BANGOR — The Bangor High School football team spent much of the offseason catching up on the intricracies of the spread offense, a logical move since the Class A state championship in five of the last six years has been won by programs — Bonny Eagle of Standish and Windham — that feature the wide-open attack.
The Rams trekked to southern Maine for several Fridays in July to participate in a 7-on-7 passing league against many of the teams in Western Maine Class A.
So now coach Mark Hackett’s club is set to return to the state final for the second straight year, and the opponent in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. showdown at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium is instead a more traditional football-playing foe in Cheverus of Portland.
“We went to a summer league to get ready for the speed element we faced last year against Windham, and it definitely made us better,” said Hackett. “But now we’re going up against a 5-2 defense, which is like what we play, and an I-formation and Wing-T offense, and we’re an I team, so it’s more like it’s old-fashioned football.”
That “old-fashioned” football has served Hackett and his program well during the last decade. Hackett is 84-22 since taking over as Bangor’s head coach in 2001, and this will be the Rams’ fourth state title game appearance during that 10-year span. Bangor defeated Portland 20-14 in 2001, then lost to Bonny Eagle of Standish 29-19 in 2004 and Windham 35-21 last year.
Cheverus, which won its only previous state title in 1985, has experienced a resurgence under John Wolfgram, who already has eight state crowns to his credit during previous coaching stops at Madison (1), Gardiner (3) and South Portland (4).
Wolfgram, who took over the Cheverus program in 2006, has guided the Stags to a five-year record of 29-18, including a trip to the Western A final last fall.
“We never lost hope that we would get back to this game,” said Hackett. “They got close last year, and I’m sure they felt the same way.”
Bangor (10-1) is led offensively by senior quarterback Joe Seccareccia and senior tailback Josiah Hartley. Seccareccia has passed for 1,096 yards and 13 touchdowns while rushing for 324 yards and seven more scores in helping the Rams average 29.1 points per game. Hartley has emerged as one of the state’s top running backs despite missing 2 1/2 games with a concussion, totaling 1,274 yards and 15 touchdowns on 226 rushing attempts with 16 pass receptions for 265 yards and three touchdowns.
Senior Jon Fader has been a strong blocking presence at fullback, while Nick Sherwood is the team’s leading receiver with 27 catches for 540 yards and eight TDs. Tight ends John Kelley and Nic Cota also have been productive pass catchers, combining for six touchdowns.
Seccareccia also is Bangor’s leading tackler from his free safety post, along with strong safety Dylan Morris, tackle Tyler Shanklin and Cota at linebacker. Bangor has yielded just 9.1 points per contest.
Cheverus (11-0) is led by senior quarterback-safety Peter Gwilym, who like Seccareccia is a three-year starter on both offense and defense — and the similiarities don’t stop there.
“I looked at him and I looked at myself on film and it was almost like a mirror image,” said Seccareccia. “That’s not putting myself a level ahead of him or him a level ahead of me or below me. It’s going to be a good matchup. He’s a good athlete, he can run the ball, but we have to come out expecting everything from him because he’s a good athlete.”
Senior fullback Evan Jendrasko and junior tailback Spencer Cooke also are featured parts of the running game, while junior Louis DiStasio is the top receiving threat for a Stags’ offense that has averaged 33.4 points per contest.
The Cheverus defense has yielded an average of 14.1 points per game, with leadership coming from Jendrasko at nose guard, linebacker Zach Dulac and Gwilym in the secondary.
Bangor will be chasing history and facing history as it seeks its second state title of the decade and sixth in the program’s history.
Should the Rams defeat Cheverus, Bangor would become the first school in the state to win both football and boys soccer state championships in the same year.
But the West has dominated the Class A football state final for nearly three decades. Since Bangor defeated South Portland 13-0 in 1981, the West has won 26 of the last 28 meetings — with Bangor in 2001 and Lawrence of Fairfield in 2006 the lone exceptions.
“It all comes down to preparation,” said Hartley. “You’ve got to come out with the right mind-set and you’ve got to be ready to play.”