SKOWHEGAN, Maine — The Skowhegan football team has been known for its high-scoring offense this season.
But a defense that yielded 299 points in eight regular-season games was the key to success in its Class B North semifinal against Brewer on Friday night, holding the Witches without a touchdown over the game’s final 27 minutes as the Indians rallied for an 18-13 victory at Reggie Clark Memorial Field.
“We knew Brewer was going to come at us, and each week we hope the defense plays like it did tonight,” said first-year Skowhegan head coach Ryan Libby. “I was just happy with how the boys performed.”
Top-ranked Skowhegan (6-3) will play No. 2 Lawrence of Fairfield (6-3) in a Nov. 10 regional final. Lawrence edged No. 6 Brunswick 17-12 in Friday’s other semifinal.
Skowhegan outlasted Lawrence 58-56 in their regular-season meeting.
No. 5 Brewer ends its season with a 5-5 record.
Senior wideout-defensive back Jon Bell was the game’s key player, contributing two pass interceptions, a touchdown-saving tackle and two touchdown-producing pass receptions in the third quarter alone as Skowhegan rallied from a 10-0 halftime deficit.
“I think he just came out determined to put the team on his shoulders and make a big play,” said Libby.
Bell’s first pick set up a 64-yard scoring play on a pass to the left flat from junior quarterback Marcus Christopher that drew the Indians within 10-6 with 7:09 left in the third period.
He then tracked down Brewer’s Bryant Kiley from behind inside the Skowhegan 5-yard yard line at the end of a 65-yard run to prevent a touchdown, and the play proved pivotal when the Indians stopped Witches’ rushing attempts on first and second down before Bell intercepted Cody Wood’s third-down pass in the end zone to end the threat.
“To be able to make a touchdown-saving tackle and then make a goal-line stand, it really showed the heart these kids played with tonight,” said Libby. “They really had the energy and the will to win.”
Skowhegan drove 80 yards to take its first lead at 12-10 on a 31-yard pass down the right sideline from Christopher to Bell with 2:58 left in the third period.
Jacob McCluskey returned the ensuing kickoff 33 yards to give Brewer good field position, and Andrew Kiley made it pay off with a 21-yard field goal to give Brewer a 13-12 lead 52 seconds into the fourth quarter.
The lead was short-lived, as Christopher capped off Skowhegan’s next possession by racing around right end 13 yards to the end zone to restore the Indians to an 18-13 lead.
Brewer moved into Skowhegan territory after Bryant Kiley converted on one fourth-down run, but an incompletion on a subsequent fourth-and-6 play gave Skowhegan possession with 4:44 to play.
Christopher ran for 20 yards on a third-down play to keep the ball away from Brewer’s offense, and Hunter Washburn added another long run on the next play to move the ball deep into Witches’ territory as the Indians were able to run out the clock.
While a shootout could have been anticipated between these teams, the defenses were dominant during the first half — particularly by Brewer, which limited a Skowhegan team that had scored more than 50 points in each of its last three games to 61 total yards and no points over the first 24 minutes of play.
Brewer drove 66 yards in 11 plays — all on the ground — to take a 7-0 lead on a 4-yard run by Andrew Kiley with 7:55 left in the opening quarter. Bryce Largay began the march with a 17-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage and Bryant Kiley added 23 yards on five carries.
But even that series spawned some optimism within Skowhegan’s defense, which yielded just two field goals the rest of the way.
“The positive thing for us about that drive was it took them 11 plays to get there,” said Libby. “Honestly, that’s not something we’ve been able to do all year, and our defense built off that.”
Skowhegan got the ball at the Brewer 36-yard line with 3:59 left in the opening period on a pass interception by Sean Savage, but the Indians could get nothing going offensively and were unable to take advantage of the good field position.
McCluskey stripped Christopher of the ball midway through the second quarter and teammate Tyler Bean made the recovery to give Brewer possession near midfield, and while the Witches couldn’t capitalize immediately the field position paid off later.
Brewer’s final possession of the half seemed destined to be scoreless, with the Witches facing third-and-30 at midfield entering the final seconds.
But Wood found McCluskey for a 25-yard pass to the Skowhegan 25 and Bean capitalized on the wind at his back to drill a 37-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with one second left in the first half.