MILLINOCKET — The defensive success enjoyed by the undefeated Stearns High School football team this fall can be summarized by the three E’s — experience, emotion and execution.
The Minutemen will play in the program’s first LTC championship game since 2003 against John Bapst of Bangor on Saturday afternoon, in large part thanks to allowing just 117.6 yards per game in its 10 victories.
And of the six touchdowns yielded by Stearns, just two came on drives against the starting defense.
“The experience of these kids is a huge factor in what we’ve done this year,” said 10th-year Stearns coach Chris Preble. “A lot of these kids have started for a couple of years, and some are starting for their fourth year, and that’s a huge part of it.
“Because of that I think everybody’s capable of playing the position they’re in so we’re not hiding people, so when you can rely on the person next to you doing their job you can concentrate more on doing your job.”
The Stearns defense is led by two of the top three tacklers in the LTC during the regular season in left tackle Charlie Tapley (118 tackles, 3.5 quarterback sacks) and linebacker Billy Eurich (103 tackles), two of the 13 seniors on Stearns’ 29-player roster.
“I think we play defense so well because we all know each other and we know each other’s positions and we like to be physical,” said Eurich. “We focus on defense, and then the offense will come.”
Tapley is joined up front by ends Brandon Bouchard and Jude Tapley and fellow tackle Jeremy Bolduc. Ryan Hibbs, Jordan Morrow and Josh Studer team with Eurich at linebacker, while senior Brandon McLaughlin heads up a secondary that also includes Cody Herring and Ethan Michaud.
“Every year we’ve always had a sound linebacker squad and up front we’ve been pretty good, but our secondary this year I think is a lot better than it’s been in previous years,” said McLaughlin. “We’re not giving up a lot of passing yards.”
The Minutemen allowed a league-low 223 passing yards during their 8-0 regular season, but the rushing defense wasn’t bad either, allowing just 2.5 yards per carry.
“You’ve got to play your position, basically,” said Tapley. “You’ve got to do your job and the other guys have got to do their jobs. You don’t worry about what other people are doing. You do your job, and you have confidence that your teammates will do their jobs so it will all come together.”
That disciplined approach is complemented by some high intensity fueled by veteran defensive coordinator John Jamo, a former linebacker at Stearns and Maine Maritime Academy.
“Coach Jamo gets us pumped up,” said Tapley, “and then we’re ready to go out and fly around and make hits. If we ever start hanging our heads he finds a way to bring out the intensity in us again and he just gets us pumped up and having fun all over again.”
Stearns’ secondary may face its toughest challenge of the season in the LTC final against a John Bapst passing attack featuring senior quarterback Jordan Charpentier (1,450 passing yards, 21 TD passes), tight end Max Andrews and wide receivers Lucas Philippon and Mark Dieuveuil.
The Minutemen held the Crusaders in check during their Week 8 regular-season meeting, allowing just 30 passing yards and 88 total yards amid a fierce wind during a 21-7 victory on Oct. 29 that secured Stearns the No. 1 seed in the LTC and home-field advantage for Saturday’s 1 p.m. contest.
“We shut their running game down pretty good last time, but they had some success on some screens early so we knew eventually they’d go up top,” said McLaughlin, whose fourth-quarter interception led to a touchdown in the first meeting with Bapst. “We just played sound defense, the DBs (defensive backs) read our keys and we made plays when we had to.
“Now we’ve got to do that again.”