BIDDEFORD — Imahedi Zagon seemingly had no place to go, with the sideline looming to his right and several opponents with tackling intentions in front of him.
But a fake here, some upper-body strength there, followed by a burst of speed that no one could match, and the recent Portland High School graduate was gone — gone to the end zone on an 86-yard kickoff return with 4:20 to play Saturday to rally the West to a 16-13 victory over the East in the 22nd annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic at Waterhouse Field.
“I was going to do what I had to do, I wasn’t going to stop running for anything,” said Zagon. “I was just looking straight ahead.”
Alexander Rose of Livermore Falls preserved that lead with two late pass interceptions as the West ended a two-game East winning streak in a game that features the state’s top most recently graduated high school football players. The West now holds a 16-6 lead in the series.
The East had driven 60 yards to take a 13-9 lead on a 3-yard scoring run by East MVP Teven Colon of Edward Little of Auburn with 4:36 left in the fourth quarter.
Zagon caught the ensuing kickoff at the West 14-yard-line and headed up the right side of the field. He met several East defenders near the 40-yard line, and while those defenders came away with one of Zagon’s shoes, the Husson University-bound tailback otherwise broke free and showed off his sprinter’s speed on a dash to the end zone.
“I didn’t see a hole,” said Zagon, named the West MVP after also rushing for 64 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. “I saw three defenders to the right of me, so I tried to fake one out and I got him and and then I cut it back right and that’s when I saw a little opening.”
The East had two more possessions but both ended in interceptions by Rose, the first coming near the East 45 on a pass by Luke Duncklee of Cony of Augusta intended for Lewiston’s Jeff Keene with 2:47 to play.
“I looked over at one of my buddies and said, ‘I feel a big play coming, I feel a big play coming,’” said Rose. “The offense had just done its job, so the defense knew we had to do a job. The ball went in the air and I broke on it and got it at its highest point. It was the best feeling in the world.”
The East got the ball back at its 34 with 1:40 left after a big hit by Waterville’s Kyle Bishop denied Zagon a first down on fourth-and-4, but Rose stepped in front of a pass from Bangor quarterback Joe Seccareccia intended for high school teammate Josiah Hartley on the next play to put the game away.
It was the fifth interception of the game thrown by the East, including two picked off by Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Peter Gwilym of Cheverus of Portland. The East also was hurt by two errant center snaps, one that resulted in an East safety and the second that produced a 23-yard loss after the East had driven to the West 8-yard line late in the third quarter.
The East defense forced two turnovers, a fumble recovery by Charlie Tapley of Stearns of Millinocket and an interception by Derek True of Mount Ararat of Topsham.
The late-afternoon heat, which reached a high of 95 degrees in Biddeford, was one of the major story lines entering the contest, but Lobster Bowl officials took several steps to alleviate concerns, particularly shortening the quarters from 15 to 12 minutes and stopping the game for water breaks after every four minutes of play.
And while the players held up remarkably well amid the conditions, the heat did not go unnoticed.
“All of a sudden as the game went on I was getting worn down by the heat,” said Seccareccia. “I’m not used to this heat at all, usually I play football in cold weather and that’s more comfortable for us.
“You could just tell, even the other team was worn down, everyone was exhausted. The heat got to all of us, I don’t even know how hot it was, but it was hot.”
Seccareccia, who will play football at Southern Connecticut State University, drove the East 56 yards on its first possession of the game to give his team a 7-0 lead with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Lani Eversage of Belfast on a fourth-and-5 timing pattern down the right sideline. Seccareccia was 3-for-3 passing for 46 yards on the drive.
“The corners were a little slow and I knew I could get there first,” said Eversage, who will play football and run track at Bates College. “Joe’s got a great arm and I knew it was going to be wide open the whole way.”
The West’s first points came midway through the second quarter when a shotgun center snap from the East 15-yard line sailed over Duncklee and out of the end zone.
The West the got the ball back with a short field immediately after the East free kick that resulted from the safety, and Jamie Ross of Deering of Portland marched his team 48 yards in five plays with Zagon scoring on a 27-yard fourth-down run. Zagon initially bobbled the pitch from Ross, but beat the East defense to the right sideline and raced to the end zone.