BANGOR, Maine — With Joe Seccareccia limited to playing only offense due to a shoulder injury, the Bangor football team was missing arguably one of the best defensive players in the state, a hitting machine at free safety who at 6-foot-6 also bedevils opposing passing attacks.
But don’t tell Edward Little of Auburn that the Rams were shorthanded.
Bangor’s defense first kept star Red Eddies’ running back Teven Colon in check, then smothered the passing game with seven interceptions while forging a 16-0 victory in a Pine Tree Conference Class A quarterfinal at Cameron Stadium on Friday night.
Junior Wyatt Frost, inserted into the starting defense for Seccareccia, and sophomore Zeb Tuell each had two interceptions for the Rams, while senior captain Dylan Morris — who moved from strong safety to Seccareccia’s free safety slot — joined Cody Chapman and Nick Sherwood with one interception apiece.
“We were feeling it,” said Morris. “We were seeing the quarterback’s eyes and flying to the football. It was a great team effort.”
Not only does the win advance second-seeded Bangor (8-1) to the semifinals, but combined with Brunswick’s 14-13 upset of top-ranked Lawrence of Fairfield it gives coach Mark Hackett’s club home-field advantage through the remainder of the Eastern A playoffs — beginning next Friday when the Rams host No. 3 Mt. Blue of Farmington, a 20-12 winner over No. 6 Cony of Augusta.
“We got a lot of great play out of a lot of kids,” said Hackett. “It was a good team effort.”
Seventh-seeded Edward Little, 1-7 a year ago, finished its season at 5-4.
Bangor tailback Josiah Hartley shook off three fumbles to rush for 190 yards and a touchdown on 34 attempts behind solid line play and an inspired performance by senior fullback Jon Fader. He returned after being sidelined for two weeks by an ankle injury to rush for a career-high 56 yards and provide some punishing lead blocks.
“The running game really helped a lot, so we didn’t have to open up the passing game,” said Seccareccia. “When the fullback has a good game, you know you’re going to have a good game running, and Jon Fader had a great game. And Josiah with almost 200 yards did a fantastic job, too.”
But this win was mostly about defense.
Colon was the PTC’s second-leading rusher with 1,157 yards, but after a couple of early runs that required saving tackles by Tuell and Morris, Bangor’s defense rose up to hold him to 58 yards on 15 carries.
“We had game-planned for him all week and had athletic kids running the look in practice,” said Bangor senior defensive tackle Josh Bishop. “He was shifty, but we were able to shut him down.”
With the run game negated, the attention turned to Bangor’s passing defense, which produced one more interception than the six passes caught by EL receivers.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” said Hackett. “We thought Dylan was going to play quarterback and free safety tonight, but he’s a catcher in baseball and a captain for us, so he just controlled the defense tonight. And Wyatt Frost, we were hard on him all week because he’s a little guy, but he played big and he and Zeb played very good coverage. They got the picks, and the coverage they played was outstanding.
“I can’t remember in 25 years I’ve been working here when we had seven picks in a game.”
Bangor broke on top 3-0 on Carl Farnham’s 31-yard field goal with 45.4 seconds left in the first half to cap a 12-play, 55-yard drive after Sherwood’s interception of a Josh Delong pass at the Bangor 3 and subsequent 29-yard return.
EL threatened again early in the second quarter until Frost intercepted a Delong pass in the end zone.
Bangor extended its lead to 9-0 on Seccareccia’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Nic Cota while in the grasp of a defender with 29.6 seconds left in the second quarter.
On third-and-goal, Seccareccia was met in the backfield by EL defensive end Zach LeBlond. As LeBlond was bringing Seccareccia to the ground, the Bangor quarterback spotted Cota open over the middle and stayed upright long enough to release the pass just before his knee touched the ground.
“The defensive ends crashed on me and grabbed me by the waist and Nic Cota was like ‘Joe, Joe, Joe,’” said Seccareccia. “I saw him from the corner of my eye and he was wide open, so I set my feet as much as I could and put it in his chest and he made a fantastic catch.”
Bangor extended its lead to 16-0 with 9:35 left in the game when Hartley hurdled into the end zone from 1 yard out. Hartley’s run ended a 10-play march set up by the Rams’ fourth interception, this one by Chapman, who caught the ball in the right flat at the Bangor 43 and returned it 12 yards to the EL 45.
Edward Little (5-4) 0 0 0 0 — 0
Bangor (8-1) 3 6 0 7 —16
B-Farnham 31 field goal
B-Cota 5 pass from Seccareccia (kick failed)
B-Hartley 1 run (Farnham kick)