DOVER-FOXCROFT — Sometimes the most important drive in a football game does not produce points — but it’s by no means pointless.
Clinging to a three-point lead midway through the fourth quarter of Friday night’s LTC Class C football quarterfinal against Orono, the Foxcroft Academy Ponies mustered just that kind of drive, grinding out 68 yards over a 4-minute, 17-second span to preserve a hard-fought 21-18 win over the Red Riots at Oakes Field.
“They came out ready to play and we played at their level, and we’ll have to take it up a notch next week,” said Foxcroft senior fullback and linebacker Wade Witham, who rushed for 39 of his team-high 108 yards on the Ponies’ pivotal drive. “Our line played great, and so did theirs, but we were able to come out on top.”
Third-seeded Foxcroft, the defending Class C state champion, is now 6-3 and will continue its quest for a fourth straight Eastern Maine title in the semifinals next weekend against the winner of tonight’s quarterfinal between No. 2 John Bapst of Bangor and No. 7 Stearns of Millinocket.
Orono, the No. 6 seed, concluded its season at 4-5.
Tailback Ian Champeon added 77 rushing yards and a touchdown for the Ponies, while quarterback Ryan Stroud ran for one score and passed for another, with his 9-yard scoring strike over the middle to Chase Hutchinson with 36.3 seconds left in the first half giving Fox-croft the lead for good at 14-12.
Champeon scored on a 5-yard run with 3:29 left in the third quarter to stretch the margin to 21-12, but a 15-yard TD pass from Kash Keezer to Brandon LeVasseur with 7:18 left in the game pulled Orono back within a field goal.
Foxcroft then got the ball at its 35 with two goals, to work on the clock and score if possible.
And while a personal foul penalty ultimately stalled the Ponies’ touchdown hopes, Witham and Champeon combined on nine straight carries behind a power formation featuring lineman Ryan Olmstead in the backfield, a line of Dan Moriarty, Anthony Slama, Brad Dow, Andrew Larson and Connor Paydos and two tight ends in Mitchell Fadley and D.J. Clukey.
“We just look the linemen in the eyes and say ‘we need this, boys,’ and they step it up every time,” said Champeon, who rushed for 34 yards on the drive after seeing limited duty earlier in the game due to a nagging knee injury. “If we need it, they get it for us and we just follow their backs.”
By the time Orono got the ball back at its own 12, just 2:54 remained and the Red Riots were unable to generate a first down on their final possession.
“We just felt like we were having trouble with a lot of other things because of the way Orono was penetrating with its defensive front, so we went to a two tight end set with one of our linemen, Ryan Olmstead, going in the backfield,” said Foxcroft coach Paul Withee. “We just felt like we could run right at them and have some success and be able to drive the ball for four or five minutes.”
Blaine Silk paced Orono with 123 yards on 11 carries, including a 53-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that gave Orono a 12-7 advantage.
Fullback Ben Perry added 58 rushing yards, with his 10-yard touchdown run staking the Red Riots to a 6-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
Stroud countered two minutes later with a 40-yard option run for a score, and Josiah Richard made the first of his three extrapoint kicks on the night to give Foxcroft a 7-6 lead.