FARMINGTON — Mt. Blue’s defense made all of the requisite adjustments between its last meeting with Cony and Friday night’s Pine Tree Conference quarterfinal at Caldwell Field.
And those tweaks had the desired affect, limiting Cony quarterback Luke Duncklee’s big plays, because it was the stops the defense made when Duncklee was trying for a big play that extended the Cougars’ season.
Jordan Whitney ran for a touchdown, threw for another and had two key interceptions to lead No. 3 Mt. Blue to a 20-12 win over No. 6 Cony. The Cougars advance to the semifinals to face No. 2 Bangor next Friday.
“We knew that we had to slow down Duncklee,” said senior linebacker Colten Miranda, who was all over the field all night doing just that. “He was their biggest weapon. We knew we couldn’t stop him, because he was going to make some big plays. But if we could slow him down, we had a good chance of winning.”
Duncklee, a senior quarterback, rushed for 81 yards and threw for 239 more when the two teams met in the regular season, a 27-19 Mt. Blue win on Oct. 8. Friday night, he rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries and completed 15 of 34 passes for 213 yards and two interceptions. But the Cougars limited him to three runs over 10 yards (11, 11 and 16 yards) and kept the big pass plays to a minimum.
“I think not letting him get a home run ball — a 60-yard run, 60-yard pass — was the difference,” Mt. Blue coach Gary Parlin said. “They had to earn everything they had.”
The Cougars (7-2) made three key defensive stops — two at the end of the first half and one to end the game.
The first stop came when Whitney read Duncklee’s eyes and picked off his pass over the middle deep in the red zone, preserving a 7-6 lead.
After Whitney (6-for-8, 98 yards, TD) hooked up with Cam Sennick on a fade pattern for a 27-yard touchdown that made it 14-6, Cony threatened again, driving inside the Mt. Blue 5 with time running out in the half. But Duncklee’s pass was high and behind Colin McKee on third down and Whitney knocked down his fourth-down pass into the middle of the end zone with 16 seconds left in the half.
The final defensive stop came as Cony (4-5) tried to drive to the game-tying score in the closing minute with no timeouts remaining. On 2nd-and-10 from the Cony 46, Duncklee went deep over the middle for Chase Shostak, only to have Whitney step in for the clinching interception with 39 seconds left.
“I thought it was going to be over my head, then I turned and the ball was there, so I got it,” Whitney said.
Cony outgained Mt. Blue, 316-300, and Duncklee had a hand in every yard of the Rams’ offense. He had all 29 of their rushes, but when he found a hole, it usually closed quickly.
“We had our tackles slide down a little bit because they run to the strong side most of the time,” Miranda said. “So we just slid them down and got them in the gaps.”
Mt. Blue found enough gaps on its first possession to drive 70 yards in 10 plays to its first touchdown. Cony helped by jumping offsides on Whitney’s hard count on 4th-and-inches, and Whitney later converted a 3rd-and-16 with a 19-yard run, with the added bonus of a facemask penalty on the Rams that pushed the Cougars to the 5. Two plays later, Matt Davis scored from four yards out to make it 7-0.
Cony answered on its next drive with a one-yard TD run by Duncklee, but the Cougars blocked the extra point to keep it at 7-6.
Trailing 14-6 at the half, Cony took its initial second half possession 52 yards in seven plays, capped by another 1-yard run by Duncklee, to make it 14-12. Sennick bobbled the ensuing kickoff but recovered in time to return it 48 yards to the Cony 33. Four plays later, Whitney ran it in from the 1 to make it 20-12.
Despite losing starting running back Eric Berry in the first half to a rib injury, the Cougars boasted a balanced rushing attack consisting of Sennick (51 yards), Davis (48 yards), Bradley Jackson, Berry’s replacement (39 yards) and Whitney (35 yards).
“We must have had 200 yards rushing, or close to it,” said Parlin, whose team racked up 202 yards on the ground. “Jordan made the plays when he had to, and Cam is such a weapon to have. He’s done it in every possible way. The only thing he didn’t get tonight was an interception and he almost had one of those.”