PORTLAND, Maine — Louis LaFache knows nothing can be taken for granted during a football game, even on the most mundane of plays.
And such attention to detail is a big reason the Foxcroft Academy senior tackle and his teammates left Fitzpatrick Stadium on Saturday afternoon with a gold ball.
LaFache’s fumble recovery as Winslow was trying to take a knee to run out the first-half clock led to one of three short touchdown runs by classmate Don Boyer — in this case the go-ahead score just before intermission that sparked the Ponies to a 22-20 victory and their first Class C state championship since 2007.
“It’s the biggest reward you can have as a football team,” said fourth-year Foxcroft coach Danny White after his team capped off an 11-1 season during which it outscored its opposition by a combined 536-68.
“It’s hard to get here and win it, but everyone bought into what we were doing early on and said they were going to take us here — and they did and they won it.”
Boyer rushed for 104 yards on 26 carries during a physical contest that began with Foxcroft challenging Winslow’s pass defense and ended with the teams attacking each other with punishing rushing attacks.
But it was an unlikely miscue that LaFache was ready for — and Foxcroft’s ability to capitalize on it — that turned this game in the Ponies’ favor.
Winslow gained possession at its 10-yard line after a Corey Bjornson punt with 29.8 seconds left in the first half, and Black Raiders quarterback Bobby Chenard was set to take a knee to run out the clock and send the teams into halftime locked in a 7-7 tie.
But the center snap was mishandled and the ball fell to the ground where LaFache, a three-year starter, made the biggest play of his career.
“He just didn’t get a good grip on it,” said LaFache. “They told us they were going to take a knee but you’ve always got to be prepared — it’s a state game. You’ve got to be ready for anything.
“I saw him fumble and the ball was on the ground right in front of my face. You see the ball on the ground, you go and get it.”
Foxcroft took over at the 8, and Boyer went off left tackle three plays later from the 1 to give the Ponies a 13-7 lead.
Winslow was whistled for offsides on the extra-point try, so instead of having Caleb Richard kick the extra point Foxcroft opted to attempt a two-point conversion and Boyer again ran off left tackle to extend the Ponies’ lead to a sudden eight points.
“It was a very unfortunate thing for Winslow, but sometimes that’s how the ball bounces,” said White. “We were on the fortunate end, thank goodness, but we still had to go in and score and we did that. It was a huge play.”
Foxcroft quickly seized upon its newfound momentum, needing less than 3 minutes of the third quarter to extend its lead to 22-7 on Boyer’s 3-yard scoring run.
A 30-yard pass down the right sideline from junior quarterback Hunter Law to senior wide receiver Ryan Rebar sparked the seven-play, 65-yard march, and a 14-yard option keeper by Law gave the Ponies first-and-goal at the 6.
A fumble by Foxcroft on a first-down carry from its 8-yard line gave Winslow a chance to rally, with the Black Raiders recovering at the 16 with 4:22 left in the third quarter.
Junior fullback Zach Guptill — who rushed for a game-high 105 yards on 23 carries — used two 8-yard rushes to get into the end zone, but Dylan Hapworth missed the extra-point kick as Foxcroft maintained a 22-13 advantage with 3:46 left in the period.
A Foxcroft drive after LaFache’s second fumble recovery of the game was stalled at the Winslow 13 midway through the fourth quarter by a holding penalty and a 7-yard sack of Law by Aaron Lint.
The Black Raiders quickly drove the ball downfield behind the power running of Guptill and Joseph Hopkins before Chenard hit tight end Owen Dutil with a 3-yard touchdown pass with 2:39 remaining. Hapworth’s extra-point kick pulled Winslow within 22-20.
Rebar recovered Winslow’s onside kick near midfield, then Boyer ground out consecutive runs of 4, 6, 6, 8 and 7 yards to earn two first downs and allow Law to successfully take two knees to set off a celebration that stretched from Portland to Piscataquis County.
“Obviously, Foxcroft’s a real good team, they’re a really, really good team,” said 28th-year Winslow coach Mike Siviski, whose team finished the season with a 10-2 record. “The one thing that was uncharacteristic for us is the ball just slipped out of our hands near the end zone and that was a key. We’ve run the ball all year in different ways, and we did that fairly well today, but we had the fumbles and that was key.”
Winslow outgained Foxcroft 230-222 in total yards, rushing for 200 yards on 47 carries as Hopkins complemented Guptill with 77 yards on 16 carries.
Foxcroft’s offense was balanced, with 112 yards on the ground to go with Law’s 9 of 16 passing for 110 yards — including seven completions to Rebar for 104 yards.
“We knew they were great up front and their linebackers were good, we wanted to keep them off balance, so we passed a lot more than we have been,” said Rebar. “I think it opened up some things not only for myself but the running backs.”
Boyer scored his first touchdown on a 1-yard plunge to cap off an eight-play, 42-yard drive that gave Foxcroft a 7-0 lead with 7:18 left in the first half. A 24-yard pass from Law to Rebar advanced the ball from the 28 to the 4 to set up the score.
Winslow got a short field of its own later in the second quarter after Bjornson was tackled by Hopkins for a 15-yard loss to the FA 34 on a punt attempt.
Guptill rushed five times on the ensuing eight-play drive, including the final 3 yards to the end zone to forge a 7-7 tie with 2:15 left in the half.
“Winslow’s by far the most physical team we’ve played,” said Boyer. “We had to match their intensity from play one and we did that. Every down was a battle for us, but I’m so glad we can bring a gold ball back home to our community.”