FAIRFIELD — Bulldog Pride is alive and well at Keyes Field.
The Lawrence High School football team, dominant in regular-season play during the last two years but frustrated in the playoffs, used a touchdown in the final minute of the first half Friday night to ignite a run of 26 answered points that propelled the undefeated Bulldogs past Bangor 40-14 for their first Pine Tree Conference Class A championship since 2007.
“It feels phenomenal,” said Lawrence senior quarterback and safety Alex Leathers. “I really don’t have the words to describe it. It’s magical, I guess. I love it.”
Leathers passed for two touchdowns for coach John Hersom’s club, while senior tailback Shaun Carroll Jr. rushed for 192 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries as top-ranked Lawrence continued its mastery over Bangor — defeating the second-seeded Rams for the ninth time in their last 10 meetings.
“We’re proud of our season,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett. “The better team’s going forward, and we can live with that.”
Lawrence (11-0) will play the winner of Saturday’s Western A final between defending state champion Cheverus of Portland and Thornton Academy of Saco for the state crown on Nov. 19 at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
Bangor, which was seeking its third straight Eastern Maine championship, ended its season with an 8-3 record.
“I don’t think we gave up,” said Hackett. “They just took it to us and took it away from us.”
These teams traded touchdowns for much of the first half. Carroll went around the left corner for a 65-yard scoring run with 4:29 left in the first quarter, but Bangor’s Cody Chapman (13 carries, 86 yards) answered with a 9-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter.
Lawrence took a 14-7 lead on its next possession as Spencer Carey returned the Bangor kickoff 37 yards to set up a 53-yard drive that ended with 6:07 left in the half on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Leathers to Carey — the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback until suffering a shoulder injury late in the regular season.
But Bangor rallied from behind again, marching 76 yards in eight plays to tie the game on a 1-yard run by Chapman with 2:33 remaining before intermission. A 38-yard run by Chapman on third-and-1 from the Lawrence 44 set up the score.
Lawrence might have been tempted to go into the break locked in a 14-14 tie but knowing it would receive the second-half kickoff.
But a 24-yard run by Carroll on third-and-7 from the Bulldogs’ 23 altered any such thoughts, even after Leathers fumbled on the next play — only to have Carey recover the ball and advance it to the Bangor 39.
One play later, Leathers found junior wide receiver Aaron LaFrance open in the end zone behind the Bangor defense with a perfectly lofted 32-yard pass for a game-changing touchdown that gave the ‘Dogs a 21-14 lead with just 28 seconds left in the half.
“The clock was running down, but I do think in a tight game we’re always trying to score,” said Leathers, who completed 7 of 11 passes for 90 yards. “Shaun had that nice run to get us going, and everything else worked from there.
“We got a great route from Aaron. He couldn’t quite get back outside away from (Bangor defensive back Carl) Farnham, so I just dumped it over the top and he made a great catch.”
Bangor never really recovered from the late score, managing just 24 total yards after intermission while turning the ball over twice in the first four minutes of the third quarter — leading to a pair of Lawrence touchdowns.
“We were having trouble stopping their offense,” said Leathers, “but the coaches gave us a couple of different options on defense in the second half and it worked out.”
Bangor defensive end Cain Corkum recovered an errant pitch from Leathers to Carroll on Lawrence’s first possession of the second half, but two plays later the blitzing Carey stripped Farnham of the football as he dropped back to pass and defensive end Bryant Wade returned the fumble 44 yards to the end zone extend the Lawrence lead to 27-14 less than four minutes into the period.
One play after the subsequent kickoff, Farnham was hit from behind while trying to make a late pitch to Chapman, and the loose ball was recovered at the Rams’ 43 by Lawrence’s Nick Routhier. That turnover set up a 4-yard scoring run by Carroll that put the Bulldogs out of Bangor’s reach, up 33-14 with 5:42 left in the third quarter.
“They had that pass for a touchdown right before the half, and then the fumbles in the third quarter,” said Hackett, whose team had a plus-22 turnover ratio in their first 10 games but turned the ball over three times compared to just once for Lawrence. “We just weren’t going to come back here against that team when those things happen.”
Lawrence added a clock-draining 13-play, 55-yard drive in the fourth quarter capped off by Carroll’s 5-yard scoring run — giving him seven touchdowns to go with 421 rushing yards in two games against Bangor this season.
“It’s been good to have him healthy,” said Hersom of Carroll, who has been hobbled a leg injury for much of the season. “It’s been frustrating for him not to have that throughout the season, but to his credit he’s done a good job of bouncing back.”