BANGOR, Maine — These games are supposed to be reserved for the playoffs — or at least the crisp nights of late October when postseason play is at stake.
That Bucksport outlasted John Bapst 40-39 in overtime amid the remnants of Tropical Storm Hanna during Week 1 of the LTC Class C football season merely portends great possibilities about the battles to come.
“It was probably one of the better high school games I’ve seen in a long, long time, and I’m just privileged to be in something like that,” said veteran Bucksport head coach Joel Sankey.
Those who withstood the rain that began as a drizzle co-inciding with the opening kick-off and grew steadier through-out the night got to witness plenty of star power beneath the cloudy skies.
In particular, Bucksport senior Nate Warren was the ultimate difference maker, rushing 38 times for 322 yards and three touchdowns — an effort capped off by a two-point conversion run in overtime to put the Golden Bucks over the top.
And those stats don’t include a go-ahead 89-yard touchdown run with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter that was negated by a penalty behind the play.
“When that touchdown was called back, I almost lost all faith,” said Warren, “but I wanted to win.”
Warren thrived behind an offensive line featuring Stuart Leach, Robbie Winters, Josh Ellis, Andrew Snowman and C.J. Breidt, as well as fullback Alex Giosia and wingback Andrew Findlay — and needed all of that help as he was shadowed throughout the night by relentless John Bapst linebacker Chase Huckestein.
“They were definitely bigger and stronger than us, we were outmatched physically,” said John Bapst coach Dan O’Connell. “We tried to take up every gap and take advantage of our speed, but the way they block, if you don’t plug every gap, you’re quickness isn’t going to matter, so we just tried to play it as tough as possible.
“We had some good series and some not-so-good series. It was that close.”
John Bapst, seeking to back up its run to the LTC championship game a year ago, showed plenty of signs that it will be back in the thick of the playoff chase again this fall, bouncing back from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit to take a 17-14 halftime lead on Doug Dieuveuil’s 27-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter.
The Crusaders extended their run to 24 unanswered points as a key block by Huckestein freed quarterback Derek Smith for a 68-yard scoring run just 29 seconds into the second half.
Then it was Bucksport’s time to respond — initially on defense as the Golden Bucks stood firm after Bapst’s Chris Fogler recovered a Warren fumble at the Bucksport 42 on the first play after the kickoff.
Giosia scored on a 2-yard run to cut the gap to 24-20, then a 25-yard punt return by Kyle McGeechan set up Warren for a 4-yard scoring run to give the Bucks a 26-24 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
John Bapst answered with a 67-yard drive, capped off when Smith (12 of 19 passing for 145 yards) hit Bill Wetherbee with an 18-yard scoring strike and then found tight end A.J. Snapp for the two-point conversion to give the Crusaders a 32-26 lead.
But there was no stopping Warren. He rushed four times for 58 yards on Bucksport’s next possession, including 17 yards to the end zone to tie the game at 32-32 with 4:18 left.
Wetherbee gave John Bapst the lead on the first play of overtime, scoring from 10 yards out on a counter play, and Dieuveuil not only kicked the extra point to give the Crusaders a seven-point cushion, but also drew a roughing-the-kicker penalty against Bucksport to set the Golden Bucks back with first-and-goal at the 25.
No matter, that just gave Warren more room to work. He rushed for 20 yards on the first play of Bucksport’s overtime possession, and Giosia scored on the next play.
Bucksport then went for the win, and Warren went off right tackle into the end zone.
“On the two-point conversion, I didn’t even see it happen,” said Warren of his final carry of the night. “I went completely blank, and the instincts just took over.”
Bucksport had the game’s early momentum as McGeechan lofted an 18-yard touchdown pass to Cam Wentworth and Warren broke off a 71-yard scoring run to give the Golden Bucks a 14-0 lead with 54.6 left in the opening quarter.
But Bapst countered on the next play from scrimmage, as Wetherbee (nine carries, 89 yards) went wide left for a 66-yard scoring run to get the Crusaders on the scoreboard.
When Huckestein stepped in front of a McGeechan pass and returned the interception 40 yards for the tying score, this game had just started — and didn’t end until Bucksport got the ball last in overtime.
“It’s probably one of the greatest feelings in the world winning a close game, especially against a good team like John Bapst,” said Bucksport offensive guard and linebacker Robbie Winters.