BUCKSPORT, Maine — When the Bucksport football team staged a “midnight madness” practice back on the opening day of preseason workouts, it did so with the plan of having the longest campaign in Maine high school football history.
To realize that goal, the Golden Bucks would have to reach the Class D state championship game — and now they have that chance.
Coach Joel Sankey’s club on Saturday displayed all the qualities that have enabled it to remain undefeated since that initial Aug. 19 workout, scoring 35 unanswered points over the final three quarters to defeat Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln 42-8 and win its second Little Ten Conference championship in the last three years.
“This is just one more step,” said Golden Bucks’ senior Josh Gray. “We’ve got states next week and that’s our goal. We want to be the first people on the field and the last people off.”
Bucksport (10-0) will play Oak Hill of Wales in the Class D state final next Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland, with the game time to be determined Monday. Oak Hill defeated Dirigo of Dixfield 16-14 in the Western D title game.
Bucksport simply had too many weapons for third-ranked Mattanawcook, which ended a renaissance season of its own with a 9-2 record after winning just seven games over the previous three years.
Five different Bucksport players scored. Four different Golden Bucks had pass interceptions. Five different Bucks were involved in four quarterback sacks against the Lynx.
And while several MA players went to the sidelines with injuries as the game progressed, Bucksport seemingly sent wave after wave of fresh troops to press the attack offensively and stifle any Mattanawcook comeback hopes.
“They’re a good football team,” said MA coach Bill McCarthy, whose program was seeking its first LTC crown since 1999. “We knew going in what we were up against. They’re 10-0 for a reason. We felt we could do some things against them, but they showed a few different wrinkles and shut us down offensively and we scrambled a bit.”
Bucksport outgained Mattanawcook 414-138 in total yardage, with junior quarterback Matthew Stewart completing 6 of 9 passes for 146 yards, including a 35-yard second-quarter touchdown strike to Dylan Soper.
Jack Cyr rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries, while Gabe Stearns rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown, caught three passes for 71 yards and returned a pass interception 38 yards for another score.
Gray added 55 rushing yards, a 31-yard pass reception, a pass interception and a 6-for-6 effort on extra-point kicks.
And Asher Bowden rushed for Bucksport’s final touchdown on offense and contributed two quarterback sacks and an interception on defense.
“We’ve got so many guys who can do so many things,” said Cyr.
Cyr’s 37-yard touchdown run gave Bucksport a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter, but MA used a fourth-down stop of Cyr on the Bucks’ next possession to set up a 44-yard scoring drive that produced an 8-7 lead when fullback A.J. MacEachern (10 carries, 77 yards) scored from 1 yard out and quarterback Trysten Pelkey rushed for the two-point conversion three seconds into the second quarter.
The momentary adversity seemed to awaken Bucksport, which went on to score three touchdowns in the final five minutes of the first half to take control.
“I think we got a little more pumped after they scored,” said Bowden. “We were ready to go.”
Stearns scored on a 5-yard run to give Bucksport a 14-8 lead with 4:51 left in the period, then Bowden had a quarterback sack and a pass interception on back-to-back plays, with Stewart passing to Soper for a touchdown on the first play after the turnover to give the Bucks a 21-8 cushion with 3:38 left until intermission.
Soper caught the ball along the right sideline, then broke a tackle by Pelkey before racing the final 20 yards to the end zone for his first high school touchdown.
“We knew when we lined up we were going to have the 82nd Airborne on Josh,” said Stewart. “We knew if we ran Josh right at all of them and just had Soap release to the outside he had a good chance of being open. We worked on it in practice and there he was open, and he broke a tackle and got his first touchdown.”
A sack of Pelkey by Nathan Gray then forced an MA punt and Bucksport needed just four plays and 85 seconds of clock to drive 55 yards, with a 31-yard pass from Stewart to Gray setting up Cyr’s 2-yard touchdown run with 1:13 left to make it 28-8.
MA halted a Bucksport drive inside the 10-yard-line when Gunner Maxwell intercepted a Stewart pass midway through the third quarter, but two plays later Stearns intercepted a Pelkey pass and returned it 38 yards to extend the Bucks’ lead to 35-8.
“Coach had been yelling ‘screen, screen,’ all day,” said Stearns. “I saw that one coming and stepped in front of it.”
Bowden added a 3-yard scoring run with 2:43 left in the game.