ORONO, Maine — With both teams’ offenses trading scoring salvos early on like battleships firings shots across each others’ bows, Friday night’s LTC Class C football battle between Orono and John Bapst of Bangor would come down to … defense?
Oh yeah, as in the first defense to make a stop, force a punt, and get the ball back.
That’s how the visiting Crusaders turned a back-and-forth scoring fest into a 40-20 victory over the Red Riots at Alumni Field and put a stranglehold on the No. 2 slot in the LTC rankings.
“We were really worried about the dive because on those first two drives, they were driving it right down our throats,” Bapst senior tackle Tyler Chamberlain said. “We made some adjustments and made a really key stop on third down, got the ball back, and scored. From then on, we did really good.”
Actually, after Orono scored on its first two possessions and Bapst did the same, the Crusaders got a couple of key stops: on third and fourth down on Orono’s third series.
The 4-3 Riots had driven 27 yards in seven plays after a Kirk Francis kickoff return brought the ball to the 50-yard line. But on 3rd-and-4 from the JB-23, Chamberlain and Max Andrews wrapped up Orono’s Marcus Leek for a 3-yard loss. On 4th-and-7, Riots quarterback Kash Keezer couldn’t find an open receiver and threw an incomplete pass.
Bapst wasted no time pouncing on the opportunity as Derek Smith found Billy Wetherbee for a 32-yard reception on first down and Chase Huckestein took the following handoff through the right side and 43 yards downfield for a touchdown to make it 19-14 Bapst with 8:33 left in the first half.
A kickoff and two plays later, Keezer was intercepted by Smith, who actually wrestled it away from the intended receiver at midfield and returned the ball 39 yards. Smith then scored on a 1st-and-goal 6-yard run and momentum was firmly with Bapst.
The 6-1 Crusaders made sure the Riots wouldn’t be able to reverse momentum as Wetherbee took the second-half kickoff back 72 yards before Smith scored on a 6-yard, first-down run to make it 33-14 just 23 seconds into the third quarter.
“The first time we didn’t score, and then them going up on us hurt us, but the opening kickoff in the second half is probably the straw that broke our back,” said Orono head coach Bob Sinclair. “We wanted to control the clock and control the ball because they’re a quick-strike offense and we’re not.
“They were able to break things open and that made a difference.”
The Riots outgained the Crusaders 236 yards to 197 on the ground and tallied 23 first downs to Bapst’s 13, but Bapst’s big plays offset that advantage.
Blaine Silk led Orono with 106 yards on 24 carries. Keezer passed for 143 yards, but was intercepted four times.
Wetherbee had 72 yards on 13 carries and Huckestein had 83 on seven. Smith finished with 127 yards on 6-for-11 passing.