Maine’s high school football world has undergone a significant transformation during the last generation, resulting in the most diversified offensive product in its history.
For as many schools that employ variations of traditional run-oriented formations such as the Wing-T or double wing, just as many use spread offenses with quarterbacks in a shotgun formation and multiple wide receivers arranged on either side of the line.
Brewer coach Don Farnham earlier this year described the spread transformation as appealing to today’s players because it allows them to play the same brand of football on the field that they play at home on their Xboxes.
But when it comes down to winning or at least preserving leads in the biggest of games, the storylines of two of this year’s Eastern Maine championship games recall an earlier era of the sport.
The Mt. Blue Cougars and Foxcroft Academy Ponies combined to throw just one pass after intermission en route to winning their respective regional finals last weekend, using their running games not only to expand somewhat tenuous leads but to dominate opponents with remarkably similar production.
Mt. Blue, leading just 21-14 at halftime of last Friday’s Pine Tree Conference Class B championship game against Waterville, rushed for 207 yards and three unanswered touchdowns after intermission to secure a 42-14 victory and win its first regional title since competing in Class A in 2005.
The next afternoon, Foxcroft held a 13-7 halftime lead in the LTC Class C final against John Bapst of Bangor only after a 66-yard off-tackle touchdown run by Don Boyer with 19 seconds left in the second quarter.
But it was a sign of things to come, as the Ponies rushed for 212 yards and three unanswered touchdowns over the final two periods en route to a 33-7 victory that clinched their their first EM crown since 2009.
Both clubs relied heavily on a power rushing formation that featured the “double dive,” in which the quarterback fakes a handoff to the fullback and then gives the ball to a halfback who follows the fullback through a hole in the line to daylight.
“We’d run it a handful of times before [the Boyer touchdown run] with good success,” said Foxcroft coach Danny White, “and then we continued to run that in the second half.”
Coach Gary Parlin’s Mt. Blue club had derived much of its offensive success this year from a passing game engineered by senior quarterback Jordan Whitney, but an interception returned for a touchdown in the final seconds of the first pulled Waterville within a touchdown and Mt. Blue never passed again.
The Cougars didn’t need to, instead opting for a version of ground-and-pound based in Mt. Blue football of the 1970s and 1980s to chew up both yardage and the clock.
“It wasn’t because of the interception,” Parlin said. “I think if it’s 21-0 we would have done the same thing.
“I totally trust Jordan Whitney any time we have the ball, but the way it worked out we ran [Parlin’s predecessor as Mt. Blue coach] Ray Caldwell’s old 42 and 48 rip with Calan (Lucas) and Chad Luker. I guess what goes around comes around.”
Lucas finished with 147 rushing yards and a touchdown while Luker rushed for 74 yards and four touchdowns out of a formation that often included both fullback Bradley Jackson and 6-foot-2-inch, 265-pound tight end Zak Kendall providing additional blocking.
“Zak is a devastating blocker and that’s why he hasn’t been in the pass game as much because we didn’t want to split him out, we wanted to keep him at the line of scrimmage,” Parlin said.
Foxcroft has relied more on the run this season, a point that was emphasized during the final two quarters of its LTC title game, with Boyer rushing for 141 of his game-high 266 yards after intermission — and 207 of those yards over the final two quarters plus 30 seconds of the first half.
“The play I scored on before halftime we ran a lot in the second half,” Boyer said. “Then when we wanted to chew up the clock we just started to run power at them every play.”
The Ponies found particular success running to their right, where center Craig Chambers, tackle Louis LaFache and guard Cody Levensalor provided the initial blocking and backs Peter Boyer and Alex Stevens either led Don Boyer through the off-tackle hole or raced to the corner to provide lead blocks on outside runs.
“They did a really great job,” Boyer said. “There were huge holes almost every play.”