FARMINGTON — After two years of trouncing Eastern Class B to the tune of Tecmo Bowl-quality yardage and points, Chad Luker and Mt. Blue weren’t expecting to see their high school football life flash before their eyes in a one-versus-eight quarterfinal game.
“I’m in shock,” Luker said. “I’m still shaking.”
Shaken and stirred, the Cougars somehow survived. Bradley Jackson knocked down Jon Phelps’ two-point conversion pass, and Mt. Blue squeezed the final 3:41 from the clock to outlast Mount Desert Island, 14-13, in a classic at Kemp Field.
Not even two more first downs allowed anybody clad in blue-and-gold on either side of the chain-link fence to breathe easily.
This one wasn’t in the books until Chad Luker recovered his own fumble at the MDI 36, denying the visitors a desperation drive with 1:15 remaining.
Quarterback Jordan Whitney’s two ensuing kneeldowns were only Mt. Blue’s 29th and 30th offensive plays of the game. MDI ran 58 out of its grinding T-formation, keeping the ball for 32 minutes and 51 seconds of the 48-minute contest.
“They’re one of the toughest teams to play. They have those big tackles and they wear you down,” Mt, Blue coach Gary Parlin said. “You look out there and you think, ‘That was a decent defensive play,’ and then you realize, jeez, it’s second-and-6.”
No. 1 Mt. Blue (9-0) will host No. 4 Gardiner (6-3) in the semifinals next Friday, Nov. 2. They are the top remaining seeds after No. 2 Leavitt and No. 3 Hampden were beaten Friday.
And only Jackson’s open hand swatting the ball away from MDI freshman Taner Bickford in the end zone prevented it from being a hat trick of monumental upsets.
“We got everything but the win,” MDI coach Mark Shields said. “We believe that’s the best team in the state. We felt that no matter what the scoreboard read, we wanted to come out here and play hard, and our kids did that. I told them I’m proud of them and that I love them and that we were one point away from beating probably the state champions.”
For all its disadvantages in the numbers game, Mt. Blue led the one that mattered most, 14-0, at the end of three quarters.
Luker scored both touchdowns for the Cougars — a 24-yard grab from Whitney with 1:25 left in the first half, and a 51-yard run two plays after the second-half kickoff.
Undaunted, the Trojans ran six more minutes off the clock and marched to the Mt. Blue 15 before Luker, Dustin Richards and Chris Wells converged to stuff Teagan Candage (22 carries, 66 yards) on fourth-and-2.
MDI converted three consecutive third downs on the drive.
“We needed a better push from out front seven,” Jackson said. “This showed us we need to be a lot more focused. We have work to do.”
Already missing receivers Cam Abbott and Nick Hyde, Mt. Blue’s offense struggled to get into a rhythm between MDI’s feasts on the clock.
Consecutive fumbled center-to-quarterback exchanges stalled the Cougars’ ensuing drive. MDI (4-5) recovered the second one at the Mt. Blue 46.
Phelps went deep to Keiran Rush for 35 yards on the next play, setting up his own highlight-film scramble to open the fourth quarter.
Nursing a sore knee that had him limping at times, the junior quarterback made three Mt. Blue tacklers miss, covering 13 yards into the end zone on a fourth-and-12 masterpiece.
Trevor Alley’s point-after made it a ballgame at 14-7 with 11:44 to go.
The Trojans got help from a false start penalty and forced a three-and-out, setting up an 11-play, 69-yard parade that could have abbreviated Mt. Blue’s season.
Two more third-down conversions and a 16-yard strike from Phelps (5-of-7, 87 yards) to Alley set up Sandy Henggeler’s 3-yard TD run.
MDI used its final timeout to set up the two-point pass. Phelps bootlegged toward the Mt. Blue sideline and spotted Bickford in the flat, but all-conference linebacker Jackson used a cornerback’s instincts to stifle it.
“I saw him rolling to the left, got where I needed to be and saw it coming at me,” Jackson said.
“The way things were going, I thought, ‘OK, they’re going to make it, we’re going to be down one with three minutes left, and I’ve got Jordan Whitney to try and drive us to win it,’” Parlin said.
Instead, Luker’s runs of 7, 5, 11 and 6 yards and his alert self-recovery nursed the tenuous lead and ushered the Cougars into another week.
“They’re an awesome team and they showed it,” said Luker, who had all but one of his team-high 89 rushing yards in the second half. “They came out firing. We were lucky to get a couple of goal-line stops.”
Mt. Blue routed MDI 47-15 here Sept. 24.
“The only way to beat those guys is to keep them off the field,” Shields said. “They’re going to score points. Defensively we were just tremendous, tremendous, to shut down what they do.”