Week 10 of the high school football season is for the survivors, those teams that not only qualified for postseason play but have advanced to regional semifinals with quarterfinal victories.
And many of those were surprisingly close, given the typical lopsided nature of first-round games in eight-team playoff fields.
Seven of the 12 Eastern Maine quarterfinals were decided by eight points or less, with three of the games decided by one point and three others by just a field goal.
The semifinal round may produce more of the same.
Gardiner Tigers (6-2) vs. Mount Desert Island Trojans (7-1), 7 p.m. Friday at Bar Harbor: This Class B semifinal features the defending state champion Tigers against an MDI team coming off its first postseason victory since 1992, and just the second playoff win in school history.
Both teams had narrow escapes last weekend. Second-seeded MDI edged No. 7 Waterville 28-27 after Waterville scored with 0.1 seconds left in the game but lost by a point when Terrence Jones tipped away a pass when the Panthers went for the two-point conversion to win the game.
Third seed Gardiner rallied from 20-14 fourth-quarter deficit in its quarterfinal against Hampden Academy, then held on for a 21-20 win when a late 23-yard field-goal attempt by the Broncos bounced off the right upright.
“When I look at Gardiner on film, I see a fundamentally sound football team,” said MDI coach Mark Shields, whose team has won seven straight games since a season-opening loss to Winslow. “They don’t seem to make a lot of mistakes, and obviously there’s a lot of tradition down there, and their kids believe they can win because they’ve won in the past.”
Forrest Chadwick, a junior, leads coach Jim Palmer’s club in rushing (712 yards during the regular season), receiving (314 yards) and touchdowns (15), and caught two TD passes from quarterback Mike Denham in Gardiner’s quarterfinal victory, which ended the Tigers’ two-game losing streak.
“He’s the real deal,” said Shields. “He can do everything for them, and he’s a guy we’ll really have to try to slow down if we want to be successful against them.”
MDI features several key playmakers, among them Jones (781 rushing yards), Odane Gaynor (638 yards), Jasper Cousins (288 receiving yards, 13 touchdowns) and quarterback Tyler Crawford (49 of 80 passing, 802 yards) behind a solid offensive line, and a defense that has stood strong late in games to enable the Trojans to pull out several comeback victories.
The winner face the survivor of Friday’s other semifinal between No. 5 Morse of Bath and No. 1 Leavitt of Turner Center for the Eastern B crown next weekend.
Calais-Woodland Silverados (6-3) at Bucksport Golden Bucks (9-0), 7 p.m. Friday, Carmichael Field: This Class C semifinal is the rematch of a physical Week 6 encounter in which Bucksport defeated the first-year Silverados 20-8.
Nate Warren led the undefeated and top-seeded Golden Bucks with 217 yards and two touchdowns as coach Joel Sankey’s club jumped out to a 14-0 lead before Calais-Woodland fullback Blake Ford scored his team’s lone touchdown.
Neither team scored after intermission.
“Bucksport’s the best team we’ve played this year,” said Calais-Woodland coach Ian Pratt, whose team enters the rematch with six wins in its last seven games. “We got down a couple of touchdowns early, but from 5½ minutes left in the second half on, we settled in and played well on defense.”
This game features the LTC’s top two rushers in Warren (1,938 rushing yards) and Ford, who also has more than 1,300 yards on the season.
Bucksport, which defeated Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield 22-0 in its quarterfinal last week, also has several other rushing threats in Alex Giosia, fullback Andrew Findlay and quarterback Kyle McGeechan working behind a talented and experienced line. Cam Shorey has been a productive backfield complement to Ford for fourth-seeded Calais-Woodland, along with quarterback Eric Henry.
“We have a lot of respect for Bucksport,” said Pratt. “Warren’s a great player, but their defense has been outstanding, their offensive line has been strong and their other running backs get the job done, too.”
While Bucksport is seeking its first title since its 2004 state championship run, Calais-Woodland is continuing one of the best seasons for a first-year varsity team in state football history after earning the first playoff win in school history with a 32-14 quarterfinal victory over No. 5 Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln.
“I’m really proud of my kids,” said Pratt. “They haven’t acted like a first-year team. They’ve been quietly confident, and they don’t go by the preconceived notion that if they’re playing Team X, they aren’t supposed to be able to compete. They go out expecting to win.”
Foxcroft Academy Ponies (6-3) vs. John Bapst Crusaders (8-1), 1 p.m. Saturday, Cameron Stadium, Bangor: These teams met just two weeks ago, with John Bapst jumping out to a 32-14 halftime lead before holding on for a 32-26 win, the Crusaders’ first over the Ponies since 1995.
It also marked the latest in a series of tight battles between these teams over the last two years. Foxcroft edged John Bapst 13-12 in the 2007 season opener, then tipped the Crusaders 14-7 in last year’s Eastern C final to win its third consecutive regional title en route to the 2007 state championship.
Both teams have solid line play and plenty of playmakers. Coach Dan O’Connell’s John Bapst squad features quarterback Derek Smith, who passed for 374 yards during a 48-26 quarterfinal win over Stearns of Millinocket last Saturday, tailback Bill Wetherbee, fullback Chase Huckestein and wideouts Shane Hass and Chris Fogler.
Coach Paul Withee’s Foxcroft club counters with junior tailback Ian Champeon (900 rushing yards), fullback Wade Witham and junior quarterback Ryan Stroud (12 touchdown passes, four interceptions).
Witham and Champeon combined for 185 rushing yards last weekend as the third-rated Ponies defeated No. 6 Orono 21-18.
Foxcroft now has won its last seven Eastern Maine playoff games and, with a win over Bapst, would advance to the regional championship game for the eighth consecutive year.
John Bapst, meanwhile, seeks its first Eastern Maine championship since 1976.