DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — While the undefeated Foxcroft Academy football team set an LTC record by averaging 45 points per game this season, the Ponies likely still could have reached Saturday’s Class C state final against Dirigo of Dixfield even with a slightly less potent offense.
That’s because as successful as coach Danny White’s club has been with the ball, Foxcroft has been equally adept at denying its opponents many end-zone celebrations. The Ponies yielded just 42 points during the regular season — with only three touchdowns allowed by the first-team defense — then outscored three foes by a combined 90-27 during the LTC playoffs.
Under the guidance of White and defensive coordinator Gary Worthing, Foxcroft also led its conference in fewest total yards allowed per game (138.0), fewest passing yards allowed (272) and total turnovers forced (34).
Perhaps most remarkable, Foxcroft’s defense had 19 interceptions during the regular season while allowing just 26 completions. Both ranked best in the conference.
“We just started depending on our defense,” said senior defensive back Josiah Richard, whose seven interceptions led the LTC. “Turnovers turned into scores, so pretty much all through the year we’ve relied on our defense.
“I guess it’s just about speed and our athletes. Our coach is letting us play and just letting our athleticism take over.”
Foxcroft’s defense revealed its potential during the opening game of the year, a 28-7 victory at Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln. The Ponies forced four turnovers, with three directly leading to short touchdown drives of 34, 52 and 12 yards.
Little has changed since then. The Ponies have yet to allow more than two touchdowns in a game in their 11-0 start — and they’ve been that benevolent just twice.
“When we won states back in 2007, we had an amazing defense and that’s what I thought carried us to the state championship,” said two-way tackle Brad Dow, one of the Ponies’ captains.
“I didn’t know if we were going to be that good,” Dow said, “but we had so many different athletes who came in and stepped up big time, everything just fell into place real quickly.”
Dow and Brandon Erickson man the interior of Foxcroft’s four-man defensive front, flanked by ends Mitchell Fadley and D.J. Clukey, who each had 3.5 quarterback sacks during the regular season.
Ian Champeon, Ryan Olmsted, Dylan Andrews and Jarrod Boone play linebacker, with Richard, Chase Hutchinson, Robbie Harmon and Ryan Stroud in the secondary.
“It’s a defense that complements each other very well,” said White. “We’ve got some people in back who have come up with turnovers, and we’ve also brought pressure up the middle with our interior defense that has led to a lot of the interceptions.”
Foxcroft’s defense also has proven itself able to adjust to particular challenges.
When the Ponies met 2008 state champion John Bapst of Bangor during Week 8 of the regular season, Crusaders standout Billy Wetherbee rushed for more than 200 yards, mostly by running through the heart of the Foxcroft defense.
When they met again Saturday, Wetherbee still got his yardage — 162 on 32 carries — but the going up the middle proved much more difficult as he found daylight only once he got to the outside during Foxcroft’s 14-13 win.
“We wanted to make sure he was not going to go up the gut against us,” said Olmsted. “We knew he did quite a bit of that the game before, and I kind of personally take it as a slap in the face when anyone runs it up the gut against me, so I was making sure I was filling those holes.”
Foxcroft’s challenge against Dirigo — game time Saturday is 2:30 p.m. at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland — is likely to be more multidimensional. Like the Ponies, the Cougars also have a variety of offensive weapons led by quarterback Nic Crutchfield, running backs Spencer Ross, Tyler Chiasson, and Bryan Blackman, wideout Alex Miele and tight end Kyle Hutchinson.
But Foxcroft’s veteran defense, seeking its second state title in the last three years after being ousted by John Bapst in the 2008 LTC semifinals, is confident that if it plays the way it has during its first 11 games this fall, the result in Week 12 will be similar.
“Especially from last year not doing as well as some of us might have thought we should, we’ve kind of been playing with a chip on our shoulders,” said Dow. “We just want to go out and prove we can do it.”