FARMINGTON — Mt. Blue entered the season with arguably the top quarterback in the state, two rugged backs, a 265-pound lead blocker, a fleet of receivers, lights-out linebackers and a splendid secondary.
What was potentially missing? Only the foundation that most coaches and old-timers would tell you holds it all together.
Of the five offensive linemen who opened the season, only one — senior tackle Eli Luker — saw anything more than token time in the 2011 trenches.
"We said all along we'd go as far as that group. We knew had the skill guys. We knew we had everything with the exception of our offensive line," Mt. Blue coach Gary Parlin said. "We wondered how good are they going to be? Well, they turned out better than we expected."
Junior Connor Farrington morphed into a Pine Tree Conference all-star at guard, where he's teamed with Tyler Sennick. The 265-pound Luker picked up a quiet but punishing bookend in Colin Richards. All of 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds, senior Drew Blanchet is the easy-to-lose center that Parlin has long preferred in his Cougar Gun offense.
They've given QB Jordan Whitney the time to throw for close to 2,000 yards. They've produced the room for the Cougars' bevy of backs to go all ground-and-pound in playoff wins over Gardiner and Waterville.
You can bet they'll also be a big part of the story if Mt. Blue (11-0) is able to complete the dream season at 6 p.m. Saturday against Marshwood (10-1) in the Class B final at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
"We're really clicking," Farrington said. "Our offense is moving. We can pass the ball. We can open up holes for the running back. I feel good about our offensive line right now."
In popular schoolboy gridiron parlance, the Mt, Blue offensive line has become a family. No surprise, when you consider the strength of the branches on their personal family trees.
Farrington's older brother, Caleb, was an all-PTC lineman as a senior a year ago. Sennick's sibling, 6-foot-6 flanker and basketball star Cam, graduated with the same class. Luker's cousin, Chad, is the Cougars' leading rusher this season.
Their versatility ensures that no matter how many game films opposing coaches digest, they can never be sure whether the Cougars will brandish the run-and-shoot, a full house backfield or something in the middle.
"I don't know what gene pool allows (the Farringtons) to pull, but they are two of the best pulling guards," Parlin said. "A lot of kids can pull and get out there quick, but to pick up the right guy. When Connor misses a guy, we're shocked."
Ask the Cougars' front five if they prefer blocking for the pass or the run and you're bound to get quizzical looks.
By nature, the guys who do the dirty work appreciated the tenor of Mt. Blue's 40-14 PTC championship win over Waterville.
"I like the power game. I get a little nervous when we throw the ball, just because I'm always nervous," Farrrington said. "But I liked running the ball. It felt good having control of possession for most of the game."
Then again, with a leader of Whitney's mobility and leadership skills taking the shotgun snaps, a pass play can turn into a run play in the blink of an eye.
"It feels good even when they catch and throw," Richards said.
Graduation losses weren't the end of change or adversity for Mt. Blue's offensive line, which is coached by longtime Cougars assistant Peter Franchetti.
Luker was lost for two games in midseason due to a suspension. The same week, Richards wrenched his ankle about 10 minutes before the end of the final practice leading up to a midseason showdown with Leavitt.
Down two starters, the Cougars avenged two agonizing losses to Leavitt with a 20-12 victory in Turner.
Even though most of them were merely spectators for a 22-21, double-overtime defeat in the 2011 PTC final, the reinforcements felt the sting inflicted by the Hornets.
"It was very emotional for my brother. It was emotional for the whole team," Farrington said. We were a wreck after we lost that game. We've just been hungry."
Parlin only half-jokingly noted that one reason his line developed so quickly is that it is more cerebral than most.
"The whole misnomer of the dumb lineman? It's the dumb backs," Parlin said. "You can (get away with having) the dumbest kids on earth for your backs."
Mt. Blue's line is smart enough to recognize that Marshwood presents its toughest test to date.
Their coach compares the Hawks' defense to Gardiner, a group that gave the Cougars fits twice this season.
"It's probably going to be the most physical game we've played up front," Farrington said. "They're fast. They're strong. They're basically like us. They're not big, fat guys. They're toned. They're fast off the ball. We've got our work cut out for us this week."
Their August aspiration was to evolve from a liability into a strength.
No sweat. So what's left in mid-November?
"Our last goal," Richards said.
State champions — something that would have been a distant dream without them.