Talk about turning the tables.
The Maine Central Institute football team avenged a 24-point loss to Winslow during the regular season by surging past the top-ranked Black Raiders 49-21 to capture the Class C North championship in Saturday’s rematch at Hampden Academy.
“We didn’t expect this much of an outcome,” MCI senior lineman Harrison Sites said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game and it was a really tough game, but we never would have expected to really blow them out of the water.
“It gives us a lot of confidence going into the state game.”
Coach Tom Bertrand’s second-seeded Huskies (9-2) captured the program’s fifth regional championship in the last six years with the 52-point turnaround and will pursue a third state title in four years Friday against South champion Leavitt of Turner Center at the University of Maine in Orono.
Leavitt (11-0) defeated York 42-7 to capture its first regional crown since 2014.
MCI junior quarterback Ryan Friend and senior lineman-turned-fullback Isaac Bussell combined for 325 rushing yards against 9-2 Winslow.
Friend gained 190 yards on just 11 carries, including touchdown keepers of 78 and 47 yards. He also passed for 103 yards and two more scores as the Huskies amassed 449 yards of total offense.
Bussell, who typically wears a lineman’s No. 76, wore No. 34 as an eligible and quite physical fullback for the second time this fall against Winslow. He gained 135 yards and three touchdowns on 20 attempts with the title on the line after a 167-yard regular-season effort during MCI’s 61-37 loss to the Black Raiders on Oct. 11 at Pittsfield.
“We’re pretty thin up front, so it’s got to be the right formula for us to be able to put [Bussell] back there and it just is right now,” Bertrand. “It’s not his natural position but he’s a natural athlete that’s making plays for us, and he’s tough to bring down.”
Bussell’s fullback availability stemmed in part from Sites’ return to starting duty, and his work at defensive end was a particular spark as MCI limited Winslow to 224 total yards.
“He’s dominant, and we’re going to need it next week just like we needed it this week,” Bertrand said of Sites, who has been battling a hamstring injury. “Without him we’re putting Isaac back up front because Isaac’s a great lineman. When he’s back he gives us a lot of confidence and some versatility.”
An early touchdown also buoyed the Huskies’ confidence against Winslow, and a 28-point second quarter gave them control.
“The first time we underestimated them big time and we had some injuries,” Friend said. “This week we really prepared well and didn’t underestimate them. We knew it was going to be a battle, but we came out throwing punches.”
That first punch was thrown by Friend himself. He turned a nice play fake into a 78-yard sprint on his team’s first play from scrimmage to set up the first of Bussell’s three touchdown runs, a 1-yard effort that gave MCI a 7-0 lead barely two minutes into the game.
“When [Friend] had that long run it gave us a lot of momentum and helped us think we could run the ball on them and just do our stuff,” Bussell said.
Winslow tied the game on Evan Bourget’s 1 yard run with 0.7 seconds left in the opening quarter, but Friend threw a 39-yard strike down the right sideline to Dominic Wilson that gave MCI the lead for good at 14-7 with 8:52 remaining in the first half.
Two straight Winslow three-and-outs led to two more MCI touchdowns, a 17-yard run by Bussell and a 65-yard punt return by Wilson that gave the Huskies a 28-7 advantage with 4:30 left until intermission.
Its offense floundering, Winslow turned to a double-wing approach that generated a 15-yard scoring run by Rob Clark (20 carries, 125 yards) to cut the gap to 28-14 with 58.1 seconds left in the half.
MCI needed just 25 seconds to negate that score, as Friend found Nason Berthelette all alone down the left sideline for a 55-yard touchdown pass to make it 35-14.
An MCI fumble on the second-half kickoff led to a 68-play scoring drive that pulled coach Mike Siviski’s club within 35-21 on Clark’s 5-yard run with 8:23 left in the third quarter.
But Winslow’s defense remained no match for MCI. Friend scored on a 47-yard run two minutes later and Bussell added a 2-yard scoring burst on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“We knew it had the potential to be any kind of game, so we’re fortunate and lucky and happy that it went the way it did,” Bertrand said. “Either team is high-powered enough to make the other team pay. Today was just our day.”