BANGOR — Zeb Tuell and Wyatt Frost have spent much of the high school football season nagged by injuries.
But with their team’s future at stake Friday night, the two Bangor teammates returned to the lineup with pivotal performances as the Rams defeated Skowhegan 29-8 at Cameron Stadium in a win-or-go-home battle for a Pine Tree Conference Class A playoff berth.
Frost, a senior defensive back, made the game’s two biggest defensive plays, intercepting an Ethan Johnson pass inside the Bangor 10-yard line to halt a Skowhegan drive with less than a minute left in the first half, then stopping the Indians’ Ben Clark short of the end zone on a fourth-and-goal halfback option pass midway through the third quarter.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play another football game,” said Frost, who missed Bangor’s four previous games with a shoulder injury. “So I relied on my teammates throughout the year, and they came up big for me and gave me a chance to play tonight, so I tried to give it all on the field for them.”
Tuell, a junior running back who missed last week’s loss at Messalonskee of Oakland with an ankle injury, rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries as Bangor scored 29 unanswered points after spotting the 5-4 Indians the game’s first touchdown.
“They’re just great players,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett, “We missed them, and when you bring them back we’re a lot better team.”
Junior fullback Cody Chapman added two short touchdown runs and senior tight end Ellis Throckmorton caught a 21-yard scoring pass from junior quarterback Carl Farnham as the two-time defending Eastern Maine champions not only clinched a trip to the four-team PTC playoffs, but secured the No. 2 seed when top-seeded and undefeated Lawrence of Fairfield scored a 25-16 win over Messalonskee.
Bangor (7-2) will host No. 3 Brunswick in one semifinal next weekend, while Lawrence and No. 4 Messalonskee will play again in the other semifinal.
Skowhegan, 1-7 a year ago, finished with a 5-4 record.
“We knew this was a playoff game,” said Tuell. “If we win, we’re in; if we lose, we’re out, it was that simple. We had it in the back of our minds that if we didn’t win we were done, so we were hungry. We don’t want the season to end.”
Bangor didn’t have an answer for Skowhegan tailback Adam Dusty, who rushed for 269 yards on 35 carries, including a 31-yard touchdown run on the Indians’ second possession to give the Indians an 8-0 lead.
But the Rams proved resilient on defense, forcing three Skowhegan turnovers and stopping three second-half drives by the Indians inside the Bangor 10.
“We had a few turnovers and that really got us down,” said Dusty. “We came out after the half and I thought we were ready, but they had a few big plays and we were back where we were before.”
Bangor needed just two plays to answer Dusty’s touchdown, with Tuell scoring on a 24-yard run with 5:38 left in the first quarter and Chapman adding the game-tying two-point conversion run.
That score was set up by a 53-yard kickoff return by sophomore Xavier Lewis.
“I saw open field, that was it,” said Lewis. “(Tuell) gave me the call to get the ball, and I ran up the sideline and the blocking was great. It was a team effort.”
Bangor took an 15-8 lead on a 2-yard run by Chapman with 8:11 left in the half, then assumed control with a 25-yard scoring march after the Rams’ Nick Sherwood stripped Dusty of the ball on Skowhegan’s next possession and Lewis recovered the fumble.
Two plays later, Farnham passed over the middle to Throckmorton, who outjumped two defenders for the ball in the end zone for his first varsity touchdown.
“I wanted it more than them, I think,” said Throckmorton. “I’ve been waiting forever, eight years of playing football.”
Skowhegan threatened to cut into its 22-8 deficit just before intermission, but Frost stepped in front of Skowhegan’s Jacob Weese in the right flat near the Bangor 5 for his second pass interception of the season.
“We worked a lot in practice on the flood concept and I knew they were going to throw it to the that short guy,” said Frost, “so I just cut off the angle and took it away from him.”
Skowhegan threatened again on its first possession of the second half, marching from its 20 to a second-and-goal at the Bangor 1.
But a blitzing Throckmorton sent Dusty back for a 2-yard loss, then Lewis and Sherwood combined to throw Dusty for another 2-yard loss to leave Skowhegan with fourth down from the 5.
Dusty completed an option pass to Clark in the right flat, but Frost came up to make the tackle well short of the end zone.
“I just made sure to play pass first like coach says,’ said Frost. “The line contained great and I was able to get up and tackle him.”
Chapman added Bangor’s final touchdown on a 1-yard run with 4:55 left in the game.