It’s a chance more than three decades in the waiting.
The John Bapst of Bangor football program, fresh off its first LTC championship in 32 years, will seek to capture the Class C state title Saturday when it faces undefeated Winthrop at 2:30 p.m. at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
The Crusaders, who reached the 2007 Eastern C final before dropping a 14-7 decision to Foxcroft Academy, have used that close call as motivation.
“We put that in the back of our mind,” said senior quarterback Derek Smith, “and we came back this year knowing we had to take it a step higher because we didn’t want to end this season like we did last year.”
The 10-1 Crusaders will face a similarly motivated Winthrop team, which lost to Boothbay in the 2007 Western C final.
“We wanted to get to the playoffs first, and we wanted to get back to the Western Maine final because of the way it ended last year,” said Winthrop coach Joel Stoneton, whose program is after its first state crown since 2000.
Motivation isn’t the only similarity between the finalists. Each boasts an experienced nucleus, John Bapst with 11 seniors and Winthrop with 14.
Each also features speed, quickness and a variety of offensive playmakers.
Smith has passed for 1,922 yards with junior Shane Hass and senior Chris Fogler his top receivers. Junior Bill Wetherbee has rushed for a team-high 1,183 yards while working with fullback Chase Huckestein.
“They have a very versatile offense,” said Stoneton. “They do a lot of things and they do them well.”
Winthrop’s offense is more run-oriented but no less balanced.
The 11-0 Ramblers have rushed for 2,764 yards, with Jake Steele (791 yards, 9 TDs), Joe Morey (609 yards, 8 TDs), Riley Cobb (448 yards, 5 TDs) and fullback Skylar Whaley (447 yards, 14 TDs) all working behind quarterback Jordan Conant (645 passing yards).
“They like to spread you out and run the ball,” said John Bapst coach Dan O’Connell, “and with the tailbacks they have, they’re very effective.”
Winthrop’s defense, led by linebackers Andrew Smithgall and Whaley and ends Kevin Hart and Josh Confer, has allowed just 40 points this season.
John Bapst has allowed more than 20 points per game, but the addition of Tim Armistead at linebacker and Chris Desmond at tackle has helped the Crusaders shore up their defense.
“Defensively, they’re big up front, their linebackers read the plays and run to the ball and their secondary is strong because it’s the same players who are making plays for them on offense,” said Stoneton.
Both teams should benefit from the artificial surface at Fitzpatrick Stadium, and both practiced on synthetic surfaces this week, Winthrop at Kents Hill and John Bapst at Hampden Academy.
“This summer we played in a 7-on-7 league here, and to watch these athletes be able to move around in space is what gave us the first inclination that we might have something special,” O’Connell said. “To have this kind of tract that lends itself to speed and athleticism with our style of team, it’s as much as we could ask for, that’s for sure.”
A fan’s mixed emotions
One spectator at the John Bapst-Winthrop game whose rooting interests will span both sides of the field is Jim Stoneton of Orrington.
Stoneton is the father of Winthrop coach Joel Stoneton, but also is treasurer of the board of directors at John Bapst.
The elder Stoneton, whose son James captained John Bapst’s 1989 Class C state championship basketball team, has been on the school’s board for 22 years, including a stint as its president.
Joel Stoneton attended John Bapst for his first two years of high school in 1989 and 1990 before moving to Winthrop, where he joined that school’s football team before going on to play at Plymouth (N.H.) State and then in the semipro ranks.
“I’ve been behind Joel since the third grade,” said Jim Stoneton. “I’ll certainly be behind him for Saturday’s game.”