Maine Central Institute and Hermon entered Friday night’s showdown for second place in the final Class C North football standings averaging a combined 63 points per game, so surely an offensive shootout was in the offing at Pottle Field in Hermon.
The reality of the matchup couldn’t have been more different as the Huskies from Pittsfield emerged from a first half dominated by defense to forge a 21-0 victory.
Coach Tom Bertrand’s MCI club (6-2) earned that No. 2 seed for the upcoming playoffs and a likely matchup against Old Town in the regional quarterfinals next weekend at Alumni Field in Pittsfield.
Hermon, which began the night ranked third, fell to 4-4. Its playoff seeding won’t be certain until Saturday’s games are completed.
MCI junior quarterback Ryan Friend accounted for 197 total yards and rushed for all three touchdowns. But the third-year starter had to endure some early pressure from Hermon’s defense, particularly senior lineman Marco Vera, before finding success both on the ground and in the air.
“We were in a single-back set most of the first half and they were just sending people, so coach said we’d go with two-back sets to create a little more protection so we could get more time to throw the ball,” said Friend, who completed 8 of 13 passes for 101 yards and rushed for 96 yards on 10 carries.
“I had to trust my guys. I knew they’d get the job done up front, my receivers would go and get the ball and then when I needed to do, I could take it and run.”
An MCI defensive front featuring Isaac and Bryce Bussell and Jack Morton sacked Hermon quarterback Wyatt Gogan four times, three in the first half while overcoming good early field position enjoyed by the Hawks.
Hermon’s first four possessions started no worse than at its 42-yard line, and the Hawks reached the MCI 16 late in the first quarter before back-to-back sacks of Gogan ended that threat.
A short punt gave Hermon the ball back at the MCI 48, but one play later River Mullen was stripped of the ball at the end of a 27-yard run and the Huskies recovered at their 17.
Travis Spell came up just short of a first down on a fake-punt run on Hermon’s next possession, giving MCI the ball inside Hawks’ territory with 5:23 left in the first half.
Friend soon broke the scoreless stalemate on a 35-yard scramble and Will Russell made the first of his three extra-point kicks to give MCI a 7-0 halftime lead.
The Huskies received the second-half kickoff and marched 66 yards in eight plays to make it 14-0 on a 9-yard run by Friend. A 17-yard pass from Friend to Nason Berthelette and a 15-yard keeper by Friend set up the touchdown.
Hermon then marched from its 22 to the MCI 14, but again the Huskies’ defense stiffened and forced a Gogan pass incompletion on a fourth-and-4 play.
MCI churned out a 12-play, 85-yard march that not only took 8 minutes, 49 seconds off the clock but produced the game’s final touchdown on a 1-yard sneak by Friend with 6:06 left in the contest.
A 31-yard pass from Friend to Dominic Wilson down the right sideline on a third-and-16 play from the 8 ignited the drive. From there, Friend and junior halfback Cole Steeves gained most of the ensuing yardage on the ground.
“Our guys kind of panicked a bit early in the game and saw something they hadn’t seen and we hadn’t prepped for, but it was a small adjustment,” Bertrand said. “When you have one guy (injured two-way lineman Harrison Sites) out and you’re shuffling a lot of guys around, it took us [time] to figure out what they were doing and in the second half we were able to get on our blocks a little better.”
Gogan completed 9 of 18 passes for 110 yards for Hermon. Mullen rushed for 90 yards on nine carries and Zach Tubbs added 41 yards on nine rushes.