ORONO — The John Bapst football team isn’t accustomed to surrendering 22 points in a single game, much less one quarter.
When Orono lit up the Morse Field scoreboard in the first quarter Friday night and had the Crusaders on their heels for a little while, coach Dan O’Connell’s defense was a bit shellshocked.
John Bapst rose up when it mattered most. The Crusaders shut down the Red Riots for the rest of the game and Jake Leonard scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns en route to a thrilling 35-22 LTC victory at the University of Maine’s Alfond Stadium.
The Crusaders have been a strong passing team all year led by senior quarterback Jordan Charpentier, but he struggled somewhat.
However, he was picked up by Leonard, who ran for 190 yards on 20 carries while Charpentier passed for a solid 198 yards and two touchdowns.
Leonard gave the Crusaders their first lead in the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-3 play from the O-18. He took a shotgun handoff and swept 18 yards down the far sideline and into the end zone.
The Riots only had four down linemen in that situation, and Leonard took advantage.
“We ran that play three times that drive and every time I got a first down,” said Leonard. “The line blocked great. The line made that touchdown.”
Bapst forced a fumble on Orono’s next possession, and killed the clock by driving 40 yards in six plays, culminating in a 1-yard TD plunge by Leonard, who also ran for a two-point conversion following his first TD.
O’Connell was happy with the way his running game and offensive front of Bill Stoddard, Brandon Blustajn, John Ashman, Keith Nelson and Chris Desmond stepped up.
“We told the kids we were proud of them, the way the turned the tide in the second quarter and got it back close,” O’Connell said.
It didn’t take very long for the offensive fireworks to begin, as the Riots’ Michael Fowler scampered 73 yards on a sweep down the left sideline on the game’s opening play. Dominic Mowrer ran in the 2-point conversion to give Orono an 8-0 lead a mere 19 seconds into the contest.
John Bapst got on the scoreboard in similar fashion, as Charpentier lofted a perfect pass to Mark Dieuveuil for an 86-yard scoring strike, and Dieuveuil’s PAT kick made it an 8-7 ballgame.
That pass put Charpentier over the 1,000-yard mark in passing yards for the season.
The Red Riots responded after Bapst’s score with a quick 5-play, 69-yard drive that was sparked by Mowrer’s 51-yard run to the JB-5.
Bryce Menhart and Christian Mower hooked up for a 10-yard score three plays later.
The Crusaders subsequently drove to the Riots’ 11, but committed the first of their three first-quarter turnovers with a fumble. And while Orono was forced to punt, Bapst muffed it and Orono took over at the Crusader 36.
It didn’t take long for coach Bob Sinclair’s club to strike again, with Christian Mower and Tyler Higgins connected on a 35-yard halfback option pass and Mehnert bulled his way into the end zone two plays later.
The Crusaders finally got their attack going late in the half, marching 83 yards in just eight plays, with Leonard racing 32 yards down the far side for a touchdown. Dieuveuil’s PAT made it an eight-point game.
After the Red Riots fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Charpentier and Lucas Philippon connected from nine yards out, and although the extra-point kick was no good, Bapst was within two points.
The third quarter was a defensive slugfest, as the Crusaders went three-and-out twice while Higgins intercepted a Charpentier pass.
The Riots did penetrate to the Bapst 10-yard line on their first possession, but turned the ball over on downs. That started to turn the tide in Bapst’s favor, as Orono had a chance to go up by double digits again on that drive.
“They came out in the second half and answered and we kind of took a step back again,” said O’Connell. “We made a couple of big plays down deep we were able to turn them over on downs.”
Orono took advantage of Bapst’s miscues throughout the first half, as the Crusaders turned the ball over four times and Dominic Mower, who ran for 144 yards, gave Bapst fits with his quickness and athleticism.
“Mower’s a good player and he’s pretty shifty, but our defense came out and stepped it up the second half,” said Leonard.
Sinclair was impressed with his club’s inspired effort, and he called 6-foot-4, 285-pound Crusader lineman Desmond a “Division I player.”
“We’ve been working hard all year, we’re a very young football team. We start freshmen and sophomores. We’ve been working hard like everybody else,” said Sinclair. “That’s a great team over there, no question, they’ve been in the wars. We’re just trying to get better every week.”
O’Connell knows his team has to clean some things up before next Friday’s showdown with Stearns of Millinocket.
“In this league, week in and week out, if you turn the ball over four times in a half the other team is going to capitalize on it,” he said. “Orono did as good a job of anybody we played at taking advantage of those turnovers.”
Orono (3-4) 22 0 0 0 — 22
John Bapst (6-1) 7 13 0 15 — 35
O – Higgins 77 run (D. Mowrer rush)
JB – Dieuveuil 86 pass from Charpentier (Dieuveuil kick)
O – Higgins 10 pass from Mehnert (rush failed)
O – Mehnert 1 run (D. Mowrer rush)
JB – Leonard 32 run (Dieuveuil kick)
JB – Philippon 9 pass from Charpentier (kick failed)
JB – Leonard 18 run (Leonard rush)
JB – Leonard 1 run (Dieuveuil kick)