SKOWHEGAN, Maine — At first glance the streaks look long-standing.
The Skowhegan football team last weekend won its first Eastern Maine Class A championship in 19 years, and on Saturday will play for its first state title since 1978 when it faces Bonny Eagle of Standish beginning at 6 p.m. from Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
The game caps off a state championship tripleheader, with Morse of Bath meeting Mountain Valley of Rumford for the Class B crown at 11:06 a.m. and John Bapst of Bangor clashing with Winthrop in the Class C final at 2:30 p.m.
Skowhegan will be making its first state final appearance under the current “Super Saturday” format, but it’s not like the Indians haven’t been competitive over the years. They went 7-3 just last fall while advancing to the Pine Tree Conference semifinals, and they’ve reached the Eastern Maine final three times in the last five years and four times this decade, winning this year and holding fourth-quarter leads in 2001, 2004 and 2005 before suffering frustrating losses.
“Seeing the team get to the Eastern Maine final or go deep into the playoffs never gets old,” said senior tight end and defensive end Peter Boardman. “But once it became our turn, individually as players and as a class and as a whole team you really want to get to the pinnacle of a state championship game.
“We realized that could happen once we started winning games this season. It’s a great feeling, and we’re not going to leave anything out on the field Saturday.”
Skowhegan (10-1) defeated Edward Little of Auburn 20-0 in last Saturday’s regional final after avenging its only loss a week earlier with a 30-22 semifinal victory over top-ranked and two-time defending EM champion Lawrence of Fairfield.
Coach Mike Marston’s club is a team of few surprises. The Indians feature the run offensively, with senior Billy Clark among the state’s leading rushers with 2,124 yards and 28 touchdowns out of the team’s double wing and power-I formations, and Cody Vigue an explosive threat at fullback with 652 rushing yard and eight touchdowns.
Quarterback Jordan McGowan directs the attack, and can be effective throwing the ball when called upon — as evidenced by his 149 passing yards in the semifinal victory over Lawrence, including an 82-yard TD pass to Boardman, and his 9-yard scoring pass to Boardman with eight seconds left in the first half last Saturday at Edward Little to extend the Indians’ lead to 12-0.
For the season, McGowan is 32 for 61 for 453 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
“The double-wing offense is power, control, and chewing time off the clock and that’s what we’ve done all year,” said Boardman.
Skowhegan’s backs and receivers work behind a smallish front line that has relied on quickness, guile, execution and determination to more than hold its own against bigger opponents.
“I think playing as a team and not being scared of other people’s size has been the key,” said Clark. “We’re usually pretty undersized up front, but we’ve got a lot of heart.”
Linebackers Ian Candage and Vigue — who had three interceptions in the Eastern Maine final — are among the top playmakers for a Skowhegan defense that has just two shutouts but has limited five other foes to one touchdown.
“The defense has a lot of heart,” said Boardman. “It all starts with defense, really. We can score as many points as we want, but if we give up a lot of points we’re not going to win.”
That defense will be tested by a Bonny Eagle offense that has averaged 37.4 points per game en route to its 9-2 record.
While Skowhegan’s offense is tightly knit, with one lineman virtually touching toes with the teammates on either side of him, Bonny Eagle runs a spread formation with linemen 2½ to 3 feet apart along the offensive front.
“They like to spread the ball out,” said Candage, “and they’ve got some big boys on the team, so it’s all going to come down to who wants it more.”
Bonny Eagle, which is seeking its second straight title and fourth in five years, also has perhaps the state’s premier playmaker in senior quarterback Nate Doehler. He’s both rushed and passed for more than 1,000 yards for the second straight season, and has 16 rushing touchdowns and 18 touchdown passes for coach Kevin Cooper’s Fighting Scots.
“They have a really athletic quarterback, and we know he likes to make big plays,” said Vigue. “We’ve just got to stop the big plays like we did against Edward Little.”