DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The Belfast Lions have done it again.
It may lack the shock value of last year’s last-second first-round playoff upset of second-ranked Leavitt of Turner Center, but fifth-ranked Belfast was back at its seed-busting best Friday night with a 26-13 victory over fourth-seeded and defending state champion Foxcroft Academy in a Class C football quarterfinal at Oakes Field.
“It feels just as good,” said Belfast coach Chris Bartlett.
The win was the fifth straight for 6-3 Belfast, which will play at top-ranked Winslow (7-1) next Saturday.
Foxcroft finished its season with a 5-4 record.
“We just repped our plays over and over and watched so much film on them to get prepared for this game,” said Belfast senior halfback Greg Clark, who rushed for 253 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries.
“We knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle coming down here. we have the utmost respect for them because they’re one of the toughest teams we play.”
Clark’s night got better as it continued as he had 201 yards and touchdown runs of 85, 30 and 57 yards in the second half alone as the Lions pulled away from a 7-0 intermission lead.
“We were running the same play and their back-side backs were running hard to the ball,” said Clark. “But our line kept doing the blocking, and I found the cutback holes and got through.”
Belfast took the opening kickoff and drove 63 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead on Zach Collier’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Tran with 7:27 left in the opening quarter.
The touchdown came on a fourth-and-3 play when Collier faked an inside handoff and found Tran behind the Foxcroft defense down the right side of the field.
“We got that post,” said Tran of a play the Lions twice ran successfully during their regular-season meeting at Foxcroft, a 28-27 loss. “It actually wasn’t quite for me but it was wide open and Zach hit it. It was incredible.”
Hunter Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 31 yards to the Belfast 47, and Foxcroft then marched inside the 10 before the drive ended when Tran made a touchdown-saving tackle on Smith just outside the end zone on a fourth-down pass completion from quarterback Hunter Law.
“I thought I tipped it and hit it to the ground, but I had him with my left hand and after he caught it I wasn’t letting him go,” said Tran.
Foxcroft was able to maintain the field-position edge for much of the half but was unable to capitalize, with the Ponies punting twice from inside Belfast territory during the second quarter,
A 36-yard run by Clark moved Belfast inside Foxcroft territory late in the half, and Clark then went right for six yards on fourth-and-1 to give the Lions a first down at the FA 27 with 90 seconds left in the second period.
But a chop-block penalty against Belfast negated a 25-yard pass from Collier to Tran at the 1, and the Lions had to settle for a 7-0 halftime advantage.
Smith returned the second-half kickoff 28 yards to the Foxcroft 49, and the Ponies turned basic, using a power-I formation to drive to a first-and-goal at the Belfast 5.
But this time Baxter Smith came up big for Belfast’s defense, twice stopping Peter Boyer (19 carries, 96 yards) for losses before Law came up a yard short of the goal line on a fourth-down scramble midway through the third quarter.
That left Belfast with its backs to the end zone, but it took just five plays for the Lions to go the distance. A 3-yard gain on third-and-3 by Clark gave Belfast a new set of downs, and one play later Clark broke through the middle of the Foxcroft defense and outraced the Ponies’ secondary 85 yards to the end zone.
Ashley Littlefield’s second extra-point kick of the game extended the Belfast lead to 14-0 with 3:08 left in the period.
Law fumbled on Foxcroft’s first play from scrimmage and Belfast’s Alex Canning recovered at the Ponies’ 42, and Clark made FA pay for the game’s first turnover five plays later, breaking a tackle at the line of scrimmage and racing 30 yards to extend the margin to 20-0 with 18.8 seconds to play in the quarter.
“We made some small adjustments with our alignments and gave our guys along the line some better opportunities,” said Bartlett. “Once we did that, Greg did the rest.”
Foxcroft finally broke through offensively on a 1-yard run by Boyer with 8:41 left in the game. The eight-play, 65-yard drive featured two passes from Law to Smith, the first for 39 yards to the Belfast 23, the second a 16-yard pass to the 1 on fourth-and-5 in which Smith outreached two defenders for the ball.
Foxcroft’s Kolby Kendall recovered an onside kick at the Belfast 47, and the Ponies then drove inside the 30 before the Lions’ Korey Doolan forced Law to fumble in the backfield and teammate Jared Hansen recovered the ball at the 37.
Two plays later, Clark raced untouched 57 yards for his third touchdown of the second half as Belfast extended its lead to 26-6 with 4:26 left.
Smith added a 45-yard punt return for a touchdown with 11.1 seconds remaining.