Much has been made of the parity within the Eastern Maine Class C football ranks this season, save for undefeated Stearns of Millinocket, whose first-team defense has allowed just eight points in its first six games.
But the same case might be made in Eastern B, which boasts a dominant team of its own in defending state champion Leavitt of Turner Center, an offensive juggernaut whose narrowest victory margin has been 21 points.
But beyond the Hornets resides a bevy of programs battling each other from week to week for playoff positioning and late-season momentum.
Take last weekend as the latest example, when Belfast stunned previously unbeaten Gardiner, and Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor enhanced its chances for a home playoff game with a 28-21 win over Waterville.
“This is one of those years when we could have lost every game, but we could have won every game, too,” said MDI coach Mark Shields, whose Trojans are 4-2 heading into Saturday’s game at 2-4 Camden Hills of Rockport. “But it’s just that competitive in Class B East, kind of like two years ago when we went to the Eastern Maine championship. We won a lot of games that year, and we won a lot of close games.
“This year, besides Leavitt, everybody else is fighting for position.”
Belfast, a team that has struggled in recently while rebuilding under coach Chris Bartlett, took perhaps its biggest step along that route toward respectability by building a 26-7 halftime lead over Gardiner and then holding on for a 34-28 victory.
“The second half took forever,” said Bartlett. “We knew they were 5-0 for a reason, so I told the guys we needed to be ready for a dogfight in the second half, and that’s just what it was.
“This was a huge win for us. It’s an uplifting win for the program as a whole.”
Hampden Academy, unbeaten since opening the season with a loss to Leavitt, and Gardiner reside one game behind the Hornets in the Pine Tree Conference Class B standings, and if the playoffs were held today No. 4 MDI would host No. 5 Belfast in a quarterfinal that would be a rematch of a Week 1 game at Bar Harbor won by the Trojans 20-6.
“I thought then that MDI was underrated, that people weren’t giving them enough credit,” said Bartlett, whose team shares a 3-3 record with Waterville, which is ranked behind the Lions in the latest Crabtree points that determine playoff seedings.
MDI has struggled at times defensively this season, but has found success offensively with its run-oriented T-formation. Senior quarterback Duncan Smith, whom Shields said “might be the toughest player I’ve ever been associated with,” runs the attack that also has featured fullback Elias Burne and halfbacks Jason Burke and Tyler Farnsworth behind a line led by senior guard Sam Joy.
Burke, a junior, is a first-year high school football player who has been a significant contributor at right halfback.
“He’s been a difference-maker for us,” said Shields, whose team also was boosted this fall by the first win in program history over perennial contender Winslow.
Burke missed MDI’s last two games due to injury but is expected back for Saturday’s game at Camden Hills, just in time because the Trojans will be without left halfback Farnsworth, lost for the season after suffering a broken ankle in the win over Waterville.
“The offense has been the strength of the team,” said Shields. “We try to keep other offenses off the field. We want to run the clock and move the chains and wear down defenses.”
Like MDI, Belfast features a run-oriented offense led by quarterback Brad Reed and running back Dylan Webster, each of whom gained more than 100 yards against Gardiner. Adam Heroux, a senior offensive tackle and defensive end, anchors the Lions’ line play.
“Beating Gardiner was a great win for us, but going into the film session Monday I told the guys that they had the weekend to enjoy it, but now it’s time to go back to work,” said Bartlett, whose team plays Morse at Bath this weekend before ending its regular season with a home game against Camden Hills. “We need to respect Morse, and we need to respect everyone on our schedule.”
Silverados standouts injured
Two of the LTC’s top rushers are likely to be sidelined Saturday when Calais-Woodland hosts Rockland in a battle of Eastern Maine Class C football postseason contenders.
Silverados fullback Spencer McCormick and halfback Ryan Cavanaugh both left last Saturday’s 28-26 loss to Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln early with injuries, Cavanaugh with a hyperextended knee and McCormick with an ankle issue, according to Silverados coach Ian Pratt.
Cavanaugh was injured during the first half, while McCormick left the contest in the second half. A third Calais-Woodland back, Jesse Clark, also was injured in the contest.
McCormick entered last weekend’s game with 818 rushing yards, second in the LTC to Orono’s Dominic Mowrer, and also was the conference’s leading scorer with 13 touchdowns and 94 total points. Cavanaugh was third in rushing with 749 yards and had scored nine touchdowns for the 4-2 Silverados.
McCormick added two more touchdowns against MA on a 60-yard run and a 78-yard kickoff return before being injured, and finished the game with 87 rushing yards to bring his season total to 905.
“That’s about 95 percent of our offense,” said Pratt. “That’s a whole lot of offense to lose.”
Cavanaugh and McCormick also have been Calais-Woodland’s top tacklers, and not having them on the field against Mattanawcook defensively was just as devastating as their inability to contribute on offense. The Silverados had rallied from deficits of 16-0 and 22-6 to take a 26-22 lead before Lynx quarterback Cody McDonald scored the winning touchdown on a 6-yard run with 35 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“We just weren’t able to hold them down defensively,” said Pratt.
Pratt also credited Mattanawcook team that used the win to improve its record to 2-4 and keep its own playoff hopes alive.
“They’ve been playing spread, but they came out against us in a pro-I set with one of their offensive linemen at fullback and just ran the ball and play-action passes all game long,” said Pratt.
Grady Markie led MA offensively with 271 rushing yards and a touchdown on 49 carries, while McDonald completed 6 of 9 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for two scores.
Calais-Woodland is ranked third in the Eastern C Crabtree points, while Rockland (3-3) is seventh. After facing the Tigers, Calais-Woodland closes out its regular season Oct. 23 at Dexter.