York senior captain Noah Caramihalis is confident his team will be far better this time around when it plays at Leavitt in the Class C South final on Friday evening. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

YORK — York High senior Noah Caramihalis is convinced his team’s defense is better, stronger and faster than the one that gave up 36 points and nearly 450 rushing yards to Leavitt in the fourth game of the season.

“The first time we played them was a long time ago. Honestly, we’ve come a long way,” said Caramihalis, a defensive end who also plays slot receiver. “Our guys are a lot stronger, a lot faster. They know how to read their reads a lot better, too. I think if Leavitt takes us lightly, we’re going to surprise them. And I think we’re going to surprise everyone.”

The second-seeded Wildcats, with a 31-man roster, already have been a surprise. After going 3-6 last fall in Coach Matt Nelson’s first season, York is 9-1 and riding a six-game winning streak. The Wildcats defeated Wells twice, including a 28-8 semifinal win that ended the Warriors’ three-year title run. That sent York to its first regional final since 2014.

But top-seeded Leavitt (10-0) will present a different challenge in the Class C South final at 7 p.m. Friday. The Hornets have speedy rushers and a passing game that involves many receivers. In other words, York’s defense better be improved, or it could be a long cold night in Turner for the Wildcats.

Dasean Calder of Leavitt rushed for 192 yards in a 36-12 victory over York during the regular season. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Back on Sept. 27, Leavitt scored 30 points before York got on the scoreboard. Twin brothers Dasean Calder (12 carries, 192 yards in that game) and Damion Calder (five carries, 109 yards) did most of the damage on jet sweeps. Entering the playoffs, Leavitt had six players who had rushed for more than 300 yards, led by versatile junior quarterback Wyatt Hathaway (713 yards). Hathaway has also completed 66 percent of his passes (88 of 133) for 1,580 yards and 14 touchdowns.

After the Leavitt game, York switched from a four-man to a five-man front. That put talented sophomore Will Orso at the nose guard position. Caramihalis said the five-man front makes it easier for him and fellow defensive end junior Joe Albert to keep containment on outside plays. And linebackers junior Connor Daley and sophomore Liam Clayton have gotten significantly better, Nelson said.

“We have to rally to the tackle, get them to the ground and get off blocks,” Nelson said. “Football sometimes is simple.”

Nelson also pointed out that in the first meeting, York’s offense – led by junior quarterback Teagan Hynes (62 percent completion rate, 2,277 yards, 25 TD passes) – left points on the field. It was the only time this season York scored fewer than four touchdowns.

Leavitt’s defense, led by 6-foot-5 defensive end Cam Jordan (95 tackles, 31 for loss, including 17 sacks), will present problems. But Nelson has confidence in Hynes’ ability to spread the ball to his playmakers: senior captains Riley Linn (600 receiving yards, 480 rushing yards), Caramihalis (634 receiving yards, seven TDs), and Riley Johnston (427 yards receiving, four touchdowns), along with junior wideout Evan Bourgoine and sophomore back Hayden Henriksen.

“We knew going into the season that we were low on players, but we have the players we need,” Linn said. “And those players are doing their job on offense and defense. Everyone’s all in. That’s something that we talked about at the beginning of the season, for everyone to be all in, all season.”

Here’s a look at other 11-man playoff games involving southern Maine teams. The first eight-man state championship will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland, with Old Orchard Beach (7-3) facing Mt. Ararat (8-2).

CLASS A SEMIFINALS

Scarborough (8-2) at Bonny Eagle (9-1), 7 p.m. Friday

These teams breezed into the semifinals. Scarborough routed No. 6 Bangor, 48-3, with Jarett Flaker rushing for five touchdowns. Bonny Eagle beat No. 7 Lewiston, 48-0, as Keegan Meredith threw three touchdown passes to Jacob Humphrey and Zach Maturo ran for two scores. In a Week 2 matchup in Standish, the Scots came back from an early deficit to win 18-7, with an impressive defensive performance. In that game, Flaker (1,195 rushing yards, 12.1 per carry, 16 TDs; 286 yards, six TDs receiving) had just three carries and two catches for 30 total yards. If the Scots’ defense can come close to a similar performance, Bonny Eagle has enough offensive weapons to advance, with Maturo (1,030 yards rushing, 22 total TDs), Humphrey (12 TDs), receiver Shaun Brilliant, and bruising back Nate Ferris (839 rushing yards) complementing Meredith’s passing (58 percent completions, 17 TDs) and rushing (515 yards, 5 TDs).

Oxford Hills (6-4) at Thornton Academy (10-0), 1 p.m. Saturday

In the regular season, Thornton senior quarterback Kobe Gaudette riddled the Vikings for 254 yards and five touchdowns, four going to Peyton Jones, in a 35-6 win. Gaudette, who took over as the starter for the playoffs in his sophomore season, has been at the helm for 21 straight wins and is 22-1 as a starter). He doesn’t throw often (47 for 82 this season), but when he does, it usually goes for big yardage (21.3 yards per catch) and points (12 touchdowns). Thornton is the top-ranked team in the Varsity Maine poll. In wins against No. 2 Marshwood (28-27), No. 3 Bonny Eagle (21-14) and No. 4 Scarborough (28-27 in overtime), the Trojans showed discipline, the ability to come from behind, and a combination of a pounding run game and big-play ability. Thornton has won its other seven games by an average of 45 points. Last week, Oxford Hills shut out Sanford, 42-0, behind 207 rushing yards from Colby VanDecker. Thornton held the Vikings’ running game in check in the regular-season meeting.

CLASS B REGIONAL FINALS

North: Lawrence (9-1) at Brunswick (10-0), 7 p.m. Friday

After a glad-to-be-there 49-0 loss to Marshwood in last year’s Class B title game, Brunswick has been a healthier, veteran team this season and rolled through Class B North, including a 50-21 win at Lawrence on Sept. 27. Brunswick led 42-7 after three quarters. This will be a battle of the trenches, as both teams want to run the ball. Lawrence rushed for 438 yards in its 43-22 semifinal win against Mt. Blue, but give the edge to Brunswick’s line and its senior trio of running backs Owen Richardson and Mitch Leinert and quarterback Noah Goddard.

South: Kennebunk (8-2) at Marshwood (9-1), 1 p.m. Saturday

Based on the five meetings between these rivals from 2016-18, this could be a close game. Kennebunk won three times, and the largest victory margin for either team was six points. Based on Marshwood’s 48-14 win on Oct. 18, however, the two-time defending state champion Hawks have the distinct edge this season. Marshwood’s starting offense scored touchdowns on all six possessions in the regular-season matchup. Marshwood senior quarterback Connor Caverly (who signed a letter of intent Wednesday to play baseball at UMaine) can chuck it around if needed, but the offense revolves around fullback Justin Bryant (1,217 yards, 26 TDs), who averages 10.8 punishing yards per carry. If Kennebunk’s defense can somehow hold up, the Rams have a puncher’s chance, with running-receiving dual threats Ryan Connors (17 TDs) and Jacob Sullivan (18 TDs), both nearing 1,000 yards from scrimmage.

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