BUCKSPORT, Maine — Top-ranked Bucksport scored its second come-from-behind victory of the season over the Orono Red Riots on Friday night, and with it moved one step closer to a Little Ten Conference football championship.
This time the undefeated Golden Bucks rallied from an 11-point third-quarter deficit behind two touchdown passes by junior quarterback Matthew Stewart to score a 17-14 semifinal victory over No. 4 Orono at Bob Carmichael Field.
“There was some soul-checking and gut checks at halftime,” said Bucksport coach Joel Sankey. “There weren’t a lot of adjustments, but they knew what they had to do and challenged each other and came out and were able to execute.”
Bucksport (9-0) will host No. 3 Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, a 34-6 winner over No. 2 Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield on Friday night, for the Eastern Maine Class D title at 1 p.m. next Saturday.
“Honestly I think we play the best when we’re under the pressure,” said Bucksport senior fullback-linebacker Nic Bishop. “We come together real good as a family and we don’t bark at each other in the huddle, and I think that’s a huge factor in why we came back and won the game.”
Orono, which had won four straight games since falling to Bucksport 24-20 on a last-minute touchdown, ends its season at 6-4.
Bucksport drove 73 yards in 11 plays to take its first lead since 3-0 on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Stewart to Josh Gray in the back of the end zone with 5:21 left in the game.
“I knew the safety was playing in the middle of the field and he had one-on-one with the corner,” said Stewart, “and Josh can beat any corner in the league.”
Stewart followed up by passing to Gray for the two-point conversion to give the Golden Bucks its 17-14 edge.
Orono then advanced into Bucksport territory, but a third-down sack of Red Riots quarterback Chad Orn by Asher Bowden and Mitchell Roi at the Bucksport 40 stalled that momentum and Jack Cyr intercepted an Orn pass on fourth down in the game’s final half-minute.
Stewart completed 14 of 24 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns — including 10 of 16 for 125 yards and both scores after intermission.
“They were stopping our run game, and we just had to switch to the pass,” said Stewart. “It worked out really well for us, I guess.”
Christian Mowrer led Orono with 159 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 attempts, while his brother Cameron Mowrer added 116 yards and a score.
Both teams struggled with the wind and cold at the game’s outset, with each team fumbling the ball away twice early in the contest.
An 8-yard Orono punt into the wind set up Bucksport at the Red Riots’ 31-yard line midway through the first quarter, and four plays later Gray kicked a 35-yard field goal with plenty to spare to give the Golden Bucks a 3-0 lead with 2:50 left in the opening quarter.
It was Gray’s first field-goal attempt of the season.
“(Assistant) coach (Sean) Geagan works with Josh in practice, and before the game he was kicking 45-yard field goals and he’s consistent from 40 yards,” said Sankey. “We wanted to come away with points early, we thought that was important.”
Bucksport threatened to extend its lead midway through the second quarter after Bishop ran 59 yards to the Orono 25. A facemask penalty then gave Bucksport a first down at the 14 before a personal foul call against the Golden Bucks stalled the march.
Orono regained possession at its 16, and Christian Mowrer took the first-down handoff and raced 84 yards to the end zone to give Orono a 6-3 lead with 3:29 left in the half.
Lewis Hansen added the two-point conversion run to give the Red Riots the five-point lead they held at the break.
Orono extended its lead to 14-3 with 8:18 left in the third quarter. Again the Red Riots capitalized on Bucksport’s aggressiveness near the line of scrimmage, this time as Cam Mowrer took a quick handoff and raced 43 yards to the end zone.
Bucksport went to the airways on its next possession to close the gap to 14-9 on a 16-yard pass from Stewart to tight end Gabe Stearns with 4:27 left in the period.
Stewart completed 4 of 7 passes for 55 yards during the drive, including an 18-yard screen pass to Cyr and another 16-yard strike to Stearns.
Mattanawcook 34, MCI 6
At Pittsfield, the Lynx surged to a 26-6 halftime lead behind three Trysten Pelkey touchdown passes to Gunner Maxwell to put them in next week’s final.
Pelkey ran for a 1-yard TD 53 seconds into the game and MCI answered late in the quarter when Greg Vigue hit Austin Tolman on a 64-yard TD pass.
The Lynx then rattled off the three TD passes of Pelkey to Maxwell of 21, 28, and 27 yards.
MCI was hurt by the loss of leading rusher Jonathan Santiago, who was injured in the first quarter.
The Lynx improved to 9-1 while the Huskies finished at 7-2.