PORTLAND — Devon Varney was all set up to be the hero.

The junior kicker for Maine Central Institute was lined up for a game-winning, 37-yard field goal with 3.1 seconds left in the Class D state championship game.

But the snap was low and Eli Bussell couldn’t firmly grasp the ball. Instead of falling on it, the senior captain picked it up, got up and ran to the right, all the way into the end zone, lifting the Huskies to a shocking 20-14 win over Lisbon at Fitzpatrick Stadium on Saturday.

“That’s just Eli making a play,” MCI coach Tom Bertrand said. “We have a ‘fire’ call, like anybody else does on a field goal. It was ‘fire,’ he was looking to pass it, he saw that everybody got sucked in and decided to keep it, and Eli makes plays.”

“Immediately I think, ‘What can I do? What should we do?’ We have a call for it, and it just happened to work out,” said Bussell, who called the feeling of making such a play indescribable. “I think right as I got around the corner, I feel like it was a better chance to get on the board and win the game.”

Bussell said the Huskies (12-0) had confidence in Varney’s ability to make the long kick, and that he should have caught the snap.

But he didn’t, and everything still turned out alright for an MCI team that was in its third straight state final, but looking for the first win.

“It feels great,” Bertrand said. “It’s a relief, to be honest with you.”

The Huskies weren’t feeling so great at halftime. They were down 14-0, thanks to the Greyhounds’ (8-2) running and defense.

“If we kept going with that same pattern, this was going to get out of hand quick,” said Bertrand, who was worried at halftime. “It was either going to go one way or the other, and our kids decided that they were going to take the bull by the horns and go get it.”

MCI jumped on the back of senior quarterback Josh Buker, who was running and gunning all over the field, passing for 110 of his 196 yards through the air after halftime. He also added 95 yards on the ground in the game.

“Their quarterback, I think, is a type of an athlete that just buys them a lot of time,” Lisbon coach Dick Mynahan said. “He controlled the second half of this game.”

Buker cut the deficit to 14-7 late in the third quarter with a 58-yard touchdown pass to Alex Bertrand. That came one play after Buker’s 56-yarder to Clark Morrison was called back on a holding penalty.

Buker didn’t get credit for the Huskies’ second touchdown, but he was the playmaker on the score. The play started out at the Lisbon 21-yard line, and Buker set out scrambling. A defender got between him and the end zone around the 5-yard line, so he casually pitched the ball to Bussell for the score, tying the game 14-14 with 3:47 to play.

“He’s probably the biggest key to our offense,” Bussell said.

The Greyhounds’ ensuing drive stalled after one fourth-down conversion. A sack on Tyler Halls by Seth Bussell and an incomplete pass by Lucas Francis forced Lisbon to punt with 40 seconds left.

That was enough time for the Huskies.

Buker scrambled on first down, then Bussell ran up to the line and spiked the ball to stop the clock. Buker sandwiched another scramble around two incomplete passes, then hit Bertrand for 19 yards before going out of bounds to set up the field goal-attempt.

“It was really just kids executing and making plays in the second half,” Bertrand said.

There wasn’t much of that for MCI in the first half.

Neither team could muster much offense in the first half, though the Huskies did get a goal-to-go situation on their first drive before a penalty and sack forced them into a long fourth-down throw. The next drive saw an interception thrown by Buker, with Hunter Job scooping up a screen-pass attempt.

Lisbon then drove deep, only for Halls to be picked off by Bussell. The Huskies went three-and-out and punted, then Halls needed three straight runs to rumble in from four yards out to make it 6-0 midway through the second quarter.

After another quick MCI drive to nowhere the Greyhounds scored again. Halls kept it five out of six plays, with the final one a 10-yard TD run, followed by a two-point pass to Tyrese Joseph to make it 14-0.

“We knew that they were very big and strong inside, so after the first couple plays we went inside didn’t work, and then our bread-and-better was really outside,” Halls said. “The QB sweep was working for me, tosses, it was just a good place for us to go.”

About the halftime lead, Halls said: “We felt really good, but we knew MCI is a good team and that they could come back just like they did.”

The Huskies were equally as strong defensively as they were offensively in the second half, with Bertrand saying that his team bent, but didn’t break.

“I think it’s a little bit of their defense just stiffening up, probably figuring out what we did,” Mynahan said. “Us not executing as well as maybe we did in the first half. Hard to say. I thought we had some opportunities in the second half, especially in the beginning, and it just didn’t pan out.”

The Greyhounds got down to the MCI 22-yard line on their opening drive of the second half, but never got closer.

“It sucks to lose, but it was a hard-fought game,” Halls said. “It was a great game to play in.”

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Dakota McIver, left, Tyrese Joseph and Bradley Harriman react after Maine Central Institute ran in a bobbled field goal for a touchdown with no time left to win the Class D State Championship. 

Lisbon head coach Dick Mynahan talks with his team following the loss. Mynahan said this would be his final game coaching the Lisbon Greyhounds. 

Blake Frost (18) and Clark Morrison (15) of Maine Central Institute mouth off to Tyler Halls of Lisbon after breaking up a pass intended for Halls during the fourth quarter. MCI was issued an unsportsmanlike penalty for the taunts, keeping a late Lisbon drive going. 

Tyrese Joseph of Lisbon heads up the sideline after catching a third quarter pass. 

Lisbon lineman Hunter Job reacts after he made an interception off of an Maine Central Institute screen pass during the first period on Saturday. 

Cole Bolduc of Lisbon High School pressures Maine Central Institute quarterback Josh Buker in the end zone during the second period. MCI was porced to punt from the end zone on the series. 

Tyler Halls of Lisbon pulls down Maine Central Institute quarterback Josh Buker during MCI’s final drive during the fourth quarter. 

Lucas Francis of Lisbon High School breaks up a pass intended for Adam Bertrand of Maine Central Institute during the second period. The pass fell incomplete. 

Lisbon High School quarterback Tyler Halls passes over T.J. Kuespert of Maine Central Institute during the second period. 

Maine Central Institute quarterback Josh Buker finds room to run against Lisbon during the second period. 

Laurie Halls cheers as her son, Tyler Halls, and the rest of the Lisbon High School football team take the field at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland on Saturday. 


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