Two weekends ago, Brewer needed a victory to keep its Pine Tree Conference Class B playoff hopes alive, and a trip to then-undefeated Mount Desert Island produced a 7-6 victory.
Last weekend Hampden Academy was in the same predicament and, like Brewer, got the win it needed – only this time it came at the Witches’ expense.
Hampden’s 20-11 Homecoming victory over Brewer last Saturday night, combined with Leavitt of Turner Center’s 20-8 win over Belfast, leaves five teams battling for four playoff spots in the conference’s northern division with three weeks left in the second inning.
“It was a pretty important game for both of us,” said Hampden coach Harry McCluskey. “We thought the only way we had a shot was to win that game, but right now it looks like there are a lot of ways this could go.”
Winslow and MDI, who meet at Bar Harbor on Friday night are both 4-1, with Winslow falling from the undefeated ranks at Gardiner last weekend.
Virtually everyone who follows Class B football expects Winslow to earn the No. 1 seed in the division, leaving MDI and three 2-3 teams – Belfast, Brewer and Hampden Academy – to compete for the final three playoff berths.
Another key game Friday sends Hampden to Belfast, while other significant head-to-head clashes have MDI at Belfast on Oct. 13, Brewer at Winslow on Oct. 14, Belfast at Brewer on Oct. 20 and Waterville at Winslow on Oct. 21.
Winslow has the toughest remaining schedule, at MDI and home against Brewer and 4-1 Waterville, three teams with a combined record of 10-5.
By comparison, MDI’s opponents (Winslow, at Belfast and at 0-5 Old Town) are 6-9, while Belfast’s foes (Hampden, MDI and at Brewer) are 8-7, Brewer’s opponents (Old Town, at Winslow and Belfast) are 6-9 and Hampden’s foes (at Belfast, at Old Town and home against 1-4 Maranacook) are 3-12.
McCluskey traces Hampden’s resiliency to its Week 4 loss to Winslow.
“They led us 24-6 at the half, but we had a couple of interceptions that led to scores,” said McCluskey. “I think the kids started to believe they could play with people, but you just never know until you go out and play.”
The Broncos used a breakout game from senior fullback Kyle Ross and solid play from its offensive line to defeat Brewer.
The 5-foot-7, 200-pound Ross, sidelined by illness early in the season, rushed for 230 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries, helping the Broncos amass more than 300 rushing yards.
Tackles Tyler Furrough and Luke Rancourt, guards Josh Ranger and Matt York, center Mike Butler and tight end Justin Kelsey provided the bulk of the blocking for Ross and backfield mates Bob Seger, Craig Sarnecki and quarterback Shawn Smith.
“Our offensive line this year has really done a good job,” said McCluskey, who also cited the Broncos’ ability to rush for more than 200 yards against Winslow. “They’ve really worked to get better every week. A lot of people talk about doing it, but they’ve gone out and done it.”
Defensively Hampden has been sparked by a secondary led by Smith and Seger, who returned an interception 40 yards for a TD on the final play of the win over Brewer.
A contested Class C
Meanwhile, the battle for the LTC Class C playoffs grew tighter last weekend as Bucksport edged Mattanawcook Academy 7-6 and Rockland topped previously unbeaten Old Orchard Beach 14-9 in its Western C crossover contest.
Those results leave three teams at 3-2 and tied for third and fourth places in the conference behind undefeated Foxcroft Academy and 4-1 John Bapst of Bangor, which defeated Stearns of Millinocket to rise to its highest single-season win total since 1997 – with still four games left.
This week’s top game will be at Oakes Field in Dover-Foxcroft, where coach Paul Withee’s Ponies will try to extend a home-field winning streak that dates to 2001 against a Mattanawcook team coming off its second loss in the last three weeks.
Coach Art Greenlaw’s Mattanawcook club certainly has control of its playoff destiny. After visiting Foxcroft, the Lynx end the season with games against John Bapst, Rockland and Stearns.
John Bapst plays its crossover game Saturday night against 2-3 Winthrop. MA is next for the Crusaders, followed by home games against Foxcroft and 1-4 Orono.
Rockland, seeking its first trip to the playoffs since 1988, hosts improving Dexter (2-3) Friday night and then visits 1-4 Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield before road games at Mattanawcook and Bucksport.
Bucksport, with losses only to Western C contender Jay in Week 1 and at Foxcroft Academy in Week 3 along with wins over John Bapst and Mattanawcook, looks in the best position of all the contenders not named Foxcroft. The Golden Bucks face MCI, Orono and Dexter – teams with a combined 4-11 record – before meeting Rockland in Week 9.
Around the state
The double-wing may not be the most player-friendly offense in football, but few can doubt its effectiveness when run correctly and without turnovers. Boothbay has been a Western C power in recent years using the old-school approach, while Skowhegan earned back-to-back trips to the Eastern Maine Class A final in 2004 and 2005 out of the double-wing.
This year, the same offense is proving again to be a pain to those who must prepare for the it. Bangor had to fight off an effective Messalonskee double-wing attack last Friday to earn a late 22-15 victory, the unbeaten Rams’ third seven-point win of the season.
Boothbay improved to 4-1 with a last-second 14-9 win over Jay that sets up a showdown Saturday at undefeated Lisbon, the defending Class C state champion that has outscored its first five foes this season by a combined 134-7.
And in perhaps the biggest news on the double-wing front last weekend, Gorham used that approach to great success in whipping preseason Class A favorite Deering of Portland 36-12. Justin Villacci, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound senior wingback, scored three touchdowns and rushed for 105 of Gorham’s 415 total yards.
Elsewhere, Mountain Valley of Rumford yielded a touchdown for the first time this season while defeating Greely of Cumberland Center on Friday night to improve to 5-0. The Falcons, who did not allow a point in their first 18 quarters this season, visit 4-1 York this Friday in a rematch of the 2005 Western Maine Class B final. York won that game 16-14 to end Mountain Valley’s 21-game win streak.