BANGOR, Maine — Lonnie Hackett arrived in the Bangor High School football program two years ago as a sophomore capable of sprinting to the outside and then racing down the sideline in an instant.
The 5-foot-9½, 170-pound senior tailback still has that breakaway speed — 12 of his 25 touchdowns this fall have come on plays of 30 yards or more.
But Hackett arrived in the eyes of his head coach much more recently, and in a manner more subtle yet more emphatic at the same time.
That moment came midway through the fourth quarter of the Rams’ 25-13 Pine Tree Conference semifinal victory over Messalonskee of Oakland last Friday night.
Bangor was clinging to a six-point lead with 10 minutes to play and the Rams needed not only to score another touchdown but to run down the clock so Messalonskee wouldn’t have much time to come back when it regained possession.
So Hackett and his blockers — Joe Quinn, Jacob Thompson, Andrew Logan, Ben Rapaport, Josh Bishop, fullback Maxx Alexander and tight end John Kelley — went to work.
Hackett carried the ball on 12 straight plays covering 57 yards, including one fourth-down conversion and three third-down conversions — one a pivotal 9-yard gain on third-and-6 from the Messalonskee 41.
Bangor called timeout to consider its options, but instead of attempting to pass for a first down, the Rams matched power with power. Hackett leaped through a small gap on the right side of the line to keep the drive alive.
“For me, Lonnie became a good football player with that last drive,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett. “When we needed six or seven yards, he went hard between the tackles and got it for us. To me it was the marquee run of the year. It may not have been a beautiful run to most people, but it was to me because he gave every-thing he had for some tough yards.
“It was a hard thing to do, battle for a gain between the tackles for a first down when we needed it most against a team that takes pride in not allowing that to happen.”
Hackett soon capped off that six-minute march to victory with a 4-yard scoring run, propelling top-ranked and undefeated Bangor (10-0) to a berth in tonight’s PTC Class A championship game against No. 3 Brunswick (9-1).
Game time is 7 p.m. at Cameron Stadium.
It also was one of the clearest examples of the versatility within Hackett’s game, a versatility that has enabled him — the son of coach Hackett’s first cousin — to rush for 1,888 yards this season and emerge as a serious candidate for the Fitzpatrick Trophy, awarded annually to the state’s top senior high school football player.
“My entire time of playing football in Bangor, they’ve always preached running hard up the middle,” said Hackett, who also gained 1,073 yards for the Rams as a junior. “That drive definitely showed the progress myself and the line has made in doing that.”
There are three stages to the typical Hackett run off tackle. Stage 1 is the sprint from deep in the backfield to the line of scrimmage — a surge forged in part from running the 60, 200 and 400 dashes on the school’s indoor track team.
“The event that relates the most to it is the 60,” said Hackett, also the starting center fielder on the baseball team. “It’s a quick burst and it’s all about the start. In football, you have to get to the hole quick, or it closes.”
Stage 2 is a little less traditional, a sidestep or a spin that enables him to get through the line or out of the grip of a tackle-minded defender.
“He’s the most unique, good football player I’ve ever seen, and I think his uniqueness is what makes him special,” said coach Hackett. “He’ll be spinning and never stop going forward. He’ll go sideways through a seam and keep on going without losing any speed.
“It’s like watching [former University of Maine star] Cindy Blodgett shoot a jumper back when she played. I don’t think she was taught to shoot the way she did, but the coaches left her alone because she was so good at it. It’s like that here with Lonnie. He runs the way he runs better than we’re able to coach him to do it.”
Finally comes Stage 3, the booster rocket, Hackett’s return to sprinter’s speed that often turns a 5-yard gain into a futile chase to the end zone for most defenders.
Yet for all of his long runs, last weekend’s experience against Messalonskee confirmed what his coaches have been telling him for three years, that a steady diet of 5-yard-gains isn’t necessarily the worst consolation prize.
“You always want to break the long one,” said Hackett, who ranks 14th in a class of 334 students and plans to study biochemistry in college. “Every run that isn’t a touchdown I’ll be disappointed with, but I know that you really have to get the four or five yards to keep the drive alive.”
And the result of those dozen straight carries to destiny against Messalonskee proved just as exhilarating as a single 65-yard dash.
“We were all so pumped up I didn’t even know I had run that many times in a row,” said Hackett. “At that point, I think I could have run another 12.”