DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Ryan Stroud and the rest of the Foxcroft Academy football team knew exactly what they had won in the aftermath of the Ponies’ 14-13 survival of John Bapst of Bangor in Saturday’s LTC Class C championship game at Oakes Field.
But just how they captured their sixth Eastern Maine title in the last eight years left them not quite sure just how to react.
An early offensive battle evolved into a defensive struggle, then the top-ranked Ponies stopped No. 2 John Bapst one last time and were in position to run out the clock only to fumble the ball away — a miscue compounded by a 15-yard penalty — and again put the Crusaders in rally mode for the game’s final minute.
When John Bapst crossed the goal line with 59 seconds left, all that was left was an extra-point kick to send this epic into overtime. But the attempt sailed wide, and finally the Ponies could celebrate — or relax.
“It was an absolute roller coaster, to put it perfectly,” said Stroud, Foxcroft’s senior quarterback.
Foxcroft (11-0) will play Western C champion Dirigo of Dixfield (11-0) for the Class C state title Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. John Bapst, which won its first state crown in more than three decades in 2008, finished 9-2.
“We can be proud that we’re now in the position to be playing at the championship level,” said John Bapst coach Dan O’Connell, whose team has reached the LTC final each of the last three years. “When you’re in that championship position, sometimes you’re going to win and sometimes you’re going to lose, but just to be competing at that level you’re going to be better people for it.”
Stroud rushed for one touchdown and passed for another score, both in the first half as the Ponies built a 14-7 lead. Senior tailback Ian Champeon added 78 yards on 16 carries for the Ponies, while senior flanker Josiah Richard had four catches for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Senior tailback Bill Wetherbee, who led the LTC in rushing with 1,725 yards entering the game, had 162 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries for John Bapst.
While the game ended with great uncertainty, one thing was evident as it began — that it wouldn’t be a repeat of Foxcroft’s 46-15 regular-season romp over the Crusaders.
“This certainly was a difficult game for us,” said Foxcroft coach Danny White, “in as much as we had to gut it out instead of just pushing on the accelerator.”
Foxcroft overcame five turnovers — three fumbles and two interceptions — to earn the chance to win its second state championship in the last three years.
“When you hold Foxcroft to two scores, you expect to win,” said O’Connell, “but we just didn’t capitalize enough on our opportunities.”
Stroud’s 1-yard scoring run gave Foxcroft a 7-0 lead with 4:11 left in the first quarter. That 71-yard drive featured a 24-yard pass from Stroud to Robbie Harmon and an 11-yard strike from Stroud to Richard on fourth-and-six from the Bapst 41.
Bapst then marched 65 yards in six plays with Wetherbee scoring on a 7-yard run. A 40-yard run by quarterback Shane Hass set up the touchdown, which tied the game with 2:18 left in the opening period.
Foxcroft scored again on its next possession when Stroud found Richard open behind two defenders for a 34-yard touchdown pass with 11:18 left in the first half.
The score came just two plays after Stroud and Richard combined on a 16-yard pass off a fake punt with Foxcroft facing fourth-and-two at its 44.
“It was 90 percent Josiah and Ryan having faith in each other, and 100 percent me having faith in them,” said White. “They just have the chemistry between them to take advantage of that type of situation.”
The game took on a more defensive tone after intermission, though John Bapst controlled the football for much of the final half.
The Crusaders drove to the Foxcroft 25 on their first possession of the third quarter before the Ponies’ Chase Hutchinson intercepted a halfback option pass by Wetherbee.
Three more Bapst forays into Foxcroft territory were stopped on downs, the last time at the Ponies’ 13 late in the fourth quarter.
“Our defensive [front] and inside linebackers played strong games,” said White, citing the work of tackles Brad Dow and Brandon Erickson, ends D.J. Clukey and Mitchell Fadley and linebackers Ryan Olmsted and Dylan Andrews.
Foxcroft regained possession with 2:25 left but was unable to run out the clock as Champeon fumbled three plays later and John Bapst’s Fred Lear made the recovery. Foxcroft also was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play, giving the Crusaders the ball at the Ponies’ 15 with 1:08 remaining.
Wetherbee raced to the 1 on first down, then quarterback Shane Hass snuck into the end zone with 59 seconds left. But Mark Dieuveuil’s extra-point kick narrowly missed, leaving Foxcroft clinging to a one-point lead — and a championship.
“I’m just so proud of this team, “ said Champeon. “I can’t believe we’re going to Portland.”