BANGOR, Maine — John Bapst used a strong first half to beat the Orono Red Riots 30-22 at Husson University’s Winkin Complex on Friday night in an LTC football semifinal.
The win gave the Crusaders their fifth Eastern Maine championship appearance in the last six years as they will visit the top-ranked Foxcroft Academy Ponies at 1 p.m. next Saturday in the LTC final.
The Crusaders (9-1) were led by junior quarterback Austin Spencer who finished 5 of 11 passing for 141 yards with three total touchdowns, two coming by air, and one on the ground.
Orono (7-3) was paced by junior running back Christian Mowrer who paced the run-heavy Riots attack to a tune of 32 carries for 284 yards and three touchdowns.
“We came out fast and had them on their heels,” said John Bapst head coach Dan O’Connell.
John Bapst wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, using a quick seven-play drive to score on its first possession. The drive was highlighted by a 21-yard pass play on a deep post route to wide receiver and running back Jake Moore on a third and long. Spencer finished the drive with a 11-yard scamper on a quarterback keeper.
Two plays later, Orono would fumble a handoff allowing John Bapst senior lineman Charles Kindya to pick up the loose football and return it 20 yards for the touchdown. Patrick Leonard knocked in his second PAT to give the Crusaders the 14-0 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Orono would not lay down though, responding with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that lasted just over five minutes and resulted in a touchdown. The Riots were sparked by a 27-yard run from running back Norton Revell and a 22-yard dash from Mowrer on the drive.
Mowrer scored the Riots’ first touchdown on a 9-yard pitch play, getting around the outside of the Crusader defense. After quarterback Chad Orn rushed in the two-point conversion, the Riots trailed only 14-8 after the slow start.
Revell finished with 72 yards on 17 carries.
“We felt all along that we could win and the kids prepared that way,” said Orono head coach Bob Sinclair.
Bapst came right back, returning the kickoff to the 50-yard line. Moore caught an 8-yard pass on the first play of the drive, and took a handoff up the middle of the Riot defense for 37 yards on the second play, setting Bapst up deep in Orono territory.
Bapst gave the ball to running back Andrew Catlin on the goal line, he sprinted toward the end zone and reached out for the score. As Catlin extended the ball, a Riot defender knocked it loose, allowing Orono to recover on the 1-yard line.
The Riots wouldn’t be able to capitalize on the turnover as two plays later quarterback Orn was sacked in the end zone for the safety, giving Bapst the 16-8 lead.
After the Crusaders got the ball back they ran a deep jet on the first play from scrimmage as Spencer lofted a beautiful pass into the arms of wide receiver Josh Baker for the 45-yard strike. Bapst would lead 24-8 at the half.
“We were confident where we were at after the first half,” said O’Connell.
After the teams traded punts to start the third quarter, Spencer would strike again. This time he would find Catlin on a 41-yard pass along the sideline to put the Crusaders on top 30-8 with just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“We went out with a lot of intensity, we relaxed, and we put it in the end zone,” said Spencer.
It was all Riots after that. Orono would respond with 13 straight running plays as Mowrer would find the end zone on a 9-yard scamper, cutting the lead to 30-16 with seven seconds remaining in the third quarter. On the following kickoff Orono would recover an onside kick giving the Red Riots new life.
“That was our call,” said Sinclair. “It went deeper than we expected, but that was our call.”
The Riots capitalized on the good field position as Mowrer scored from three yards out for his third touchdown of the night, cutting the lead to 30-22 with just under 10 minutes in the fourth quarter, but they were unable to score on the two-point conversion.
“I thought stopping them on the two-point conversion was big,” said O’Connell. “It was huge to keep it at eight points.”
Orono would have one more chance down eight points with just under two minutes remaining, but a Mowrer fumble would squander any chance for a comeback.