BUCKSPORT, Maine — The Mattanawcook Academy football team successfully limited the big-play potential of speedy Bucksport wide receiver and kick returner Josh Gray when those teams last met at Carmichael Field on Oct. 25.
But while diffusing that Golden Bucks’ weapon the Lynx could not prevent Gabe Stearns’ 56-yard interception return or 40-yard run from scrimmage, both of which led to Bucksport touchdowns.
Nor could they stop a 77-yard scoring strike from Matthew Stewart to Lucas Ashmore, or two touchdown runs by Jack Cyr that led to Bucksport’s 23-6 victory in that regular season-ending battle of the unbeatens.
It’s a depth of playmakers that has propelled coach Joel Sankey’s club to a 9-0 record entering its rematch with 9-1 Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln for the Little Ten Conference/Eastern Maine Class D championship at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“That’s what a lot of teams have been doing this year,” said Bucksport senior fullback-linebacker Nic Bishop of opposing teams’ defensive game plans. “But they’ve been noticing that if you take one person out it’s not enough to stop all of our team. We have three or four guys that are amazing at what they do.”
Bucksport’s depth at the skill positions would be the envy of many larger-school teams, with Bishop, Asher Bowden and Nathan Gray among the additional big-play options available for Sankey to utilize in the offensive scheme from week to week.
“We’re fortunate we have a lot of really skilled athletes, whether it be Gabe Stearns or Jack or Matt or Nic or Nate or Asher, Josh and Lucas,” Sankey said. “We’re fortunate we’ve been able to utilize those kids and in a lot of cases been able to make more plays than the teams that we’re playing because of the kids we have.”
Not only has Bucksport displayed power in those skill-position numbers, but also through the versatility found within those numbers.
Last week alone Gray lined up at halfback, wide receiver, cornerback and placekicker — with his 40-yard first-quarter field goal providing the ultimate margin of victory in the Golden Bucks’ come-from-behind 17-14 LTC semifinal victory over Orono.
Scan the Bucksport roster, and among the positions listed for Gray, Cyr and Bowden is “ATH.” — for athlete.
“You can probably put any of those guys at any position and they’re probably going to excel,” said Stewart. “They’re natural athletes, they work hard and they’re good.”
The depth, versatility and experience — just four seniors graduated from Bucksport’s 2012 squad — at the skill positions gives the coaching staff considerable play-calling flexibility.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s fun to game plan and try to see what defenses will do to certain people,” said Sankey.
“Teams have to game plan for Josh, for example, and how they’re going to take him out of the game. If you double Josh, that’s fine, but then what are you going to do with this kid or that kid, and that becomes interesting because we have to find ways to utilize those other kids.”
Sankey likens the depth on this year’s team to that of the most successful squad during his two decades at Bucksport — the 2004 club led by 2,700-yard rusher and Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Nick Tymoczko, quarterback Joey Carmichael and end John Harvey.
“Where we were deep that year was on the offensive line,” said Sankey. “We lost two kids to injuries who were all-conference tackles and we replaced them with two all-conference tackles. We had unbelievable depth there, and they were all good players. We were fast, we were big, we were strong, and that was a good football team.
“This is a similar team. Our depth is with our skill kids, our offensive line has come a long way and defensively these kids fly to the ball.”
Bucksport players, coaches and fans hope the similarities don’t end there — that 2004 team went on not only to win the LTC crown, but a state championship.
“It would make all the work pay off,” said Bishop.