup and see what we can do,” Hersom said.
Stephen Gray of Leavitt Area High School takes down Garrett Mello of Cape Elizabeth during the first half in Lewiston on Saturday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)