PITTSFIELD, Maine — The first 21 seconds of Friday night’s Class C North football semifinal might have left favored Maine Central Institute stunned. John Bapst’s Max Chadwick had just raced 63 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
But the Huskies certainly aren’t lacking for postseason experience and coach Tom Bertrand’s club responded by scoring 46 unanswered points to secure a 46-21 victory at Alumni Field.
“We gave up a big one right off the bat,” MCI junior quarterback and defensive back Ryan Friend said. “It was tough, but coach said, ‘They punched us in the face, what are you going to do? Are you going to lay down and die or are you going to fight back?’
“We stepped it up and fought back.”
Second-ranked MCI (8-2) advances to play the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between No. 1 Winslow and No. 4 Hermon for the regional championship at 1 p.m. Nov. 16 at Hampden Academy.
Third-ranked John Bapst of Bangor, which had its best season since 2014, finished 7-3.
It took just 2 minutes, 32 seconds for MCI to answer Chadwick’s sweep around left end and sprint down the sideline to the end zone.
Junior fullback Elijah Bagley capped off the Huskies’ first possession of the game with a 2-yard scoring run, and Will Russell added the game-tying extra point with still 9:07 left in the first quarter.
From there MCI methodically shut down John Bapst’s offense, which had just 45 total yards in the rest of the half. The Huskies took control of the clock with a steady, run-oriented attack led by junior halfback Cole Steeves, who rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
“Me and Elijah usually work really well together,” Steeves said. “He’s a great lead blocker, and when I’m the lead blocker I know he’s going to be right behind me.”
MCI’s rushing attack, which generated 261 of the team’s 314 yards of total offense, featured the blocking of linemen Bryce Bussell, Jack Morton, Parker St. Clair, Warren Ricker and Isaac Bussell as the Huskies thrived along the line of scrimmage despite the absence of injured starter Harrison Sites.
“We have a real solid line this year, they help a lot. They make huge holes. When you’re going through the ‘A’ gap or the ‘C’ gap, they’re always there.”
John Bapst advanced inside the MCI 20 later in the period before the drive stalled. The Huskies responded with an 82-yard drive that gave them the lead for good when Steeves scored from 1 yard out 2 1/2 minutes into the second quarter to give MCI a 13-7 lead.
MCI capitalized on an 8-yard John Bapst punt later in the period that left the Huskies a short field, and Friend capped off the ensuing 40-yard march with a 7-yard touchdown run with 3:31 left in the half that gave his team a 19-7 intermission lead.
Steeves scored from 3 yards out on MCI’s first possession of the second half, and an MCI fumble recovery led to Friend’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Dominic Wilson as the lead grew to 33-7 midway through the third period.
Russell’s 52-yard interception return for a touchdown made it 39-7 by the end of the third quarter, and Xavier Moss capped off MCI’s scoring blitz with a 5-yard touchdown run less than three minutes into the final period.
John Bapst scored two late touchdowns on a 75-yard pass from Wilson Higgins to Rhett McDonald and a 3-yard run by Quinn Mitchell.
The win sends MCI to the regional final for the fifth time in six years following Class D regional championships in 2014 and 2015, the Class D state title in 2016 and the Class C state crown in 2017.
The Huskies were ousted in the 2018 Class C North semifinals by Nokomis of Newport, which went on to win last year’s state championship.
“This is our goal every year,” said Friend, MCI’s third-year starter at quarterback. “Our goal is to get as far as we can but we really wanted another shot at a title.
“Winslow and Hermon are both very good teams, but we’ve played them both this year and we’re ready for whoever we play.”