Last year, on the two occasions these pages were used to hype a Mt. Blue-Leavitt gridiron showdown, the stories went like this:
Offense, offense, offense, offense, offense, offense, offense, offense, offense, offense, and, oh yeah, the defenses are pretty good, too.
As we preview this year's Game of the Century (Part 1 of 2?), we could once again use up a lot of newsprint on the offenses alone. They're both not quite as prolific or flashy as last year, but there isn't a coach in Class B who wouldn't trade their offense for the ones currently residing in Farmington and Turner.
Include the two defenses in the trade talks, though, and a lot of coaches might opt for that side of the ball first. Both defenses have been outstanding this season, and the total points allowed don't come close to telling the whole story.
That number is particularly deceptive in Mt. Blue's case. The Cougars have yielded 81 points through five games for a respectable 15.2 average. Factor in points allowed off offensive turnovers and by the second stringers and the starting defense is responsible for about half of those points.
The Cougars have had a bit of a bend-but-don't-break tendency so far this year. Teams have moved the ball against them, particularly on the ground. Even Oceanside had some success running the ball on them during the first half of last week's 42-0 shutout.
But the defense seems to flip a switch and tighten up whenever an opponent crosses midfield. Bradley Jackson and Chad Luker, perhaps the best linebacker combo in Class B, set a physical tone in the middle. The secondary, led by Jordan Whitney (better known as the Cougars' Fitzpatrick Trophy candidate QB), Nick Hyde, Cam Abbott and Kindle Bonsall, is extremely athletic and difficult, if not downright dangerous, to pass against. The Cougars have seven interceptions in the last three games.
For all Mt. Blue's strengths, Leavitt has an answer. If Jackson and Luker aren't the best linebacker tandem in Class B, Josh Bunker and Levi Morin are. When he drops back to pass, Whitney might want to note Conor O'Malley has five sacks and fellow defensive end Brandon Collins has four. If his offensive line can keep them from breathing down his neck, Whitney still has to keep an eye out for Brian Bedard, the Hornets' own Fitzy hopeful, who leads the talented secondary with five interceptions.
The Hornets have given up 30 points, and 17 of those came in the opener against Hampden Academy. Last week's shutout of Waterville was their second of the season and dropped their points allowed per game to six. The defense has actually scored more points that it's given up in at least two games (Belfast and Waterville).
Last year, when it actually came to game time, the defenses ended up dictating the outcome, if not flat out stealing the show. The winning team, Leavitt in both cases, scored just 22 points (and needed two overtimes to reach that total in the second meeting). Mt. Blue averaged 19 points. Combine their point totals from the two games and both teams came up short of their season average.
It really couldn't have been any other way. When you have superior athletes and good coaching on both sides of the ball, the defense usually has the advantage. For all the flash and dash, imagination and energy they put into their offenses, Leavitt and Mt. Blue know that better than anyone.
"Defense wins any day," Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway said after last Saturday's 16-0 win at Waterville. "If you can play defense, you're going to win a lot of games."
The team that plays the best defense will win Friday night.