PORTLAND, Maine — One ball control misstep nearly proved disastrous for the Oak Hill Raiders late Saturday afternoon.
But their ability to dominate the possession game for the full 48 minutes produced the school’s first state championship in 31 years.
Oak Hill of Wales built a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and held on behind junior halfback Kyle Flaherty to outlast previously unbeaten Bucksport 42-35 in the Class D football state final at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Flaherty rushed for 215 yards and three touchdowns on 43 carries — while Bucksport managed just 45 total plays from scrimmage.
“It was a long game, back and forth,” said Flaherty, “but I just stayed with it and ignored the pain.”
Flaherty’s 3-yard scoring run with 4:57 remaining gave the Western Maine champions a 42-28 cushion before Bucksport rallied on a 25-yard pass from Matthew Stewart to Josh Gray to close within seven points with 2:55 left.
Oak Hill (10-2) was in position to run out the clock, but Kyle Tervo was stripped of the ball on the ensuing kickoff return and the fumble was recovered by Bucksport’s KP Hilaire at the Raiders’ 18.
“I thought we were going to score, there was no doubt in my mind about it,” said Bucksport coach Joel Sankey.
But Oak Hill’s defense came up with the stops when it needed them, with senior defensive end Luke Washburn sacking Stewart for a 5-yard loss on fourth-and-10 to end the threat.
“We knew it was going to be a pass and we kept saying in the huddle, ‘this is the play, this is the play,’ because we knew this was the one that counted,” said Washburn. “I figured I’d get my opportunity sometime during the game and I was glad it came finally.”
Senior quarterback Parker Asselin complemented Flaherty’s relentless running by completing 7 of 10 passes for 140 yards, including touchdown strikes of 70 and 28 yards to Alex Mace.
Stewart completed 12 of 16 passes for 160 yards and four touchdowns for 11-1 Bucksport, Two of the scoring passes went to Gray, who finished with six catches for 106 yards to go with 34 rushing yards on two carries.
Oak Hill outgained Bucksport 401-294 in winning its first state title since 1982.
“We didn’t play defense like we could have, but they’re a good football team,” said Sankey. “We tried our hardest.”
A 25-yard touchdown pass from Stewart to Gray with 0.2 seconds left in the first half sent Bucksport and Oak Hill to intermission locked in a 21-21 stalemate.
Flaherty was an early workhorse for Oak Hill, rushing for 115 yards on 22 carries before intermission.
“We were trying to wear them down obviously, but we also knew we had to throw the ball to mix it up,” said Flaherty.
After forcing Oak Hill to its lone first-half punt on its first possession, Gabe Stearns gave Bucksport a 7-0 lead 3:14 into the game with a 32-yard fullback counter run to the end zone.
Oak Hill then marched 69 yards in 15 plays, a drive capped off by Flaherty’s game-tying 1-yard scoring run with 3:34 left in the opening period.
Bucksport regained the lead at 14-7 early in the second quarter on a 24-yard pass from Stewart to Jack Cyr on a fourth-and-two play. Stewart passed quickly to Cyr along the right sideline, and he raced into the end zone behind a downfield block by Stearns.
Again Oak Hill responded, this time as Asselin passed to Mace in stride along the left sideline for a 70-yard TD. Adam Merrill’s extra-point kick hit the right upright but bounced through to tie the game at 14-14 with 8:43 left in the half.
Oak Hill’s defense finally forced Bucksport into a three-and-out, then the offense churned out a 15-play, 78-yard drive to take its first lead at 21-14 on a 1-yard keeper by Asselin with 1:48 left until the break.
But the team that had the ball last before the break scored last.
A 27-yard cutback run by Gray moved the ball to the Oak Hill 40, and a pass interference penalty on the Raiders put the ball at the 25 with eight seconds left. Stewart then dropped back and found Gray wide open at the 5 along the left sideline, and the speedy senior beat the Oak Hill defense to the end zone for the touchdown and then kicked his third extra point of the half to tie the game.
Flaherty scored on a 1-yard run midway through the third quarter, but Stewart passed 12 yards to Nic Bishop to re-tie the game at 28-28 with 1:52 left in the period.
Asselin then found Mace open over the middle for a 22-yard touchdown pass that gave Oak Hill the lead for good 1:06 into the fourth quarter.
The Raiders drove 75 yards on their next possession, with a 27-yard pass from Asselin to Tervo on a third-and-14 play setting up a 3-yard scoring run by Flaherty that gave Oak Hill its first two-touchdown lead.