November 13, 2018
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Stiffening defenses help forge championship opportunities

Three high school football teams known for their offensive firepower in recent years will be playing for state championships this weekend thanks in great part to defenses that have risen to their late-season challenges.

Take Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft, which will face Wells in its state final at 2:36 p.m. Class D state final Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

The Ponies will enter that contest coming off three consecutive shutout victories, including a 40-0 win over Dexter in the regional semifinals and a 34-0 decision over Bucksport in last Friday night’s North regional final.

“Most important has been our growth on the defensive side of the ball, particularly the last month of the season we’ve played a lot more physically at the line of scrimmage and we’ve tackled better,” said ninth-year Foxcroft head coach Danny White. “We made that an area of focus in practice and felt like if we could ramp up our defensive efforts and give our offense a chance to be in better field position because of it, we were going to be that much further ahead.

“I really feel like that was the difference for us, that our physical play on the defensive side of the ball down the stretch has led us to this point.”

One key to that defensive effort and generating good offensive field position has been winning the turnover battle. In the LTC title-game win over Bucksport, Foxcroft had four pass interceptions and a blocked punt, with one of the picks and the blocked kick both producing touchdowns.

“It’s kind of interesting,” said White, “because as the defense began to ramp up we started to get more takeaways and coincidentally started turning over the ball less.

“There are going to be turnovers no matter how well you’re playing, that’s just how it goes, but I certainly think there’s a connection between how locked in you are on one side of the ball and how it translates into your efficiency on the other side.”

Class B North champion Skowhegan and Class C North winner Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield have displayed similar defensive might in recent weeks.

Coach Ryan Libby’s Skowhegan club, which will face Marshwood of South Berwick in Saturday’s 6:06 p.m. Class B state final in Portland, yielded 299 points in eight regular-season games but has allowed just 13 points in two playoff victories – including a 23-0 shutout victory last weekend over a Lawrence of Fairfield team they outscored 58-56 in Week 7 of the regular season.

Skowhegan has not allowed a touchdown during postseason play since Brewer scored with 7:55 left in the opening period of their regional semifinal, a stretch of more than 7½ quarters.

MCI, the No. 6 seed in Class C North, came up with one of their strongest defensive efforts of the year last Saturday night, scoring a 27-6 victory in its regional final against a Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor team that had averaged 40.6 points per game in its previous 10 outings this fall.

MCI, which will play Cape Elizabeth for the Class C state crown at 7 p.m. Friday at the University of Maine at Orono, yielded an early 80-yard touchdown run by MDI standout Colby Lee last week, then stopped the top-seeded Trojans’ offense cold the rest of the way with a defensive effort that included five quarterback sacks and three forced turnovers.

“Sometimes it just takes some settling in, and then, of course, as it gets colder it becomes more difficult to be more complex offensively,” said White. “That’s just a fact of the matter.

“I think to start the year offenses are always ahead of defenses, but as the year goes on that gap closes.”

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