HAMPDEN, Maine — Messalonskee High School quarterback Jake Dexter came through in the clutch on two critical occasions and the result was a hard-fought 21-14 victory over Hampden Academy in a thrilling Eastern Maine Class B football game Friday night.
Both teams are now 4-3.
In the first half, Dexter chased down Hampden Academy defensive lineman Nick Haggan just a yard shy of the goal line and punched the ball through the end zone for a touchback to prevent the Broncos from building a 12-0 lead. Haggan had picked up a fumble and rumbled 79 yards with it.
Then, in the fourth quarter, with the Eagles facing third-and-seven at the Hampden Academy 46 yard line, he tossed a 41-yard pass to Corey McKenzie to set up McKenzie’s game-winning four-yard run with 55.6 seconds left.
On the pivotal completion, Dexter faked to running back McKenzie, who then circled out of the backfield and caught the ball near right sideline before picking his way down to the five yard line.
“(Hampden) got a lot of penetration and I got flushed out of the pocket,” said Dexter. “I had to reverse fields and (McKenzie) was right there for the pass.”
McKenzie said he had told his quarterback “I was wide open” on that play all game.
“Any time he turned around, he throw it to me on the back side and I’d be there,” said McKenzie.
McKenzie also said Dexter’s alert play to punch the ball away from Haggan was similar to a play his older brother Sam had pulled two years earlier, punching the ball away from a Bangor ball carrier.
“I was licking my chops seeing that big lineman running with the ball,” grinned Dexter. “I had always wanted to do that. That was the only thing on my mind. I had to get a good handle on him first (with my right arm) before I punched it out. I practice it a lot.”
“I never saw him. I had never really run the ball before,” said Haggan, who was a two-way standout for the Broncos and said he was just one step away from the goal line.
Hampden had taken a 6-0 lead in the first quarter when senior quarterback Matt Martin capped a 10-play, 82-yard drive with a three-yard run after he had dashed 28 yards to set the ball up at the three yard line.
Messalonskee took the lead with 1:13 left in the half when Dexter’s 27-yard floater to the corner of the end zone was caught by Devin Warren on fourth-and-11. Warren kicked the extra point.
HA took a 14-7 lead with 36 seconds left in the third quarter when Martin hooked up with Matt Closson on a 22-yard slant pass across the middle. Martin passed to Tanner Bisbee for the two-point conversion.
But Messalonskee answered with an eight-play 55-yard drive that resulted in Dexter’s seven-yard keeper and Warren’s extra-point kick.
The lightning-quick McKenzie shook off a minor ankle twist early in the game to run for 171 yards on 23 carries. Dylan Bragg added 72 hard-earned yards on 19 carries.
Dexter completed three of seven passes for 83 yards.
Martin carried the ball 17 times for 96 yards and he threw for 105 yards on a 9-for-24 night. He was victimized by several drops.
Junior running back Isaiah Olson gained 89 yards on 21 carries for the Broncos.
“We played our best football of the season for a half,” said HA coach Kevin Canty. “We turned the ball over and made mental mistakes (particularly in the second half). But we’ll be OK.”