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Bucksport quarterback leads football team to state championship-game berth

Michael York | BDN
Michael York | BDN
Bucksport High School quarterback Matthew Stewart (9) looks for a receiver in the first half against Orono in Bucksport on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013.
By Ernie Clark, BDN Staff

BUCKSPORT, Maine — Matthew Stewart may not cast the most imposing physical presence on his chosen field of play.

He did, after all, compete for the Bucksport High School wrestling team last winter in the 120-pound weight division, although he is now playing football for the Golden Bucks at 150 pounds, according to the team’s roster.

But there is a physical and cerebral quickness as well as an accuracy of execution that has enabled the 5-foot-9-inch quarterback and those around him to have considerable sporting success.

Stewart was the Western Maine Class C wrestling champion and state runner-up in his weight class last February, and last weekend, he led the Bucksport football team to its second Little Ten Conference title in its three years.

The undefeated Eastern Maine Class D champions (10-0) will try to win their first state crown since 2004 on Saturday when the Golden Bucks face Oak Hill of Wales (9-2) in a 2:36 opening kickoff at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

“We’re fortunate to have a quarterback who’s very good,” said 20th-year Bucksport head coach Joel Sankey. “The kid can throw the ball.”

Stewart, a second-team LTC all-star as a sophomore, has completed 70 of 122 passes this fall for 1,156 yards with 11 touchdowns and just five interceptions. And after connecting on 56 percent (50 of 89) of his attempts during the regular season, he’s been even more pinpoint with his accuracy during the intense atmosphere of postseason play.

The junior quarterback has completed 20 of 33 passes for 338 yards with three touchdowns and one interception during the last two weekends, including an efficient 6-of-9, 146-yard performance last Saturday as the top-ranked Golden Bucks defeated No. 3 Mattanawcook Academy 42-8 in the LTC final at Carmichael Field.

“We came in with a game plan, but we knew they were going to come out firing,” said Stewart. “I knew it was going to be a team game and fortunately we just came out and executed what we needed to do.”

That playoff plan has included a diversified passing attack to complement a ground game led by junior halfback Jack Cyr and senior fullback Nic Bishop.

Speedy senior Josh Gray was Stewart’s main target during the regular season with 24 receptions for 420 yards and nine touchdowns. But with opposing defenses during the postseason focused on trying to contain Gray’s long gainers, Stewart has turned to several other receivers with productive results.

Stewart helped rally Bucksport to its 17-14 LTC semifinal victory over Orono by completing 10 of 16 second-half passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns, most of that coming after the Red Riots had built a 14-3 third-quarter lead.

But his ability to find alternate receivers was even more pronounced during the LTC final.

Junior wideout Dylan Soper, who had just three catches for 24 yards during the regular season, had two receptions for 44 yards against Mattanawcook Academy. That included a tackle-breaking 35-yard touchdown catch during a 21-point run by Bucksport over the final 4:51 of the the second quarter that rallied the Golden Bucks from an 8-7 deficit to a 28-8 halftime lead.

And junior tight end Gabe Stearns, who had seven regular-season catches for 81 yards, matched that yardage with three receptions against Mattanawcook Academy, including a 33-yard catch over the middle after Stewart first looked toward Gray.

“A lot of plays, Josh is primary, and if I see he’s got a little break on his guy, I’ll throw it to him,” said Stewart. “But other than that, we try to work it to all the other guys.”

Stewart is one of several Golden Bucks who will be competing in their second state championship game Saturday, though his Fitzpatrick Stadium debut was certainly a baptism under football fire.

Then a freshman, Stewart was forced into duty late in the second period when starting quarterback and 2011 LTC player of the year Mike Cummings was sidelined with a hand injury.

Stewart — who at the time was small enough to wrestle at 106 pounds for Bucksport that winter — played the rest of the game as Yarmouth won its second straight state title with a 41-14 victory.

“Yarmouth was a very good team,” he said.

Two years later, Stewart is optimistic his team can benefit from enduring that previous championship-game experience.

“Every kid’s dream is to be the last kid playing in November, that’s what every team works for,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of veterans that played in the state game and know what it’s like. We’ve got that experience now, we’ve just got to go out and execute because when we play as a team anything can happen.”

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