HAMPDEN, Maine — Racean Wood arrived at the Weatherbee Complex on Friday night wondering if he was about to play the final game of his high school football career.
But it turned out that not only will Wood and his Waterville High School teammates play again after the sixth-ranked Purple Panthers shocked No. 3 Hampden Academy 25-17, the Purple Panthers will play their next game at home.
Such were the unforeseen developments within the Pine Tree Conference Class B ranks on the opening night of the 2012 playoffs, with No. 7 Belfast stunning three-time defending PTC Class B champion Leavitt of Turner Center 20-17 just moments before Waterville finished off its own upset.
“We really weren’t expecting that one, that was really a shocker,” said Wood of the Belfast-Leavitt result. “We were just pumped and ready to come up here and play our hearts out because a lot of us are seniors and this could have been our last game if we didn’t win.
“But this is great.”
Wood had a lot to do with extending his team’s season, rushing for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries as the 5-4 Purple Panthers advanced to a semifinal in the Elm City next Saturday against Belfast.
Hampden, which had won its last seven games, finishes with a 7-2 record.
“We just seemed out of sync and they did a helluva job,” said Hampden coach Harry McCluskey. “Their backs ran through tackles and we were out of position sometimes, and sometimes they made great plays. We weren’t consistent enough but, hey, there’s no doubt they beat us.”
Wood scored on runs of 18 and 41 yards during the second quarter as Waterville built an 18-9 halftime lead. The 6-foot, 185-pound halfback spearheaded a Purple Panthers’ rushing attack that ground out 287 yards on 46 carries.
“They couldn’t stop our blockers, truthfully,” said Wood, citing the line play of teammates Tom Cox, Corey Huerfano, Luke Knight, Ben Cox, Duncan Works and tight end Nick Danner. “They opened up great holes, and I just did what I do.”
Senior fullback Derek Lachance added 49 rushing yards for Waterville while sophomore Cameron Thomas had 37 yards and a touchdown.
“We have a pretty good flotilla of backs,” said Waterville coach Frank Knight. “We’re coming at people from all angles so they can’t really stop one thing, and our quarterback [Aiden FitzGerald] managed the game well enough for us to win.”
Thomas’ nine carries were highlighted by a 9-yard scoring run that capped off an eight-play, 54-yard march with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter to extend the Waterville lead to 25-9.
Hampden countered with a seven-play, 59-yard march to close to within a single possession when Matt Martin hit Logan Steward with an 18-yard touchdown pass and Matt Haws added the two-point conversion run with 4:32 remaining.
But Waterville got the ball back and churned out three more first downs to run out the clock.
Martin completed 15 of 27 passes for 191 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but it was Waterville’s lone pass completion of the night that set the tone of this contest.
Hampden nearly forced a turnover on the game’s opening kickoff, with the Broncos’ Brian Fickett lining the kick off a Waterville player and into the open field. A Hampden player fell on the ball but was unable to gain possession, and Waterville finally made the recovery at the Hampden 38-yard line.
One play later, Brian Bellows — a backup quarterback for the Purple Panthers, took a pitch from FitzGerald and found Jordhan Levine behind the defense with a 35-yard option pass for a touchdown that gave Waterville a 6-0 lead just 46 seconds into the game.
Waterville’s defense later stopped Martin for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the Purple Panthers’ 40 late in the first quarter, setting up a 40-yard scoring drive that ended when Wood ran around right end for the final 18 yards on the first play of the second period.
Hampden scored on its next possession as Martin hit tight end Tyler Norris with an 8-yard touchdown pass in the right flat with 8:31 left in the half and Roy Donnelly added the extra-point kick to narrow the Broncos’ deficit to 12-7.
That touchdown was set up by a 21-yard run by Steward on a fake punt with Hampden facing fourth-and-7 from its 44.
It took Waterville four plays to answer the Broncos’ touchdown as Wood raced around left end for a 41-yard scoring run to make it 18-7 with 6:49 left in the second quarter.
Hampden scored the final points of a half on a safety when Waterville’s David Bailey was tackled in the end zone on a second-down running play from the 1 just after Wood had intercepted a Martin pass near the goal line.
“That little reverse pass with Bellows throwing it got us off to a good start,” said Knight, “and we had a good game plan offensively. This is a big step for our program. We haven’t won a playoff game in a while so for a No. 6 seed to come up to No. 3 and win, I was really proud of our effort.”