PORTLAND — Tears, and plenty of them. Streaming freely down the cheeks of joyous Warriors from Wells High School.
Of seniors, freshmen, and classes in between, all became one happy, emotionally messy family in the wake of their 21-13 triumph over Leavitt in the Class B state football championship Saturday night at Fitzpatrick Stadium..
Two fourth-quarter touchdown runs by senior quarterback Paul McDonough, who has labored for weeks with an injured foot, helped give the Warriors their first gold ball since 1997, and second- ever championship.
“It’s like a dream come true,” said an emotional McDonough, whose 10-yard scoring scamper with 8:15 to play lifted the Warriors to a 14-13 lead. “No one believed we could do it. We proved everyone wrong.”
Said senior co-captain Andrew Staples, a lynch-pin of both lines, with moistened eye black smeared above his cheeks, “I imagined what it would feel like during the summer, when I worked my (rear) off in the weightroom. But I didn’t think I was going to cry over it.”
The teams fought to a 7-7 halftime deadlock, with Wells having taken the lead on Louis DiTomasso’s 9-yard run with 8:07 remaining in the first quarter.
That score capped a five-play, 59-yard campaign that was fueled by a 46-yard pass play from McDonough to Zach Deshaies on third-and-11.
The Warriors were primed to add to their lead late in the quarter, when a McDonough fumble at the Leavitt 18 was pounced on by Hornet lineman Jake Posik.
It was the first of two drive-stopping turnovers forced by the Leavitt defense in that half.
The Hornets answered with Ian Durgin’s 44-yard touchdown run, three plays into the second quarter.
Taking a left-side handoff from quarterback Jordan Hersom, Durgin caught the Warrior defense by surprise by reversing field and running untouched to the end zone.
Leavitt drove to the Warrior 25 in the final minute of the half, but its attempt to take the lead was squelched when Wells defensive back Joey Spinelli picked off Hersom’s attempt to find receiver Brian Bedard in the end zone.
“I just tried to get myself in the best position,” said Spinelli, who ballhawked five interceptions in the Warriors three playoff games, “and try to stay behind my defender. When I do that, good things will happen.”
Leavitt took advantage of a fumbled punt to post its second score, a slashing 3-yard keeper by Hersom. The extra point kick fell short, setting the Hornet lead at 13-7.
Wells replied with a 12-play, 62-yard march, that was helped by a Leavitt roughing-the-passer penalty on third-and-12.
McDonough took it the final 10 yards, and Spinelli’s extra-point kick made it 14-13.
“To be honest,” said McDonough, “I don’t even remember it. Everything went by so quick. We just kept pounding the ball. We pounded it the whole game. We finally were able to push it in a couple times.”
McDonough added some insurance with 2:05 to play, a TD plunge he set up himself by intercepting a pass from Hersom at the Leavitt 25 and running it back to the 2.
The Hornets didn’t fold, however, and in the final minute drove to the Warrior 26.
However, Hersom’s throw to the end zone intended for Ian Durgin was intercepted by junior safety Gavin Snapp, and ended the Hornets’ hopes.
By then the water was starting to flow along the Warrior sideline.
“It feels so much better than I thought it would be,” said Spinelli, the words catching in his throat. “It’s unbelievable. Amazing. Everything we worked for paid off in the end. We finally got it. We got our gold ball.”
Said an emotional Warrior coach Tim Roche, “our [past] seasons have ended with tears of disappointment. These are tears of joy.”