BUCKSPORT — The Bucksport Golden Bucks have considered themselves an under-the-radar presence on the LTC football landscape this fall, even as they have proceeded through the season undefeated.
Certainly they’re under the radar no more after defeating Orono 25-14 at Carmichael Field on Saturday to win their first Eastern Maine Class C championship since 2004.
“It’s been the goal all year, it’s the goal every year,” said Bucksport senior fullback and linebacker Chris Powell. “It’s a great feeling to be here finally. I’m just loving it right now.”
Bucksport (11-0) advances to next Saturday’s state final against 11-0 Yarmouth at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Yarmouth, the reigning Class C state champion, defeated Traip Academy of Kittery 14-0 in Saturday’s Western Maine final.
Orono, playing in its first LTC championship game in 15 years, concluded its season with a 9-2 record.
“I’m very proud of our season and I’m proud of our kids,” said Orono coach Bob Sinclair. “Orono football’s back, and our seniors are going to leave us with a great foundation for the next few years. We’d like to have won the football game, but hats off to Bucksport and I hope they bring the gold ball back east.”
Defense was at the forefront of Bucksport’s success as the Golden Bucks limited an Orono team that set an LTC record by averaging more than 50 points per game during the regular season to just two first downs over the first 45 minutes of play and 171 yards of total offense for the game.
“We just committed more men to the box to stop the run,” said Powell. “We knew if we kept hitting them, they’d go down.”
Orono star Dominic Mowrer, the LTC’s leading rusher, was hindered by a thigh bruise suffered during the Red Riots’ semifinal victory over John Bapst of Bangor last week and rushed for just three yards on 11 carries.
“He might have been 50 percent, but it is what it is,” said Sinclair. “You go with kids all year long, and it’s been four years for him so he was going to play and he gave it all he had. It certainly affected his play, but the bottom line is that’s not an excuse.”
Senior tailback Shawn Smith spearheaded a Bucksport offense that withstood four lost fumbles, rushing for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. Senior quarterback Mike Cummings completed 7 of 12 passes for 127 yards, including touchdown strikes of 16 yards to Jake Stewart and 17 yards to Jon Geagan.
“We made too many mistakes,” said Bucksport coach Joel Sankey, whose team also was penalized eight times for 69 yards, “but the kids hung in there and played well.”
A fumble recovery by Bucksport’s Jordan Fogg on Orono’s first possession of the game set up the Golden Bucks inside the Red Riots’ 25-yard line. While the subsequent drive didn’t produce a touchdown, the advantageous field position led to a 22-yard touchdown run by Smith to cap off Bucksport’s second possession with 6:02 left in the first quarter.
Bucksport drove 52 yards in 10 plays to extend its lead to 12-0 when Cummings found Stewart open on a slant pattern from 16 yards out on a fourth-and-7 play with 5:55 left in the first half.
Bucksport drove deep into Orono territory late in the third quarter, only to have its second fumble of the period recovered by the Red Riots at their 23-yard line.
On the next play, Orono quarterback Bryce Mehnert found tight end Tyler Higgins open behind the defense, and the two collaborated on a 75-yard pass play to the Bucksport 2.
Dominic Mowrer scored on the next play and rushed for the two-point conversion, and suddenly the Red Riots were within four points, at 12-8, with 1:45 left in the third quarter.
But the Golden Bucks responded by finally breaking the game open with two touchdowns within a 2-minute, 17-second span early in the fourth quarter.
The Golden Bucks immediately marched 69 yards for a touchdown despite nearly losing the ball again on a Smith fumble that was recovered by offensive guard James Comtois for a 13-yard gain to the Orono 26.
Cummings soon connected for his second fourth-down touchdown pass of the day, a 17-yard pass to Geagan in the back left corner of the end zone to give Bucksport an 18-8 lead with 9:39 left in the game.
“We called a post corner, and as soon as we took off I looked and saw that their guy wasn’t going to cover me and Mikey recognized it and threw me the ball,” said Geagan, a senior wide receiver. “I had big eyes.”
Orono quickly went three-and-out, and Bucksport got the ball back at the Red Riots’ 30 after Mowrer came up short on a fake punt run and Orono was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after the play.
It took Bucksport just four plays to add to its lead, with the final three plays runs by Smith of 4, 16 and 8 yards to the end zone. Josh Gray added the extra-point kick to give the Golden Bucks a 25-8 lead with 7:22 left.
Orono scored its final touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Mehnert to Higgins with 1:17 remaining.