MILLINOCKET — The Stearns football team finally learned Friday night that its defense wasn’t perfect.
But after yielding its first touchdown of the year to Calais-Woodland during the first half of their midseason battle of the unbeatens, the Minutemen limited the high-powered Silverados to 40 total yards after intermission to earn a 22-8 victory at Alumni Field.
The win leaves coach Chris Preble’s club (4-0) in sole possession of first place in the LTC, and could go a long way toward securing the Minutemen home-field advantage during the Eastern Maine Class C playoffs.
Calais-Woodland, off to its best start in the program’s three-year varsity history, is 3-1.
“They’re a good team,” said Preble, “and assuming we continue to do what we want to do, we may see them again.”
The Calais-Woodland rushing tandem of fullback Spencer McCormick and wingback Ryan Cavanaugh, the top two rushers in the LTC entering the contest, combined for 158 yards and a touchdown in the first half as the Silverados controlled the ball and the scoreboard — taking an 8-6 lead into the locker room.
But the roles reversed in the second half, as Stearns was able to control the ball with senior tailback Billy Eurich running behind Charlie Tapley, a senior lineman who was moved into the offensive backfield after intermission for the first time since his freshman year.
“I’m really confident when he’s blocking for me,” said Eurich, who rushed for 78 of his game-high 134 yards in the second half. “For sure he’s going to pancake a guy. I just read his block and make a cut.”
That duo helped Stearns win the ball-control battle, as the Minutemen limited Calais-Woodland to nine plays from scrimmage in the fourth quarter after the Silverados had run 43 during the first three periods.
“We just stuck with our defense, and if they got a big play, we just kept our heads up and kept working,” said Tapley.
Stearns also was aided by its familiarity with defending against the double-wing attack used by Calais-Woodland, having faced the same offense a week earlier in a 21-0 win over Old Town.
“At halftime we talked about the things that worked last week defending against that style of offense, and things we weren’t doing in the first half,” said Preble. “We started getting a little lazy, and making plays up front that you shouldn’t make, things like defensive linemen not getting low. But once they started playing that kind of game and let the people behind them make the tackles, things settled down for us.”
Calais-Woodland finished with all 198 of its total yards on the ground, with McCormick gaining 110 yards on 23 carries and Cavanaugh adding 93 yards on 23 tries, but a Silverados offense that had feasted on long runs in its first three games managed just one run longer than 11 yards.
“Stearns did a great job of eliminating our big plays,” said Calais-Woodland coach Ian Pratt. “All season long we’ve had a lot of big plays, but Stearns’ defense swarmed to the ball all night long.”
Stearns took the lead for good after blocking a punt to gain possession at the Calais-Woodland 18 midway through the third quarter. Quarterback Jared McGreevey then rushed for a first down on fourth-and-1 from the 9, and two plays later Eurich scored from 3 yards out.
Eurich also added the two-point conversion rush to give Stearns a 14-8 lead with 2:50 left in the third quarter.
Stearns added an insurance touchdown after Cody Wallace recovered a fumble at the Silverados’ 43 with 5:49 left in the game, with McGreevey scoring from the 5 and Eurich adding the two-point rush with 1:38 left.
“We made a lot of mistakes in the first and second halves,” Pratt said. “You can’t play a team like this and make any mistakes. When you’re playing an undefeated team on their home field, with as well-coached as they are we had to execute flawlessly.”
Calais-Woodland drove to the Stearns 23 after taking the game’s opening kickoff, but McCormick came up a yard short on fourth-and-8.
Stearns then marched 83 yards in 11 plays to take a 6-0 lead on a 9-yard run by Eurich on the second play of the second quarter. McGreevey completed three passes to Brandon McLaughlin during the drive, and the Minutemen also capitalized on an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Calais-Woodland that advanced the ball to the Silverados’ 33.
Calais-Woodland responded with another long march of its own, converting two fourth-down plays along the way, before Cavanaugh scored on a 4-yard run with 3:53 left in the half. McCormick rushed for the two-point conversion to give the Silverados the lead.
Calais-Woodland (3-1) 0-8-0-0—-8
Stearns (4-0) 0-6-8-8—22
S-Eurich 9 run (kick failed)
C-Cavanaugh 4 run (McCormick rush)
S-Eurich 3 run (Eurich rush)
S-McGreevey 5 run (Eurich rush)