DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Few visiting football teams have left Oakes Field with a satisfied feeling during the last decade.
Belfast came close Friday night, but a resilient Foxcroft Academy squad rallied from a pair of two-touchdown deficits to outlast the Lions 28-27 in an entertaining Class C matchup played before a homecoming crowd.
“It was a very good lesson,” said Foxcroft senior fullback and linebacker Corey Bjornson. “I think we learned that our whole team has a lot of heart and we’re not going to give up.”
Bjornson rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns and Peter Boyer added 95 rushing yards and a 55-yard punt return for a score as the defending state champions, now 3-0, survived their first major challenge of the season.
“Boyer and Bjornson wanted the ball in the second half, that’s what it came down to,” said Belfast coach Chris Bartlett, whose team fell to 1-2. “We did a pretty good job, but I don’t think we hit with our pads as well in the second half as we did in the first half, and I’m sure they made some blocking adjustments that didn’t give us as many clean shots.”
That play along the line of scrimmage not only allowed Foxcroft to outscore Belfast 16-6 after intermission, it also enabled the Ponies to control the football late in the game — running 20 plays from scrimmage during the fourth quarter compared to seven for the Lions.
“We did have a much better handle on the line of scrimmage in the second half, and I think that was very, very important and was what enabled to win the game,” said Foxcroft coach Danny White. “We went from being out-energized in the first half to actually controlling the line of scrimmage and it made all the difference.”
Belfast’s energy level was high at the game’s outset, as the Lions jumped out to a 14-0 lead on an 8-yard scoring run by Greg Clark late in the first quarter and a 71-yard touchdown pass from Zach Collier to Tyler Tran with 5:08 left in the second period.
Foxcroft quarterback Hunter Law scored on a 1-yard run to cap off a drive set up by Hunter Smith’s 40-yard kickoff return to cut the deficit to 14-6 with 1:40 left before halftime, only to have Clark run Belfast’s next play from scrimmage 66 yards to the end zone to give the Lions a 21-6 advantage after Ashley Littlefield’s extra-point kick with 1:16 left in the first half.
But Foxcroft maintained contact yet again, driving 58 yards in seven plays to close within 21-12 on Bjornson’s 9-yard scoring run with 25 seconds left before intermission.
The teams combined for 433 total yards in the first half alone, with Belfast accumulating 233 yards — 117 passing and 116 rushing.
“They were really playing off the double dive in the first half,” said Boyer, “but at halftime we fixed some stuff with the linebackers and I think we stopped it better after that.”
Foxcroft fumbled the ball away two plays after receiving the second-half kickoff, but the Ponies’ defense forced a quick Belfast punt that Boyer turned into a momentum-changing moment,
The junior halfback caught the punt at the FA 45, went right and then cut back to the left near the Belfast 30 to pick up some extra blockers on his way to the end zone.
“I don’t know,” said Boyer of his second punt return for a touchdown in three games. “I just cut back and things started opening up.”
Boyer’s subsequent two-point conversion run suddenly pulled Foxcroft within 21-20 less than three minutes into the third quarter.
“It was huge to have an answer before halftime, and then to come out in the second half and get that punt return was giant,” said White. “Special teams play got us back in the game, and we just grinded it out from there. They were a good football team, and we had to battle to win the game tonight.”
Yet Belfast wasn’t done offensively, as Clark followed a Foxcroft onsides kick recovered by the Lions near midfield with a 28-yard first-down run to the Ponies’ 23.
Two plays later, Collier found Tran open behind the defense for a second time, this pass a 21-yard touchdown strike that extended the Lions’ lead to 27-20 with 7:30 left in the third quarter.
Foxcroft then marched 63 yards in eight plays to take its first — and only — lead. A 24-yard gain by Boyer gave the Ponies first-and-goal at the Belfast 9, and one play later Bjornson fumbled the handoff but picked the ball up on the bounce and ran wide left the final 7 yards to the end zone.
Boyer then rushed for his second two-point conversion of the night to give Foxcroft its 28-27 lead with 3:15 left in the period.
Belfast tried to answer, with a 26-yard first-down run by Clark moving the ball into Foxcroft territory only to have the drive stall when a fourth-and-a-foot handoff was fumbled and the play came up short.
Belfast finished with a 326-324 edge in total yardage, with Clark running for a game-high 163 yards on 16 carries while Collier completed 6 of 9 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
Law added 70 yards on 12 rushes for Foxcroft.