ORONO, Maine — The extra points were the difference Friday night as Leavitt of Turner Center outlasted Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield 30-24 to capture the Class C football state championship at Alfond Stadium on the campus of the University of Maine.
Leavitt scored two-point conversions after three of its four touchdowns, while MCI came up empty on extra-point tries after each of its four scores with a missed kick followed by three two-point tries that were unsuccessful.
“Two-point conversions are big for us because we really haven’t kicked the ball all year,” said Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway, whose team finished the season 12-0 and won its first state title since 2013. “We went in with a few extra two-point plays this week and worked on them hard [Thursday] right at the end of practice, that’s the last thing we did.
“We converted enough of them to make the difference.”
MCI, which was seeking its third state championship in four years, finished 9-3.
“They just made plays on those conversions and we didn’t,” MCI coach Tom Bertrand said. “We weren’t able to keep drives rolling, and that came to be the difference.”
Leavitt completed its rally from a 24-14 deficit with junior quarterback Wyatt Hathaway’s go-ahead 19-yard scoring run with 8:24 left in the game.
The run, which capped off a nine-play drive after MCI had marched to the Leavitt 11 only to be stopped on downs, was not the originally called play but the product of an interaction between father and son.
“It was supposed to be the the jet sweep and go to our slot, and he was supposed to take it around the end,” Wyatt Hathaway said. “I had been bugging my dad all game, telling him their linebackers were flowing hard so let me pull one out, and he said wait until we need it.
“I was on the sideline, and he looked at me when I was walking back onto the field and said, ‘Make a play.’ They flowed pretty hard toward the jet sweep, and as soon as I saw it, it was there.”
Senior halfback Desean Calder ran for his second two-point conversion of the second half to make it 30-24.
MCI began the game with some accidental trickery that led to an early lead.
The Huskies recovered an onside kick to open the contest, setting up a 17-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Friend to Dominic Wilson to give MCI a 6-0 advantage just 74 seconds into the contest.
“I told [Will Russell] to squib kick it down the middle, and he onside kicked it. That was not anything we called,” Bertrand said.
The touchdown came on a fourth-and 12 play, with Friend throwing the ball toward Russell working against three Leavitt defenders in the back of the end zone. The ball bounced off a Hornet’s facemask, and Wilson caught the rebound for the score.
“You always want to catch some breaks,” Bertrand said. “You know those aren’t going to carry you through the game, but it’s good to get them your way.”
A sack of Hathaway by Jason Pyles and Cole Steeves — the first of three quarterback sacks in the first half by MCI — forced a quick Leavitt punt, and two plays later Friend passed to Russell over the middle for a 44-yard touchdown strike to give the North champs a stunning 12-0 lead with still 8:10 left in the first quarter.
Another early sack of Hathaway forced a second straight punt by Leavitt, but this time MCI fumbled the return and Leavitt got a badly needed recovery at the MCI 29.
Six plays later the Hornets got on the scoreboard with Dasean Calder scoring from the 1 and Hathaway passing to Mark Herman for the two-point conversion to cut the gap to 12-8 with 1:53 left in the period.
Leavitt then came up with a sack of Friend to force an MCI punt, and the Hornets drove 68 yards in 14 plays to take a 14-12 lead. Hathaway bought time while scrambling away from the defense long enough to find Cam Jordan along the right sideline of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown pass with 6:30 left until intermission.
“You’ve got to keep battling when you get situations like that,” coach Hathaway said. “Our guys aren’t going to quit on anything, they’re not going to get down on themselves. They’re champions, and they’re going to play like that.”
Friend soon completed a 34-yard pass to Elijah Bagley inside Hornets’ territory and then a 31-yard touchdown strike to Nason Berthelette to give MCI an 18-14 lead with 4:20 left in the second quarter.
MCI finally got its ground game untracked early in the second half, with Friend running a 23-yard keeper and Bussell capping off the Huskies’ first possession of the third quarter with a 13-yard touchdown run to make it 24-14.
Leavitt answered on a 14-yard scoring run by Calder, who then rushed for the two-point conversion to pull the Hornets within 24-22 with 4:47 left in the period.
MCI drove to the Leavitt 11 on its next possession before a delay-of-game penalty against the Huskies and a 10-yard sack of Friend stalled that drive.
Wyatt Hathaway’s run then gave Leavitt its second lead of the night, and two late pass interceptions of Friend by Herman and Hathaway preserved that advantage.
“This was a battle, we came out and threw some punches,” Bertrand said. “[Leavitt] hung in there and came back in the second half and had some answers for us.
“There’s a lot to be said for a good football team hanging in like that and making it happen.”