Are the Mt. Blue and Marshwood football teams polar opposites or mirror images?
It's the burning question if you're weighing the prospects of Saturday's Class B football championship at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland, and the accurate answer probably is both.
True, Mt. Blue is known far and wide for its ability to sling the ball all over creation, while Marshwood embraces the Delaware Wing-T, subtle as a sucker punch and fancy as leather helmets.
Stop there, however, and you're neglecting the completeness of both teams.
When the Hawks do throw, it usually changes a number on the scoreboard. And their perimeter quickness on each of the line of scrimmage can be dizzying.
And let's not forget that the Cougars often flaunt a full house backfield that tips the scales at a collective 700 pounds. Power football isn't something that stayed buried under the big rock at the construction site formerly known as Ray Caldwell Field.
Mt. Blue (11-0) and Marshwood (10-1) will kick off shortly after 6 p.m., each chasing its first state title since the 1980s.
Here's a categorized breakdown of the crucial match-ups and trends to watch:
When Mt. Blue has the ball
State title Saturday is the stage where Fitzpatrick Trophy finalists are made, and don't be surprised if senior quarterback Jordan Whitney takes advantage of the captive audience. Whitney has thrown for more than 1,500 yards and 28 touchdowns against only five interceptions, although his ability to run was even more beneficial to the Cougars during the Pine Tree Conference playoffs.
Whitney's primary receivers are small-but-quick Nick Hyde and Nate Backus on the flanks and 6-foot-3, 225-pound Chad Luker out of the backfield. Zak Kendall (265 pounds) is also a threat to catch the ball over the middle, but he has served most notably as a blocker for Luker, Backus, Whitney and Bradley Jackson this season.
Marshwood employs a 4-4-3 defense with Eric Pratt, Tyler Gagnon and Beau Blanchette leading the charge up front. Brett Gerry headlines the linebackers.
"I would say defensively they compare to Gardiner, because they're not real big but they're very quick and they're very, very fundamentally sound," Mt. Blue coach Gary Parlin said. "They don't do a lot on defense. They stunt the linebackers some, but basically they have guys in the right spots. Their front four is very quick. They're not real big."
Mt. Blue relied heavily upon shifty tailback Calan Lucas, the bruising Luker and the elusive Whitney in its PTC title game win over Waterville. Guard Connor Farrington and tackles Colin Richards and Eli Luker lead the Cougars' line.
Noah Kreider, Kyle Markham and Nick Janes are the secondary charged with containing Whitney and his numerous options.
When Marshwood has the ball
Quarterback Cameron Roll wears No. 22, and probably not as a tribute to Doug Flutie's days at Boston College. Roll entered summer workouts as a running back before coach Alex Rotsko moved him under center due to a lack of experience at that position on the Hawks' roster.
Roll has rewarded the coach's faith by rushing for more than 500 yards while showing increased comfort at commanding the Wing-T throughout the season.
"We've been seeing a lot of Wing-T lately. They run a lot of the same blocking schemes that Waterville does," Parlin said. "The difference with them is their quarterback is such an effective runner. There's times that York and Wells knew it was coming, but they blocked it and the kid made a 20 or 30-yard run."
Marshwood completed one pass in the Campbell Conference title game against York. Kreider caught it for a 28-yard touchdown. In another game this season against Cape Elizabeth, Kreider was on the receiving end of two scores, one from Roll and another from Janes on a halfback option pass.
The Hawks' bread-and-butter, however, is its running game, and the myriad options and misdirection inherent to the Wing-T. Gerry (1,097 yards), Roll and Janes furnish the speed, with fullback Dan Lizotte (760 yards) providing the power.
It's an approach that helps the Hawks win the turnover battle most of the time. Marshwood has fumbled only 10 times all season.
"It's just mental toughness," Rotsko told Seacoast Online. "I think our running backs are mentally tough."
