MILLINOCKET — The Stearns High School football team had not faced a passing offense like that run by John Bapst of Bangor all season, even when they met in in late October.
Heavy winds subdued the Crusaders’ passing game that night.
In Saturday’s rematch — with an Eastern Maine Class C championship on the line — it was all about the Stearns defense as the undefeated Minutemen earned a 20-7 victory over the Crusaders at Alumni Field to secure their first regional title since 1998.
“That’s better than I thought they had in them, to be honest with you,” said Stearns coach Chris Preble. “We were able to get good pressure up front and we made some plays with our defensive backs and linebackers that we hadn’t made before. It was nice to see them playing loose and just playing football and not worrying about making mistakes.”
Stearns will play Yarmouth in a battle of 11-0 teams for the state crown next Saturday at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium. Game time will be set Monday.
John Bapst, playing in its fourth straight regional final, finished 8-3.
Stearns expected John Bapst, the leading passing team in the LTC throughout the season, to rely heavily on its aerial game in the rematch of their Oct. 30 meeting.
And the Minutemen were ready, sacking quarterback Jordan Charpentier seven times. Jude Tapley and Charlie Tapley each had 2 1/2 sacks to lead the way, while Brandon Bouchard had 1 1/2 sacks.
“They’re big up front, but we knew our speed off the corners would help us feather them out a bit and then we could start stunting our linebackers up the middle,” said Preble. “That’s what we did at the end, we started bringing our middle backers and they didn’t know they were coming so we got some clean shots on the quarterback.”
That made life extremely difficult for Charpentier, who completed 12 of 32 passes for 115 yards.
“We were pretty excited coming into the game because we didn’t feel like their defensive backs had been tested by four receivers like we have, but hats off to their front four and some of the linebacker stunts that (defensive coordinator John) Jamo came up with,” said John Bapst coach Dan O’Connell. “He does a great job with that defense and they were able to get just enough pressure to upset our timing.”
Even when Stearns didn’t get to Charpentier, the Minutemen hurried him into opting for shorter routes. His longest completion was a 23-yard catch-and-run by Lucas Philippon, and seven receptions went for eight yards or less, including two on the Crusaders’ first possession of the game, which ended with an fourth-down incompletion from the Stearns 12.
Stearns forced two Bapst turnovers, an interception by cornerback Cody Herring and a fumble recovery by Charlie Tapley.
“Our secondary worked very hard this week because we knew they liked to throw the ball around,” said Herring. “Our linebackers do a good job putting the pressure on, and we had some new blitzes in to get pressure on the quarterback because we knew we couldn’t let him sit back there and have all day to throw.”
Stearns’ offense amassed 181 rushing yards, with Billy Eurich leading the way with 76 yards on 12 carries and quarterback Jared McGreevy adding 66 yards on 10 tries, including a 49-yard scramble to set up the game’s first touchdown, a 1-yard run by Charlie Tapley that gave the Minutemen a 7-0 lead with 9:12 left in the first half.
“We were passing right and I rolled back left and saw that it was wide open, I mean wide open,” said McGreevy of his long run.
John Bapst tied the game with 2:16 left before intermission as Charpentier scored on a 4-yard run two plays after Jake Leonard (17 carries, 96 yards) had went off left tackle and then cut back to his right for a 37-yard gain to the Stearns 6.
Stearns came out in the second half even more focused on its running game and was quickly rewarded with a 42-yard drive that featured a 22-yard gain on a fullback dive by Charlie Tapley before Ryan Hibbs scored on a 2-yard run to give the Minutemen a 14-7 lead with 6:04 left in the third quarter.
“We pumped up the linemen and told them that if they were tired, don’t show it because Bapst was tired and we could see it,” said Eurich. “So we just pounded it at them and gave them all we had. We had to, this was Eastern Maines.”
Hibbs added another 2-yard touchdown run — on his second and final carry — with 1:46 left in the game, two plays after the Stearns defense stopped John Bapst on downs at the Crusaders’ 8.
“They made more plays than we did and they were the more physical team,” said O’Connell. “I’m very proud of my kids, but Stearns earned a ‘W’ today and my hat’s off to them for it. “You don’t get to be 11-0 because you haven’t earned it. They’ve earned every bit of it.”
John Bapst (8-3) 0 7 0 0 — 7
Stearns (11-0) 0 7 7 6 — 20
S — C. Tapley 1 run (Bouchard kick)
JB — Charpentier 4 run (Dieuveuil kick)
S — Hibbs 2 run (Bouchard kick)
S — Hibbs 2 run (kick failed)