FARMINGTON, Maine — The Mt. Blue High School football program is known as one of the first in Eastern Maine to employ a spread offense.
But there was a time a generation ago when the Cougars were all about a punishing running game — an approach they revisited at Kemp Field on Friday night to pull away from Waterville 42-14 and win the Pine Tree Conference Class B championship.
After Brian Bellows returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown to draw sixth-seeded Waterville within 21-14 just before intermission, Mt. Blue’s Cougar Gun offense reverted to trench warfare the rest of the way — and the Purple Panthers were unable to stop them.
Senior running backs Calan Lucas and Chad Luker helped Mt. Blue rush for 207 yards and three touchdowns after intermission as the 11-0 Cougars regained control and earned a berth in next Saturday’s state final at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland against the winner of Saturday’s Western B title game between Marshwood of South Berwick and York.
“In the first half I was actually wondering why we were throwing,” said Luker, who finished the night with 74 yards and four touchdowns. “It wasn’t working too great, we weren’t having a good pass game but we were running it down their throats. But I thought we had a good second-half game plan.”
Lucas added a game-high 147 rushing yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown to help coach Gary Parlin’s club win its first regional title since 2005, when Mt. Blue competed in Class A.
“They hadn’t stopped the running game all night,” said Parlin of the Cougars’ run-oriented approach during the second half. “Our offensive line did a nice job, and [Luker] is hard to tackle. I guess that may be the understatement of the night.”
Sixth-seeded Waterville, making its first appearance in a regional final since 1999, ended its season with a 6-5 record.
“They’re just a really good football team,” said Waterville coach Frank Knight. “We fought hard but they were better and they beat us.”
Mt. Blue jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead on touchdown runs of 5 yards by Luker and 23 yards by senior quarterback Jordan Whitney, and Luker added a 10-yard scoring run to extend the Cougars’ advantage to 21-0 with just 1:29 left in the first half.
But a 47-yard kickoff return by Racean Wood set up an 8-yard touchdown pass from Aiden FitzGerald to Nick Danner — a pass that deflected off the hands of Mt. Blue defender Andrew Pratt to Danner in the front of the end zone — that drew Waterville within 21-6 with 35.4 seconds left in the period.
Then Waterville got a gift touchdown, with Bellows stepping in front of a flanker screen pass by Whitney intended for Nate Backus and returning the interception 24 yards to the end zone just 14.1 seconds after the Purple Panthers’ first score.
Bellows passed to Danner for the two-point conversion, and Waterville suddenly was teeming with momentum and within 21-14 with 14.1 seconds left before intermission.
It was Mt. Blue’s last pass attempt of the night.
The Cougars turned to a power run game after intermission, with Bradley Jackson and 265-pound Zak Kendall shifted into the backfield to block for Luker and Lucas.
“We have a formation called ‘elephant’ with big boys in the backfield and we like to put it right down teams’ throats,” said Luker.
That approach not only enabled Mt. Blue to move the football consistently but also work on the clock, the same ball-control tactics that served Waterville well in its previous playoff victories over No. 3 Hampden Academy and No. 7 Belfast.
Mt. Blue’s defense forced Waterville into a three-and-out after the Purple Panthers received the second-half kickoff, then the Cougars’ offense marched 64 yards in nine plays with Luker scoring from 3 yards out with 6:27 left in the third period to extend the Cougars’ lead to 28-14.
“We knew we were getting the ball in the second half and that it was a very important possession but we weren’t able to capitalize on it,” said Knight. “That would have been an opportunity for us to stay in the game and make it more competitive, but hey, that’s why they’re undefeated.”
Mt. Blue padded its lead by scoring on each of its two fourth-quarter possessions, with Luker scoring on a 2-yard run and Lucas adding a 4-yard touchdown run with 1:58 to play.
Mt. Blue outgained Waterville 440-211 in total yardage, with Whitney rushing for 93 yards and completing 6 of 9 passes for 71 yards.
Wood rushed for 79 yards on 15 carries for Waterville.