BANGOR — On a Friday evening when offenses ruled, one defensive play — and one play call — made all the difference as Bangor outlasted Lewiston 28-25 to capture its second straight Eastern Maine Class A football championship.
The win advances Bangor (10-1) to the state final at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland on Nov. 20 against either Cheverus or Deering, the two Portland schools that will battle for the Western A title this afternoon.
Trailing 25-20 midway through the fourth quarter, Bangor was driving for the go-ahead touchdown until quarterback Joe Seccareccia fumbled at the end of a 16-yard gain and Lewiston’s Jeff Turcotte recovered at the Blue Devils’ 1-yard line.
Three short runs left Lewiston facing fourth-and-1 at its 10 — and it was decision time for Blue Devils coach Bill County with 2:38 to play.
Lewiston initially had to spend its second timeout of the half after having just 10 players on the field, then unsuccessfully tried to draw Bangor offsides before using its final timeout.
Lewiston ultimately opted to go for the first down, but when Jeff Keene tried to run wide right, Bangor’s defense was waiting. John Kelley made the initial hit and Dylan Morris and Josiah Hartley finished off the tackle for a 6-yard loss that gave the Rams possession at the 4 with 2:34 left.
“(Keene’s) been their go-to guy all game and all season,” said Hartley. “He’s a stud player and he’s playing with broken ribs right now and that shows heart. When the game’s on the line, you want to get it to your best player, so you knew he was going to get it and we were able to gang-tackle him and bring him down.”
Hartley scored two plays later on a 2-yard run to give Bangor a 26-25 lead with 1:59 left, then caught a two-point conversion pass from Seccareccia to give the Rams a three-point cushion.
“I guess the conservative call there would have been to snap it in the end zone, take a safety and kick, but I just thought they were playing well so when I got in the huddle I said ‘let’s take a shot,’” said County. “We had a shot right here to put this away, so let’s get these two yards, but they played well defensively and stopped it and scored.
“It’s hard to say, if they hadn’t fumbled on the series before we’d have gotten the ball back with four or five minutes left in the game … and the way both teams were running offense … so we took a shot, and maybe I keep my job after and maybe not, I’m not sure.”
Bangor coach Mark Hackett was excited about the victory, but sympathetic toward his coaching colleague.
“It takes a lot of guts to make that call. It’s not easy,” he said. “You’ve got 25 seconds to make up your mind what you’re going to do. He didn’t think they were going to be able to stop us. He thought his offense was better than his defense and that they had a better chance of getting a yard than punting it and then holding us.
“Hindsight’s always good, but I’m happy we stopped them. I hoped and prayed in my head that we could stop them, but at that time only the kids believed they could stop them, I think.”
While Bangor struggled defensively against Lewiston’s team speed throughout the contest, the Blue Devils had no answer for Hartley despite the best effort of punishing linebackers Keene and Ben Wigant.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior began the night chasing down Turcotte to make the tackle after his 84-yard return of the opening kickoff, then went on to rush 42 times for 154 yards and three touchdowns, make three catches for 95 yards and recover a fumble deep in Bangor territory along with being in on the game-saving tackle.
“We went back to smash-mouth football and ran downhill, that was the plan,” said Hartley. “Joe and I talked in the locker room at halftime and said ‘let’s just get this done,’ and we came out and ran.”
Trailing 19-12 at intermission, Bangor took its first lead with 2:31 left in the third quarter when Seccareccia (11 carries for 60 yards, 8 of 13 passing for 154 yards) capped off a 91-yard march with an 11-yard sweep around left end.
The Rams had taken possession after an exchange of turnovers, the first an interception by Lewiston’s Matt Therrien and the second a fumble recovery by Hartley at the Bangor 9 after Lewiston fullback Joe McKinnon lost the ball at the end of a 33-yard gain.
Seccareccia rushed for the two-point conversion to give Bangor a one-point lead.
Lewiston then recovered an onside kick by Bangor at its 44 and marched 56 yards to take a 25-20 lead on an 8-yard run by McKinnon (15 carries, 111 yards) with 10:08 left in the game.
The lead stayed at five points, however, as Bangor’s Jon Fader stopped Keene on a two-point conversion run.
Bangor then drove deep into Lewiston territory before Seccareccia was hit from behind at the end of a quarterback keeper and Turcotte recovered to keep the Blue Devils in front — albeit temporarily.
“The way the kids handled that, it’s the heart of a tiger,” said Hackett. “We turned around and played defense, we held them and we scored. I’m so proud that that’s the team we’ve become. We took a shot, we were down on our knees, we twisted guys into different positions and were able to pull one out.”
Turcotte stunned the Cameron Stadium crowd by taking the game’s opening kickoff at the Lewiston 13 and dashing down the right sideline, with only a hustling tackle by Hartley at the Bangor 3 preventing the touchdown until Keene scored on the next play to give Lewiston a 6-0 lead 19 seconds into the contest.
Bangor answered in more methodical fashion, driving 74 yards in 15 plays to tie the game on a 5-yard run by Hartley with 4:44 left in the opening period. Hartley carried the ball nine times for 35 yards on the drive, while Seccareccia completed passes of 18 yards to tight end Nic Cota and 12 yards to wideout Nick Sherwood on a fourth-and-8 play to move the ball deep into Lewiston territory.
Lewiston (8-3) took a 13-6 lead on the first play of the second quarter as on a 1-yard run by Turcotte and an extra-point kick by Tom Hird.
Bangor closed the gap to 13-12 with an 86-yard drive late in the first half. A 47-yard pass from Seccareccia to Hartley advanced the ball to the Lewiston 39 and a pass interference penalty against the Blue Devils later gave Bangor a first down at the 17.
From there, Hartley carried the ball six straight times to get to the end zone.
The Blue Devils struck again just before intermission, with Keene diving into the end zone to complete a 10-yard scoring run with 41.2 seconds left.
Lewiston (8-3) 6 13 0 6 — 25
Bangor (10-1) 6 6 8 8 — 28
L—Keene 3 run (pass failed)
B—Hartley 5 run (kick failed)
L—Turcotte 1 run (Hird kick)
B—Hartley 1 run (kick failed)
L—Keene 10 run (kick blocked)
B—Seccareccia 11 run (Seccareccia rush)
L—McKinnon 8 run (rush failed)
B—Hartley 2 run (Hartley pass from Seccareccia)