PORTLAND — Oak Hill junior running back Kyle Flaherty knew exactly what to do and where to go when he took handoff after handoff Saturday in the Class D state championship game.
“I just followed Luke (Washburn),” Flaherty said. “Where he went, I went.”
And where Flaherty went, so, too, did the Raiders.
Flaherty rushed for 217 yards and three touchdowns on 42 carries to lead Oak Hill past Bucksport 42-35 in a wild and chilly state final at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
“We worked hard all year,” Flaherty said. “We were trying to wear them down and that’s what we did.”
The Raiders (10-2), who won their first state championship since 1982, also needed a late defensive stand inside their own 20-yard line to preserve the victory.
“We played tough defense when we had to,” Oak Hill coach Stacen Doucette said.
In the week leading up to the game, Doucette talked about how this year’s team wanted to create its own history.
The Raiders did thanks to a bruising ground game that wore the Golden Bucks (11-1) down as the late afternoon sun faded from view.
“We knew it would be an offensive game and it was,” said Washburn, a 245-pound end who cleared holes plenty big enough for Flaherty slip through. “It’s such an amazing feeling. I can’t even describe it.”
The teams were tied 28-28 heading into the fourth quarter before Oak Hill surged ahead with two touchdowns to gain all the separation it would need.
Alex Mace hauled in a 28-yard touchdown reception — his second of the game — from Parker Asselin early in the quarter to give the Raiders a 35-28 lead.
Bucksport punted on its ensuing possession, and the Raiders answered with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that Flaherty finished off with a 3-yard touchdown run with 4:57 left.
Flaherty had 42 yards on seven carries in the drive.
“He’s a tough runner,” Bucksport coach Joel Sankey said, “but we didn’t tackle well. (Oak Hill) made the plays they needed to.”
The Golden Bucks pulled to within 42-35 when Josh Gray caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Matt Stewart with 2:55 remaining. Oak Hill fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Bucksport recovered at the Oak Hill 18 with 2:47 remaining.
However, Washburn all but ended the game when he sacked Stewart on fourth down 57 seconds later.
“He’s a big reason why we are here,” Flaherty said.
Gray enjoyed a strong performance for the Bucks, catching five passes for 62 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 34 yards.
“He’s an explosive ball player when he gets the ball in his hands,” Sankey said.
The teams exchanged scores for much of the game until Oak Hill pulled away late.
Gabriel Stearns opened the scoring with a 32-yard touchdown up the middle to give Bucksport a 7-0 lead a little more than three minutes into the game.
Oak Hill answered five minutes later with as 15-play drive that covered 65 yards that ended when Flaherty busted into the end zone from a yard out.
Bucksport quarterback Matt Stewart threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Jack Cyr just 43 seconds into the second quarter as the Bucks again pulled ahead, 14-7.
Stewart completed 11 of 16 passes for 142 yards and three scores.
“We never got down,” Washburn said.
The Raiders again pulled even when Asselin threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Mace, who was open in the flats and out-raced a defensive back to the end zone.
Asselin completed 7 of 10 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown.
“The no-huddle really worked for us,” Doucette said. “We didn’t make any mistakes and we had good ball control. It’s a great feeling. The kids are excited and the community is excited.”
Flaherty rushed for touchdowns in the third and fourth keep the Raiders out front.
“I just ran where coach wanted me to,” Flaherty said. “It’s just amazing.”