Saturday’s Eastern Maine Class C football final might be a defensive struggle, but the statistics say otherwise.
Not only are undefeated Bucksport and once-beaten John Bapst of Bangor the top two seeds in the LTC, but they’ll meet in a 1 p.m. start at Carmichael Field in Bucksport as the top scoring teams in the conference.
When they last met in Week 1 of the season, the Golden Bucks had the ball last — in overtime — and used a two-point conversion run by Nate Warren to outscore the Crusaders’ seven-point possession and earn a 40-39 victory.
“I just remember that we went back and forth on a rainy day, and how well each team performed,” said Bucksport coach Joel Sankey. “It was the first game of the year, but it was an indication that both teams might be pretty good.”
Top-ranked Bucksport (10-0) averages 37.9 points per game, while John Bapst (9-1) averages 35.4 points per contest — and each has scored fewer than 33 points in a game just twice this season.
“The way the offense has played, particularly with the quick-strike ability, has given us the confidence that we’re never out of a game,” said John Bapst coach Dan O’Connell.
Each team’s offensive explosiveness is a function of an abundance of playmakers who with a single run, pass, catch or block can turn a routine play into a touchdown in a matter of seconds.
Bucksport has featured the playmaker of playmakers throughout the LTC season in Warren, who surpassed 2,000 rushing yards for the season with a 292-yard, four-touchdown performance in the Golden Bucks’ 43-12 semifinal victory over Calais-Woodland last weekend.
Warren now has 2,230 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns in his senior season.
Sankey sees Warren — also the Class C state champion in the 100 dash — in a light similar to that of other standout running backs he has coached or coached against during his career, like former Bucksport Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Nick Tymoczko and college stars Claude LeClair of Maine Maritime Academy and Joe Dudek of Plymouth (N.H.) State.
“They all had different styles and abilities,” said Sankey, a former assistant coach at MMA. “I’ve just been fortunate to see them all.”
Warren’s constant pressure on defenses, aided by a quick, experienced offensive line, has created additional opportunities for Bucksport’s other playmakers, such as running backs Alex Giosia and Andrew Findlay and quarterback Kyle McGeechan.
“You’ve got to key on Nate, because given that the situation this weekend is do-or-die you know he’s going to get a lot of touches,” said O’Connell. “Giosia, Findlay and McGeechan are talented athletes, so we’ve got to try to limit what they do and make sure to tackle Nate as often as possible.”
Bucksport’s defense faces a similar challenge, in that John Bapst features its own deep cast of offensive playmakers.
Senior Derek Smith, a first-year starter at quarterback for the Crusaders, has emerged as a top passer, completing 116 of 189 attempts for 1,829 yards. He’s been particularly prolific during John Bapst’s playoff wins over Stearns of Millinocket and defending state champion Foxcroft Academy, hitting 24 of 46 passes for 633 yards.
“I anticipated a big season from Derek, but I didn’t anticipate that he would throw the ball as well as he has,” said O’Connell. “He’s a kid who always wants to make a big play, and the way he’s picked up combo routes, read safeties and thrown to the right guy at the right time while also knowing when to tuck it and run, he’s just so heady and poised in the way he leads us.”
Smith has multiple targets, particularly wideouts Shane Hass and Chris Fogler and tail-back Bill Wetherbee, who led the team in both rushing and pass receptions this season.
Wetherbee surpassed 1,000 rushing yards in the win against Foxcroft, and also has more than 500 receiving yards this fall.
John Bapst also has a relentless fullback in Chase Huckestein, who had two touchdown catches and one scoring run to match Wetherbee’s three-touchdown performance in the 41-22 semifinal win over Foxcroft.
“They’ve got three or four kids who can catch the ball,” said Sankey. “A team usually is fortunate to have one or two, but they definitely have a lot of playmakers.”