HAMPDEN, Maine — Victims of a game-tying “Hail Mary” touchdown pass seconds earlier, the Morse Shipbuilders might have been ripe for another surprise.
But senior lineman Jay Underwood was ready when the Hampden Academy Broncos tried an onside kick with less than five minutes left Friday night.
He alertly grabbed the rolling ball near midfield, setting up Pat Wolfe’s 21-yard touchdown run with 1:25 left that lifted the Shipbuilders to a 21-14 Class B football victory at the Weatherbee Complex.
“We picked that up on tape,” said Morse coach Jason Libby, “that as any good team would when they run that muddle huddle on the kickoff they’ll try to catch you with [the onside kick], so we tried to have our guys ready for it.
“I don’t know how [Underwood] got the ball, it looked like he was alone among all the purple, but he got the ball.”
Wolfe carried on five of Morse’s seven plays during the subsequent 49-yard drive, the final run a pitch play around right end to the end zone for his third score of the night.
“We were kind of thinking field goal, really, because Pat’s capable of kicking them,” said Libby, “but I guess he didn’t want a field goal tonight.”
Hampden advanced the ball to midfield on its next possession, but one last desperation pass by quarterback Jon Haws (12 of 17, 140 yards) was intercepted by Michael Walton in the final seconds.
This game featured two teams that figure to contenders for this year’s Eastern Maine Class B title, with both entering the game riding three-game win streaks since opening the season with overtime losses.
Ultimately Morse’s running game was the difference. Wolfe, the Pine Tree Conference Class B’s rushing leader, gained 160 yards on 27 carries and scored three touchdowns, while fullback Tyler Russell added 56 yards on 10 tries as Morse rushed for 262 yards on 48 carries while limiting Hampden to 95 yards on 33 rushes.
Particularly effective for the Shipbuilders were wide-pitch plays in which Wolfe ran behind the lead blocks of Russell and tight end Jay Cavanagh.
“We just didn’t do a good job of coming up and stopping that,” said Hampden coach Harry McCluskey. “Early on they were hurting us inside, but later in the game we didn’t do a real good job of stopping them outside.”
Hampden also was hindered by some untimely penalties, as well as the only two turnovers of the contest.
“Offensively, we’ve had a great year as far as turnovers,” said McCluskey, “but we made a lot of mistakes tonight.”
Wolfe’s first score, on a 15-yard run with 7:45 left in the first half, capped off a 97-yard march that was extended when Hampden’s Nolan Turner muffed a punt and Morse’s Garrett Madden recovered at the Hampden 18.
Hampden tied the game by driving 71 yards in 12 plays to open the second half.
A 34-yard pass play from Haws to Turner on third-and-20 from the Hampden 30 extended the drive, which ended with fullback Michael Jenkins powering in from the 1 with 7:46 left in the third quarter.
Hampden nearly took the lead later in the period, but a 63-yard punt return for a score by Turner was nullified by an illegal fair-catch signal penalty against the Broncos.
Instead it was Morse that took a 14-7 lead with another long drive, an 11-play, 84-yard march capped off by Wolfe’s 1-yard scoring run with 7:12 left in the game.
Hampden countered on its next possession, with Haws rolling to his left on fourth-and-21 from the Morse 31 before lofting a desperation pass toward the back of the end zone as he was hit that Turner grabbed off the helmet of a Shipbuilders’ defender for the tying touchdown with 4:40 left.
Then Hampden, fearful of Morse’s ability to run down the clock with its ball-control offense, tried to get it back instantly — only to have Underwood foil the plan and Wolfe make the Broncos pay.
“This can be an intimidating place to play,” Libby said. “Hampden is an excellent football team, they’re going to be strong all year, and we just had to play as one and not get rattled when they made the big play.
“We knew it was coming at some point, they’re too good a team, but we just had to rise above it and play the next play, and the kids did that.”