TURNER — A touchdown run by Caden McDuffie with three seconds left lifted Cape Elizabeth to a 25-23 win over Leavitt and Class C South region title on Saturday.

McDuffie’s 3-yard touchdown run finished off a game-ending 18-play, 10-minute drive by Cape Elizabeth.

No. 1 Leavitt (7-1)  punted to the No. 2 Capers (8-1), who started their drive at their own 43-yard line. For 18 plays, they moved slowly up the field, taking up time and picking up enough yards to keep the drive doing and thereby preventing Leavitt from getting the ball back.

“I come from an offense growing up that we milk the clock down, three or four yards at a time,” McDuffie, Cape Elizabeth’s quarterback, said. “We didn’t intend on taking all the time, but that’s just how it played out. I’m proud of them, they did it to perfection.”

Cape Elizabeth found itself facing fourth down on Leavitt’s 3-yard line and called a timeout with three seconds left. McDuffie took the snap out of the shotgun and ran up the middle and reached the ball over the goal line for the touchdown as time expired.

“I told them in the huddle that we are the best team in the state and that three yards is nothing to us,” McDuffie said. “I think it woke everybody up. The hole I had after the play-fake was the size of a semi-truck.”

Cape Elizabeth coach Sean Green said he didn’t want Leavitt to have the ball again, and for good reason. The Hornets started scoring early and quickly Saturday.

“I’ve coached some good football teams, and I think that was the longest drive with that much at stake,” Green said. “We told the guys that we were going to take the whole clock and go win this thing right now. Leavitt is so good and coach Mike Hathaway is such a phenomenal coach. I told him after the game that there is no coach in the league I look up to more than him. We just didn’t want to give them the ball back.”

Just like they did a week earlier against Wells, the Hornets drove down the field quickly on the first drive of the game. Dayton Calder found the end zone on a 39-yard run that was followed by a Noah Carpenter run for the two-point conversion that gave the Hornets an 8-0 lead just 2:08 into the game.

Cape Elizabeth scored even more quickly on the ensuing drive, as McDuffie passed to Nick Laughlin on a crossing route to the right sideline, and Laughlin ran the rest of the way for a 68 yard score to cut the Hornets’ lead to 8-6.

Cape Elizabeth will play No. 2 Winslow (6-2) on Saturday at 12 p.m. at Fitzpatrick Stadium for the Class C state championship.

Leavitt was forced to punt and Cape Elizabeth then started a 13-play drive that ended with McDuffie bullying his way into the end zone from the 1-yard line. The extra point was good and Cape held a 13-8 lead with 10:44 left in the first half.

Providing major contributions to that drive was Colin Campbell, who was running on a torn MCL, an injury that was sustained earlier in the season and worsened last week.

“It’s a little sketchy, I’m not going to lie,” Campbell said. “Especially with the field in this condition, but when I have guys like Caden to carry the load for me when I can’t, it means the word.”

Green said he was proud of the senior running back.

“Colin Campbell, senior, captain, torn MCL, broken thumb, ankle issues, tweaked his MCL multiple times and continued to gut it out,” Green said. “I just couldn’t be more proud of him. Obviously, our offensive line paved the way for us.”

“He’s a tough kid and I’ve known that since I moved here in eighth grade,” McDuffie added. “I knew I could count on (Campbell).”

The lead lasted just a couple minutes before Carpenter found Calder on a pass over the top of the defense for a 51-yard touchdown in which Calder sped away from chasing defenders for his second score of the game. Carpenter punched in the two-point conversion again and put the Hornets up 16-13 with seven minutes left.

Cape started its next drive from its own 47-yard line and two plays in, Leavitt’s star lineman Jack Boutaugh left the game with an injury. Boutaugh plays both sides of the ball and already had a few tackles for the Hornets.

“Having Jack Boutaugh out there makes a big difference because he’s as good a player as there is in the league,” Hathaway said. “I’m not going to make excuses, but it’s tougher to stop the run without him and it was tougher to run the ball, and that’s a big part of what we do. We made some adjustments and offensively I thought we did pretty well, and in the second half defensively I thought we got better. We did the best we could without him, but it would have been nice to have him, too.”

The Capers thundered forward, scoring on a 3-yard touchdown run by Laughlin which put Cape Elizabeth ahead 19-16, which would end up being the score at halftime.

Cape put together a lengthy drive to start the second half but McDuffie fumbled and Leavitt’s Reeve Twitchell recovered to give the Hornets possession.

Carpenter opened Leavitt’s first drive of the second half with a 44-yard pass to Ben Sirois to set up the Hornets in Cape territory.

Three plays later, Carpenter tucked the ball and ran to the right sideline and stuff-armed a defender to get around the edge. Carpenter dove at the pylon and reached the ball over the line for a touchdown. Carpenter kicked the extra point and gave the Hornets a 23-19 lead right before the end of the third quarter.

That lead lasted until McDuffie’s game-winning touchdown.

Hathaway said the Hornets dealt with adversity in all forms throughout the season, and he’s proud of them for coming within a game of the state championship.

“Our group is a really great group of kids,” Hathaway said. “I’ve enjoyed coaching those guys and I love those guys. It’s a group that really has seen a lot of off the field adversity in a lot of different ways, and that often goes overlooked in what kids overcome. To have success and to have the success this group did with everything thrown in front of them, I’m real proud of them. We had two kids that lost their moms, so that’s tough. We have kids dealing with medical issues and all that stuff adds up, but those kids aren’t using that as excuses. Those kids are finding ways to overcome that adversity on a daily basis and I had a blast coaching these guys.”

Green said this year’s Capers squad deserves a Class C championship berth.

“It feels unreal,” Green said. “I’ve never had a team I’ve wanted this for more. There’s never been a more deserving group than this right here.”

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