PORTLAND — Pressure? What Pressure?

Both contestants in Saturday night’s Class B state championship (6 p.m., Fitzpatrick Stadium) exorcised their playoff demons last week by winning their respective regional titles. Both said they look at Super Saturday as a reward for years of pain and hard work.

“It was a big weight that was lifted off our shoulders on Saturday against Gardiner (in the regional final),” Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway said. “We had put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get back to that point after losing to Morse (in the PTC semifinals) last year. It was a long off-season and a long 12 weeks leading up to that game.”

“This week, we’re focused on preparing — we want to play as well as we can on Saturday — but we’re going to enjoy it,” he added.

Cape enjoyed shaking a King Kong-sized primate off its back with its Campbell Conference win over arch-nemesis Mountain Valley, which had beaten the Capers in the three previous regional championships.

“I don’t know if there has ever been any weight on my players’ shoulders, but I definitely feel that way personally,” Cape Elizabeth coach Aaron Filieo said. “I never thought that I would feel more relaxed this week, as opposed to the last two weeks.”

It would be understandable if both teams started to feel a little tighter Saturday night once it finally sinks in how formidable their foe is. Both teams rolled through perfect 11-0 seasons. The Capers won by an average score of 37-5, the Hornets by an average of 46-7. Both defenses posted six shutouts. Both offenses are led by talented seniors at quarterback and running back who are complemented by a wide array of weapons that were the envy of every other offensive coordinator in their respective conferences. 

“I see a lot of us in them,” Filieo said. “They have some nice athletes to play around some physical linemen. When you’re playing a balanced team like that, you just have to stay balanced yourself, on both sides of the ball.” 

The Capers boast a potent offense led by QB Ezra Wolfinger (69 percent completions, 1,627 yards, 24 TDs, 3 INTs) and running back Tom Foden (905 yards, 18 TDs rushing). Finn Melanson (43 receptions, 750 yards, 13 TDs), another senior, is Wolfinger’s favorite target, particularly in the red zone. 

“We know that they have a good quarterback. We know that Foden can run the football, and we know that Melanson can make some big catches,” Hathaway said. “Our thing all year on defense has been to be steady and try not to give up big plays and try to tackle well. If we can defeat blocks and execute our coverage schemes in the secondary, that’s going to bode well.”

Cape’s “Big Three” are a big concern for the Hornets, but Hathaway warns against keying on them and ignoring senior fullback Kyle Piscopo (700 yards rushing and receiving), who caught the game-winning touchdown in the 23-13 win over Mountain Valley. 

“He’s a very underrated football player,” he said. “He’s similar to (Morse fullback) Tyler Russell. He makes the key blocks. He catches passes in the flats. You can’t lose sight of him.”

“I think last Saturday proved that we are more than the ‘Big Three,'” Filieo said. “Finn was a non-factor and Tommy was essentially a non-factor and Ezra, for the most part, had a tough day as well. So we did have people like Piscopo and Kyle Danielson step up. It was a good game for our guys to realize this is a complete team.” 

Leavitt will counter with a veteran defense led by a formidable front that includes seniors Matt Pellerin, Mat Porter and Cam Griffin. The group will test the Cape line which has been revamped after losing two-way all-conference tackle Luke Morin (broken leg) in the last game.

“It’s a pretty big loss, but thankfully we’re deep enough where we haven’t lost our confidence in our ability to control the line of scrimmage,” Filieo said.  

When the Hornets have the ball, many of the same people will fight it out in the trenches. But Leavitt hopes, at least initially, to get as many of its skill players involved as possible.

“We always start every game with the philosophy that we’re going to spread the ball around. Then once the game starts to take its course, we take what they’re giving us,” he said. 

During the regular season, the Hornets took their share of senior slotback Jon Letourneau (30 catches, 419 yards), their leading receiver, sophomore slotback Jordan Hersom (1,100 total yards, 12 TDs) and receivers Ryan Labbe, Isaiah Wright, Buck Bochtler, Lucas Witham and Griffin.

But, as it did in the playoffs against Hampden Academy and Gardiner, Leavitt may ultimately try to wear down Cape with its two most dynamic weapons, senior QB Eric Theiss, who sees some time in the secondary, and senior tailback Josh Strickland, who doesn’t play defense. Theiss has thrown for 1,204 yards, 12 TDs and 3 interceptions this year while rushing for another 903 yards and 14 touchdowns. Strickland, who missed time early in the season with a tight hamstring, has piled up 1,365 yards and 16 touchdowns, including over 500 yards and four touchdowns in the last two weeks.

Leavitt has been designated the home team Saturday, but both teams agreed that Cape won’t have what could amount to a home field advantage because their field, like Fitzpatrick Stadium’s, is turf. Filieo compared the Fitzpatrick turf to the rug at Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia. While it doesn’t have the seams and bumps that notoriously bad surface had, it is significantly more worn than Hannaford Field’s newer FieldTurf.

“Leavitt is a speed team anyway,”  Filieo said.

“It’s going to feel weird at first,” Griffin said. “But like coach Hathaway said over and over again,we’ll meet any team in a parking lot and play them there.”

Winning a state title in a parking lot would be unprecedented. So would the Hornets winning a third state championship. They won their first two, in 1995 and 1998, representing Western Maine. Picking up a Gold Ball for Eastern Maine would make them the first to win from both regions under the current format.

“We have to come out with high intensity like every game, but we have to be loose as well,” said Hersom, who watched his father, Jim, now a Leavitt assistant, coach Edward Little there in 2002, and his cousin, Jack, play there for Lawrence in 2006 and 2007. “We just have to play football like we know how and try not to do too much. Do what you can do.”


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