Gagnon and Pratt anchor the offensive line. The Hawks' toughest test is to neutralize all-PTC linebackers Jackson and Chad Luker. And when the Hawks do throw, they must be aware of Whitney's ability to read, react and pick off passes.
"You have to stop their run, but at the same time (Roll) has the ability to throw, especially if you bring everybody to the line of scrimmage," Parlin said. "Guys have to do their assignments and watch their reads. If you get guys peeking into the backfield, you have no idea where the ball is. "
Whitney's booming kickoffs and punts and Backus' ability to break big returns are strengths for Mt. Blue. Both abilities could prove even more dangerous on the Fitzpatrick turf.
Parlin was met with pained laughter when he nominated Whitney's 40-yards-per-punt average to his fellow coaches at the PTC all-conference meeting, even though he was serious. The Cougars have kicked it away on fourth down only 13 times all year.
"We look at our punt and kickoff team as the first defensive play of our next series and the return as the first offensive play, so if you gain 15 or 20 yards that's a great play," Parlin said. "If you go out there and don't gain a yard then it's a bad play."
Marshwood won the Western Class B championship by converting a two-point play after its final touchdown, then forcing York to miss a potential game-tying extra point with two minutes to go.
Anthony Franchetti is consistently solid at kicking extra points and has been given ample opportunities by the Cougars' quick-strike attack.
Backus added a dimension for the Cougars when he returned from an injury that cost him the first month of the season.
"They don't kick the ball great, but they cover it really well," Parlin said of Marshwood.
Rotsko has been hailed as a miracle worker for his turnaround of a Marshwood program that went 2-6 in its first Class B campaign in 2011.
His history before relocating to York County over the summer was well documented. As the coach at Longmeadow High in Massachusetts, Rotsko compiled a 184-39 record in 19 seasons. He led the Lancers to 15 state title game appearances, winning 11. Along the way, Longmeadow enjoyed a 47-game winning streak.
Parlin is part of a tradition similar to the Williams to Yastrzemski to Rice sequence in left field at Fenway Park. Since the early 1970s, Parlin and his mentor Caldwell have been the only head football coaches at Mt. Blue. Assistants Craig Collins (defensive coordinator) and Peter Franchetti (offensive line) are longtime associates of Parlin, now in his 20th season as head coach and 35th overall.
Two years ago, Mt. Blue's staff accumulated even greater depth by adding longtime Livermore Falls coach Brad Bishop.
Road to the final
Mt. Blue breezed to the fourth undefeated regular season in school history with close wins at Gardiner and Leavitt. Marshwood suffered its loss, 36-6, against Wells on a night when Roll was benched for disciplinary reasons.
The Cougars suffered a first-round scare against Mt. Desert Island, surviving 14-13 after defeating the Trojans 47-15 a month earlier. There were some anxious moments in the second half against Gardiner (33-21). With rival Leavitt eliminated by Belfast in the quarterfinals, the PTC final against Waterville (40-14) was a relative breeze.
Marshwood trailed Cape Elizabeth at halftime of the Western quarterfinals before rallying, then avenged the defeat against Wells with a 15-13 semifinal triumph before edging York, 21-20.
"We made the statement early in the week that we think they're the best team we've played so far, on film, but I also think we're the best team they've played," Parlin said. "I think it's going to be a close game."
Marshwood is the only school in Maine high school football history to win state titles in four different classifications. The Hawks wore the Class D crown in 1966 before owning Class C during their years in the old Southern York League, winning the Gold Ball 13 times between 1971 and 1986.
The Hawks last won the Class B title in 1988. A year later they advanced to Class A with exquisite timing, enjoying an undefeated state championship season on the shoulders of Fitzy winner and future University of Maine standout Steve Knight.
Caldwell guided Mt. Blue to Class B championships (then known as A; A was denoted as AA) in 1974, 1975 and 1980. The Cougars were beaten in their last three trips to the state game — by Winslow in Class B in 1982, and in Class A by Lewiston (1987) and Bonny Eagle (2005).