PITTSFIELD, Maine — Postgame celebrations take on many forms, limited only by the imaginations of the celebrants.
The Maine Central Institute football team took a most appropriate approach to the aftermath of Friday night’s rain-soaked 46-0 Little Ten Conference Class D victory over Stearns of Millinocket — a celebratory swim in the sideline pond that stretched the full 100-yard distance of the field.
Any celebration has been fairly rare in recent years for the Huskies, winless in eight games last fall.
And that makes the team’s 2-0 start this season all the more satisfying.
“We’ve been working really hard, but it’s mostly from the offseason,” said MCI junior two-way end Mitchell Hallee of his team’s improvement. “We had a good off-season with the guys, everyone came together and we got bigger numbers (45) out for the team this year.
“The past couple of weeks we’ve had some crisp practices and some ups and downs, but every time we’ve shot right back up. It feels really good.”
Jonathan Santiago rushed for 203 yards and five touchdowns on 17 carries as MCI took control of this game late in the first half and dominated play after intermission.
“It was difficult,” said Santiago of the steadily deteriorating running conditions. “I was running as fast as I could but I couldn’t get to my top speed. Everything was brought down a notch but my mentality stayed the same.”
The speedy junior, who didn’t play football until arriving at MCI as a freshman, scored on a 72-yard run down the right sideline on the Huskies’ second offensive play from scrimmage and added subsequent scoring runs of 28, 1, 17 and 20 yards.
“I saw my fullback (sophomore Alex Bertrand) get a good block, I hit the hole, I saw daylight and I kept running,” said Santiago of his first score. “And I protected the ball so I wouldn’t fumble. We know if we fumble we bring our team down, so we made sure to hold onto the ball.”
Sophomore quarterback Greg Vigue added a 21-yard touchdown pass to Hallee just before intermission to give MCI a 20-0 lead, and freshman halfback Willie Moss capped off the scoring with a 47-yard run in the game’s final minute.
MCI won the turnover battle so important in a game involving inclement weather. The Huskies recovered six of Stearns’ 11 fumbles and blocked a punt, turnovers that led directly to four touchdowns.
The Huskies committed just two first-half turnovers, a fumbled punt return and a pass interception that Stearns was unable to convert into points.
“In years past those plays have been going against us, but it’s been going the other way for us so far this year and we hope it’s an indication that we’re coming along as a team,” said veteran MCI coach Tom Bertrand.
This was just a 6-0 game until the final three minutes of the first half, when MCI scored twice during a 1-minute, 37-second span.
The Huskies’ Austin Tolman tipped a punt by Stearns’ Mitchell Bradford, giving MCI possession at the Minutemen’s 26-yard line with 4:22 left in the second quarter.
Vigue then found Hallee behind the Stearns’ defense on the right side of the field with a 21-yard scoring strike on a fourth-and-5 play, and Alex Bertrand rushed for the two-point conversion to give MCI a 14-0 edge with 2:43 left until intermission.
Linebacker Jimmy Hall then stripped Stearns quarterback Damean Newbury of the ball and recovered the fumble on the first play after the ensuing after the kickoff, giving MCI great field possession again at the Minutemen’s 24.
An illegal procedure penalty set MCI back to its 28 on second down, but Santiago — who sat out much of the first half with a shoulder injury — went left with the ball on the next play and then cut back to his right and raced to the end zone to give the Huskies a three-touchdown cushion with 1:06 to play in the half.
Santiago had 108 rushing yards on just seven first-half carries.
Santiago returned the second-half kickoff 24 yards to the Stearns 49 and rushed for 23 yards on the next play to ignite a six-play drive that ended with the halfback scoring from the 1 to make it 26-0 two minutes into the third quarter.
A fumble recovery by MCI’s Eric Hathaway on Stearns’ next offensive play gave the Huskies yet another short field and they needed just four plays to score again — this time with Santiago taking a pitch from Vigue and going wide left the final 17 yards into the end zone.
Jake Lauzier’s extra-point kick extended the MCI lead to 33-0 with eight minutes left in the third quarter.
Hathaway added 53 rushing yards on 11 attempts for the Huskies, who finished with 335 total yards — 314 on the ground.
Stearns managed just 119 total yards — all on the ground — against an MCI defense anchored by Alex Bertrand at middle linebacker.
Junior running back Marc Morneault led the Minutemen with 105 yards on 16 rushes.