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Here’s one more sign of validation for the state’s fledgling eight-player high school football classification.
Two of the 12 semifinalists for the 49th annual James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy presented to Maine’s top senior completed their careers this fall in that brand-new division.
Connor Crawford of Ellsworth and Gerit Laliberte of Maranacook Community School in Readfield both are on the ballot that was released Monday for the state’s most prominent individual football award, which also considers academic record, sportsmanship, community involvement and citizenship.
Crawford, a three-year captain at Ellsworth, rushed for 1,632 yards and 22 touchdowns this year for the Eagles, who rebounded from an 0-3 start to qualify for the inaugural eight-player, large-school division playoffs.
He also passed for 218 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for six two-point conversions and passed for five PATs while scoring 178 of his team’s 226 points.
“Before we even started the regular season we thought, ‘Wow, were these going to be basketball scores because of the reduction in the numbers on the field?’” Crawford’s father and Ellsworth head coach Duane Crawford said. “But once we started playing, you reduce the field to 40 yards wide and there’s your three players right there because those sidelines come up on you quickly.”
He added: “So even though it’s eight-man, it’s really the same, and when you narrow the field up it puts you right back in 11-man football only playing eight guys and I think any of the stats the kids had playing eight-man are probably comparable to 11-man because of that.”
Connor Crawford also averaged nearly 10 tackles per game this fall. As a sophomore in 2017, he led the Class D North Little Ten Conference in rushing with 1,030 yards during the regular season.
“He hits the line faster than anybody I’ve coached,” coach Crawford said, “and when you put the ball in his hands with that burst and his vision he gets that first 10 yards behind him and it’s off to the races.”
Laliberte passed for 897 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 1,105 yards while leading Maranacook to an undefeated regular season. He added 656 yards and four touchdowns on kick returns and contributed 39 tackles, five pass interceptions and three forced fumbles on defense.
Other Fitzpatrick Trophy semifinalists included top players from three of the state’s recently crowned 11-player state champions: Zach Maturo from Class A Bonny Eagle of Standish, Justin Bryant from Class B Marshwood of South Berwick and Cam Jordan from Class C Leavitt of Turner Center.
Maturo, a running back, wide receiver and cornerback, rushed for 1,030 yards and 20 touchdowns on 128 carries and also had 19 pass receptions while averaging 3.5 tackles on defense for the 11-1 Scots.
Bryant, a fullback and linebacker, averaged 10 yards per carry while rushing for 1,213 yards and added 339 yards in pass receptions for the 11-1 Hawks. On defense he contributed 52 tackles, including 12 for losses, two quarterback sacks and a safety.
Jordan was a two-way force for Leavitt, particularly at defensive end where he contributed 112 tackles, including 37 for losses and 21 quarterback sacks, along with five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and five blocked kicks for coach Mike Hathaway’s Hornets. Jordan also caught 25 passes for 501 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 402 yards and four scores on 46 carries for 12-0 Leavitt, the state’s only undefeated team regardless of class.
Other top candidates are Kobe Gaudette of Thornton Academy in Saco and Jarrett Flaker of Scarborough.
Gaudette quarterbacked TA to the Class AA championship game, passing for 976 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushing for 403 yards and four scores. Flaker averaged 12.1 yards per carry while rushing for 1,195 yards and added 17.9 yards per pass reception. He also scored three touchdowns on kick returns.
Also earning semifinalist status were Owen Richardson, a fullback and linebacker from Brunswick who rushed for 1,371 yards to lead the Dragons to the Class B North title; Payton MacKay of Wells, who rushed for 1,589 yards and 24 touchdowns on 202 carries; Anthony Poole of South Portland, who amassed 2,061 yards and 28 touchdowns at quarterback for the Red Riots; Ryan Connors of Kennebunk, who scored 17 touchdowns on offense while averaging 11.6 yards per carry and added an interception return for another score; and Sean Tompkins of Cheverus of Portland, who rushed for 1,308 yards and 19 touchdowns — including 14 scoring runs of at least 46 yards.
The list of semifinalists will be reduced to three finalists before the winner is announced at a banquet on Jan. 19, 2020, at the Holiday Inn by the Sea in Portland.