The teams that will challenge Bangor and Stearns of Millinocket for state football championships in Classes A and C on Saturday both have a sense of newness about them.
Western Maine Class A titlist Cheverus of Portland is a newcomer of sorts to the state title game experience, reaching the final for the first time in 25 years.
Western C winner Yarmouth is new in virtually every sense of the word. The football program there is just seven years old overall, and the Clippers are in just their fourth year of varsity competition.
The Bangor-Cheverus game is set for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff, the second of three state finals to be played at Fitzpatrick Stadium. The Class B game between defending state champion Leavitt of Turner Center (11-0) and Mountain Valley of Rumford (11-0) precedes Bangor-Cheverus at 11:06 a.m., while the Stearns-Yarmouth clash is set for 6 p.m.
Cheverus (11-0) enters the “A” final off a dramatic 35-34 victory over Deering in last Saturday’s Western Maine title game. In that contest, Cheverus roared out to a 29-6 second-quarter lead, only to have Deering answer with 28 unanswered points to take a 34-29 edge before Cheverus quarterback Peter Gwilym led the Stags on a 70-yard fourth-quarter drive for the winning touchdown.
Cheverus then watched a 36-yard field goal try by Deering’s Jamie Ross sail just wide in the final seconds.
The Stags’ rise to the top of the Western A ranks marks the most recent success story produced by coach John Wolfgram. Wolfgram, 269-92-1 over 35 years as a high school head coach, had won four Class A state titles at South Portland during the 1990s, three Class B state titles before that at Gardiner and shared a Class C crown while at Madison inthe mid-1970s.
Wolfgram took over a Cheverus program that was coming off three straight sub-.500 seasons in 2006, and after going 2-6 that year and 3-7 in 2007, he guided the Stags to their first winning campaign in six seasons in 2008. Last year, Cheverus finished 8-3 after falling to eventual Class A state champion Windham 7-6 in the regional final.
This year’s Cheverus team is led by Gwilym, a three-year starter on both offense and defense who is seen as one of the leading contenders for the Fitzpatrick Trophy, awarded annually to the state’s top senior football player. Gwilym, a quarterback and safety, has rushed for more than 500 yards and 12 touchdowns this fall while passing for seven more scores, and last weekend he returned an interception 109 yards for a touchdown in the win over Deering.
Cheverus, which runs primarily out of Wing-T and I formations, also relies on junior tailback Spencer Cooke, senior fullback Evan Jendrasko and junior wide receiver Louis DiStasio offensively. Defensive leaders for the Stags include Jendrasko at nose guard and linebacker Zach Dulac.
Cheverus has outscored its opponents by an average of 33.4-14.0 points per game, but five of the Stags’ victories have been by seven points or less — including all three postseason games to date, with a 34-27 quarterfinal survival of Windham and a 21-14 semifinal win over Scarborough preceding last weekend’s escape against Deering.
IN CLASS C, Yarmouth will attempt to be the first school to win state championships in both football and boys soccer in the same year — a feat Bangor also will be attempting in Class A.
The Clippers have ridden the fast track to success under coach Jim Hartman. They went 1-17 during their first two varsity seasons in 2007 and 2008, then won their last six regular-season games last fall and advanced to the Western Maine final before dropping a 41-7 decision to Dirigo of Dixfield, the eventual state champion.
This year the Clippers are 11-0 after rallying from a 12-0 second-quarter deficit to edge Lisbon 14-12 in last Saturday’s regional final, and at times they have been an offensive juggernaut, scoring at least 54 points in six different games. Yarmouth is averaging 45.2 points while yielding just 6.7 points an outing.
Yarmouth, which plays its home games on artificial turf — as will be the case at Fitzpatrick Stadium on Saturday — is led offensively by freshman quarterback Brady Neujahr, whose 65-yard touchdown run with 4:06 left in the game rallied the Clippers to its second two-point victory of the season over Lisbon last weekend. Yarmouth didn’t pass much in the regional final, with Neujahr completing 3 of 6 attempts for 27 yards.
But in senior fullback Nick Proscia, senior tailback Nate Pingitore and junior tailback Anders Overhaug (109 yards in the regional final), Yarmouth has a group of quick backs working behind a veteran offensive line led by Jack Watterson, Ben Weinrich and Carter Dorsett.
Proscia, at middle linebacker, anchors the Yarmouth defense.
The Clippers reached the state final by defeating Maranacook of Readfield 54-8 in the WM quarterfinals and Oak Hill of Sabattus 28-7 in the semifinals before its win over Lisbon.
IN CLASS B, Mountain Valley will be playing in its fifth state final in the last seven years, and hopes to replicate its success of 2004, 2006 and 2008, when the Falcons won state titles under 21st-year head coach Jim Aylward.
Mountain Valley, 11-0 this fall, has featured an airtight defense that has allowed just 30 points in 11 games, a 2.7 ppg average. That defense was at its best in the Western B final, when it limited a Wells team that had averaged 260 rushing yards per game to just 23 yards on the ground as the Falcons earned an 18-0 victory.
Senior quarterback-defensive back Cam Kaubris leads the Falcons’ offense, while Taylor Bradley — who rushed for more than 1,000 yards at Class A Skowhegan in 2009 — is part of a deep running back corps that also includes Josh Allen and Tyler Mason.