Not bad for a couple of newbies.
Windham and Cape Elizabeth both overcame deficits and horrendous playing conditions on Saturday to win first-ever Western Maine football titles in Classes A and B, respectively.
While No. 2 Windham held the home-field advantage against No. 4 Cheverus, it was the visiting Stags who handed the Eagles their only loss of the regular season. The drizzle on that mid-September afternoon played into the hands of the ball-control Stags and slowed down Windham's spread offensive attack.
The Eagles were threatened with a wicked case of deja vu in their regional championship rematch, only this time it was wetter. Way wetter. A steady rain accelerated into a driving rain in the second half and the field resembled quicksand by the game's conclusion. But after Cheverus took an early 6-0 lead, Windham stopped the Stags on the goal line on the final play of the first half to take some momentum into the break.
The weather was so bad that Cheverus chose to kick off rather than receive the ball to start the second half, hoping to gain an edge on field position. It didn't work, as the Eagles, behind the running of Jack Mallis, marched 80 yards for the tying touchdown, then Matt Coffee's extra point gave them the 7-6 lead, which ended up being the final score.
The turf field in Cape Elizabeth took the water better than did the grass in Windham, but it didn't make it any easier to throw the ball. The Ezra Wolfinger-to-Finn Melanson passing connection that tore up Mountain Valley's secondary for three TDs in the regular season finale was neutralized by the elements.
Wolfinger completed just six of his 15 attempts and threw two picks (after only one previous interception all season), but one of the completions went to Kyle Piscopo for the go-ahead touchdown with under three minutes left in the game as No. 1 Cape defeated nemesis and No. 3 Mountain Valley, 23-13. It was the fourth straight time the teams have met for a chance to play for the Gold Ball, and the first time the Capers have come out on top.
Class A State Championship
Windham (10-1) vs. Bangor (11-0). Bangor downed Brunswick 24-7 on Friday night for the right to represent the East on Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium. The unbeaten Rams like to put the ball in the hands of senior running back Lonnie Hackett, who has amassed over 2,000 yards on the ground this season. Quarterback Joe Seccareccia can also sling the ball around, throwing for better than 100 yards a game during the regular season. While he rarely ran with the ball during the regular season, he carried for over 90 yards against Brunswick, showing he can get it done with his feet, as well.
Bangor, which averages 34 points a game, has won five state titles since 1973, the last one coming in 2001.
Windham, still in its first decade as a varsity football program, has progressed farther than ever before, but the Eagles aren't content with simply getting to Fitzpatrick. The senior-laden group has its sights set on gold. Forced to scrap the spread in the second half on Saturday because of the near impossibility of throwing the ball, Windham showed it can play power football pretty darn well when it has to. Jack Mallis is a workhorse at running back. The Eagles prefer to keep a more balanced attack, with quarterback Jackson Taylor and receiver Matt Gledhill a dangerous combination in the passing game.
These teams will be doing their homework on one another this week. Windham has the proximity advantage, though there will undoubtedly be quite a caravan heading down I-95 from Bangor. Both teams are deep and talented, with neither holding clear favorite status. It's all going to come down to making plays when the stakes are highest. The early forecast is calling for a dry day and mild temperatures, so Mother Nature will hopefully back off for this one. Prediction: Eagles strike gold. Windham wins, 31-28.
Class B State Championship
Cape Elizabeth (11-0) vs. Leavitt (11-0). Leavitt, a veritable juggernaut this season, advanced to the state title game with a 13-0 blanking of Gardiner in the Eastern B championship on Saturday. Prior to being slowed down by the downpour, the Hornets were averaging a state-best 49 points a game through their first 10 games. Senior running back Josh Strickland has been huge in the postseason, piling up yardage and touchdowns as the Hornets have outscored their playoff foes by a combined 103-7 thus far.
Strickland, who weighs in at a very athletic 220 pounds (he received a 15-yard penalty for hurdling an upright defender in the semifinals), is not the only offensive threat for Leavitt, however. Running back Jordan Hersom and quarterback Eric Theiss have tasted their fair share of the end zone, as well.
The Capers, while not piling up points quite to the Leavitt level this season, have been equally as dominant. Prior to the regional final, they'd won each game by at least three touchdowns, outscoring opponents 378-41 in the process. Wolfinger has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for over 1,600 yards and 24 touchdowns, with only three interceptions. Melanson has 43 catches for 750 yards and 13 TDs, including several SportsCenter-worthy snags. Tommy Foden has run for nearly 1,000 yards, returned punts and kicks for over 400 yards, caught 260 yards worth of passes, and scored 28 total touchdowns.
Leavitt won Class B titles in 1995 and 1998, back when Cape kids were all still playing soccer. The Capers have rapidly ascended the ranks in this, their first decade on the gridiron. They're looking to take the program to the next level. This is the matchup football fanatics were hoping for: two high-powered offenses and stout defenses squaring off. Prediction: Cape wins its first Gold Ball in the other football, 28-27.
(Playoff predictions to date: 7-1.)