Top high school football teams hope byes will be beneficial; regional semifinals kick off this weekend
BANGOR, Maine — Nearly a third of the first-round high school football playoff games last weekend produced upsets in the seedings.
Four No. 5 seeds — Belfast, Cape Elizabeth, Skowhegan and Westbrook — went on the road to advance, as did No. 6 Sanford, which topped No. 3 South Portland in Western Maine Class A.
Only two of the eight Eastern Maine quarterfinals were decided by more than 17 points, with four determined by a touchdown or less. The opening round of the Western Maine playoffs were less competitive, with only three games decided by 13 points or less and five of eight games decided by at least 26 points.
Overall those results suggest early success for the new six-team playoff format, in which the top two seeds in all but Western Maine Class B receive a first-round bye instead of playing a seventh- or eighth-seed as in an eight-team format.
With this weekend’s regional semifinals, however, comes a bigger even question — whether having a first-round bye is good or bad for a team, given that all 16 games statewide will match a team coming off a bye against a lower-seeded team that won last weekend.
No. 4 Bangor (5-4) vs. No. 1 Cheverus (8-0), 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Portland: Their earlier meeting was over barely after it began, with Cheverus turning three Bangor turnovers into a 21-0 lead less than nine minutes into its 49-7 victory during Week 7.
Bangor must limit such mistakes to have a chance in the rematch, as well as control the football as it has since then in victories over Oxford Hills of South Paris and Lewiston.
Logan Lanham (1,230 rushing yards, 13 TDs) has been a workhorse for coach Mark Hackett’s Bangor club, running for 556 yards and eight touchdowns over the last two weeks alone since Cheverus limited the Bangor ground game to 89 yards on 37 carries.
Cheverus, winner of 41 of its last 42 games, has a big-time rusher of its own in Joe Fitzpatrick, who has 1,444 yards and an Eastern A-best 24 touchdowns on just 146 carries.
No. 5 Skowhegan (5-4) at No. 1 Brunswick (6-2), 7 p.m. Friday: Skowhegan is coming off its first postseason victory since 2008 with its 36-29 victory at No. 4 Mt. Blue of Farmington.
Now the Indians face an even more physical challenge against Brunswick, which showed a slight measure of vulnerability with two losses in its last three regular-season games.
Brunswick outscored Skowhegan 47-26 during their Sept. 27 regular-season meeting.
No. 5 Belfast (6-3) at No. 1 Winslow (7-1), 1 p.m. Saturday: These teams last met way back on Sept. 7 when Winslow pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 28-12 victory.
Two months later the challenges remain the same for Belfast, particularly Winslow’s run game led by fullback Zach Guptill and halfback Dylan Hapworth and the Black Raiders’ strength along the line of scrimmage keyed by nose tackle Aaron Lint.
Belfast is riding a five-game win streak highlighted by last week’s 26-13 upset of defending state champion Foxcroft Academy where the Lions won the turnover battle and used the 253-yard, three-touchdown running of halfback Greg Clark to secure the victory.
No. 3 Mount Desert Island (7-2) at No. 2 Waterville (7-1), 1 p.m. Saturday: MDI is the only team to defeat Waterville, rallying from an early deficit to win 42-35 at Bar Harbor on Oct. 4.
This time MDI must make the long road trip after Waterville edged rival Winslow in the final seconds of their regular-season finale to secure the No. 2 seed.
MDI has relied on a rushing attack led by Eastern C’s leading ground gainer, Teagan Candage, to spark its current five-game winning streak that includes back-to-back victories over Old Town the last two weekends.
No. 4 Orono (6-3) at No. 1 Bucksport (8-0), 7 p.m. Friday: Orono gave Bucksport its toughest test this season before falling to the Golden Bucks 24-20 on Oct. 5.
Bucksport showed considerable mettle in that contest, which came just days after a cheerleader at the school died in a car accident.
The Golden Bucks trailed 14-0 early and 20-12 entering the fourth quarter before driving 94 yards in the game’s final 2 minutes, 15 seconds to win on Jack Cyr’s 25-yard touchdown run with 58 seconds left.
Bucksport earned its first-round bye by defeating two unbeaten teams, Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield and Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, in its final regular-season games.
Orono has won four straight since its loss to Bucksport.
No. 3 Mattanawcook Acad. (8-1) at No. 2 Maine Central Institute (7-1), 7 p.m. Friday at Pittsfield: This is the lone semifinal statewide that matches teams that did not meet during the regular season.
MCI won a coin flip between the teams to gain a first-round bye, and that almost proved calamitous for Mattanawcook, which was beset by four first-half turnovers in its quarterfinal against No. 6 Washington Academy of East Machias and had to rally from a 21-20 deficit for its 22-21 victory.
MCI features the LTC’s top rusher in Jonathan Santiago, who has averaged 13.8 yards per carry while rushing for 1,496 yards and 24 touchdowns. Quarterback Greg Vigue (43 of 92 passing, 724 yards, nine TDs) has provided offensive balance, particularly late in the season.
Mattanawcook is led by quarterback Trysten Pelkey, who has 1,800 combined rushing and passing yards. Scott Jipson has added more than 850 yards to the Lynx’ rushing attack.