TURNER — In the season opener against Hampden Academy, the Leavitt defense went into the locker room at halftime feeling embarrassed about a modest 15-7 deficit at the half.

The Hornets’ chagrin wasn’t so much about the score as the poor tackling and the missed assignments that had allowed the score to be what it was. They returned to the field for the second half determined not to make the same mistakes ever again.

For the most part, they haven’t. 

“Each week the confidence grows and grows and grows,” Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway said. “They prepare well during the week, and whatever they see, they’re going to be able to play well against.”

“We have that we-can’t-be-blocked attitude,” senior defensive tackle Mat Porter said. “We want the other team to realize that they just can’t score on us.”

It has been a stark realization for the majority of Leavitt’s opponents this season. The Hornets have posted six shutouts in 11 games, including a 13-0 blanking of Gardiner last week to win their first Pine Tree Conference Class B championship. They have surrendered 64 points all season (5.8 per game). During one stretch in the middle of the season, they were giving up about as many first downs in a game as most good defenses do in a quarter.

The Hornets don’t swarm so much as come at an offense in waves. The defensive line of Matt Pellerin, Jesse Pelletier, Mat Porter, Luke Wiley, Cam Griffin, Zach Frost and Buck Bochtler, is big, strong and loaded with varsity experience. The linebackers, Mitch Cobb, Max Cloutier, Jake Ouellette, are fast and tenacious. The secondary, led by Jon Letourneau, Jason Fisher, Lucas Witham, Jordan Hersom and Eric Theiss, has even more speed to burn and a strong inclination to hit.

With seven starters back on defense, Hathaway figured his defense would be tough, but didn’t count on it being so parsimonious.

“We have great senior leadership up front and from Jon Letourneau in the secondary,” Hathaway said. “The way some of the underclassmen have stepped up has probably been the most surprising thing, Like (junior) Luke Witham in the secondary. We didn’t even think he was going to play defense, and he’s been great, which has allowed us to keep (QB) Eric Theiss pretty much on offense.

“Jake Ouellette has been a very good linebacker for us. I don’t think you see too many sophomores step in at inside backer and lead the team in tackles on a team going to the state championship,” he added. “We’re happy with the way Jordan and Jake have come around. (Juniors) Max Cloutier, Jesse Pelletier, Zach Frost have been good.” 

Some might argue the underclassmen, and the defense in general, haven’t had a lot of pressure put on them this season because Leavitt’s powerful offense has built huge leads quickly in most games. But the Hornets were usually able to maintain their intensity through blowout after blowout, whether they were motivated by proving their dominance on the scoreboard or developing it for the long haul. The starters gave up just 35 points all season.

“I think putting up the goose egg helps keep our intensity up,” Ouellette said. “We all like seeing that zero up on the board, like the offense likes to put a lot of points up there.” 

“It’s really about being the best player that we can be individually and the best unit we can be,” Hersom said. “It’s not really about shutting them out, just becoming the best defense that we can become over the course of the year.”

The defense also had a little friendly competition with the offense, and an understanding that theirs is a mutually beneficial relationship. The defense gives the offense good field position, and the offense gives the defense plenty of breathing room.

“The offense counts on us to get the ball back, and we count on the offense to put the points up,” said Griffin, an all-conference safety who converted to an all-conference defensive end this year. 

Against Gardiner, the defense started out on a bend-don’t-break tack, then became more and more like its dominant self as the game went on. Gardiner gouged the Hornets on the ground in the first half, but Leavitt got tough in its own end and kept the Tigers off the scoreboard. In the second half, the offense fumbled four times, and all four times, the defense held to protect Leavitt’s 7-0 lead.  

“Sometimes it happens in a game where our offense isn’t getting the big plays it normally does, so that’s when the team is kind of counting on us,” Porter said. “When we’re needed, we get the job done.”

The Hornets will face their toughest test in the Class B state championship Saturday (6 p.m., Fitzpatrick Stadium) against a balanced Cape Elizabeth offense with big-play capability in the running and passing games. 

“Cape’s a really well-coached team,” Porter said. “We’ve got a lot of respect for them, but we’re going to have fun with it. This is what it’s come down to. We’ve worked all year to get to this point, so it’s something to have fun with.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.