A stout, physical defense has been at the forefront of Bucksport High School’s run to the Class C football state championship game.
Guided by head coach Joel Sankey and defensive coordinator Wayne Richards, the undefeated Golden Bucks have yielded an average of just 8.0 points per game in 11 victories heading into Saturday’s 2:36 p.m. state final against Yarmouth at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
Bucksport has yet to allow an opponent more than two touchdowns in any game this fall, including last Saturday when the Golden Bucks defeated Orono — a team that had set an LTC record by averaging more than 50 points per game during the regular season — 25-14 to win their first Eastern Maine championship since 2004.
Orono also scored just 14 points in its Week 3 regular-season game at Bucksport, marking the only other time the Red Riots had been held to fewer than 25 points in a game this fall.
“We’ve been doing that all year,” said Sankey after the Eastern Maine final. “We’ve been under the radar. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that we’d be where we are right now there’s just no way.
“This team really came together and played well. We play very, very good defense. We play well on special teams and the offense is not bad, and we’ve got some kids who can play the game.”
That defense features multiple leaders, including sophomore linebacker Nic Bishop, a transfer from Hermon who led the Golden Bucks in tackles during the regular season. Linebackers Chris Powell and Shawn Smith and defensive end Jordan Fogg also have been among the heavy hitters behind a front featuring 5-foot-7, 230-pound tackle Damon Klenedinst.
“We rely a lot on our defense,” said Bucksport defensive back Jake Stewart. “Coach Richards is an excellent coach, and he puts our defense together well.”
Stewart is one of 18 seniors listed on the Golden Bucks roster, and the players say that experience and camaraderie are additional reasons for the cohesion within the team’s defense.
“We worked hard all offseason,” said Bucksport senior quarterback-defensive back Mike Cummings. “The whole team is a bunch of friends, we all hang out together and we’ve worked good together.”
That was especially true defensively against Orono last weekend, when the Golden Bucks limited the Red Riots to just two first downs over the first 45 minutes of play and to 171 total yards for the game — with 75 yards coming on one third-quarter pass play that led to the Red Riots’ first touchdown.
Bucksport focused its defense on stopping the Orono running game, and the Red Riots managed just 87 rushing yards on 37 attempts, or 2.4 yards per carry.
“We didn’t really do too much different,” said Cummings. “We just perfected what we didn’t do right the last time we played them and that was the overall difference.”
Bucksport will be tested in the state final by defending Class C state champion Yarmouth, which is also 11-0 this season and will bring a 23-game winning streak into the contest. The Clippers have outscored their three playoff opponents — Oak Hill of Wales, Lisbon and Traip Academy of Kittery — by a combined 96-6 and averaged 38.6 points per game overall this fall.
The Golden Bucks are looking forward to the challenge.
“We’re going to states,” said Smith. “I’ve never really been there, I’d never been here [to the Eastern Maine final]. It’s hard to describe. I can’t wait.”
A bright future for Bangor
The bar is high when an 8-3 season that ends in the Eastern Maine Class A championship game is considered a disappointment.
But such was the 2011 campaign for the Bangor High School football team, whose bid for a third straight regional title came to an end last Friday night when the top-seeded Lawrence Bulldogs surged past the second-ranked Rams 40-14 at Keyes Field in Fairfield.
“We grew up a lot,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett. “We had a lot of young guys playing and it’s a tough place to play.
“We were outmatched, outcoached. We got as far as we could and we were done, but I was proud of our effort. I don’t think we gave up, they just took it to us and took the game away from us.”
Bangor fielded one of its younger teams in recent years this fall, with five juniors and two sophomores starting on offense and six juniors and one sophomore starting defensively.
“I think seniors beat juniors in big games,” said Hackett of the Eastern Maine final. “Not always, but that seemed to be the way it was [Friday night].”
Hackett is hopeful that this year’s youthful first-year varsity starters will mature into next year’s grizzled veterans, and such experience will help propel the Rams back into the championship hunt in 2012.
Leading the returning cast on offense for next year will be first-team All-Pine Tree Conference junior fullback Cody Chapman, whose 86 rushing yards against Lawrence enabled him to surpass 1,000 yards for the season, junior tailback Zeb Tuell, sophomore wingback Xavier Lewis and junior quarterback Carl Farnham, also the first-team All-PTC kicker.
Bangor also will return three starting offensive linemen in junior guards Brandon Vang — a second-team All-PTC choice — and Greg Duff and sophomore center Brendan Moore.
The returning cast on defense will feature junior Cain Corkum, whose move from nose guard to defensive end midway through the season helped ignite a significant upgrade in Bangor’s defensive effectiveness and enabled Corkum to earn first-team All-PTC recognition.
Vang and Duff will join Corkum as returning starters along the front line, while other starters back on defense will be Chapman at linebacker and Farnham, Tuell and Lewis in the secondary.