OAKLAND — When the Messalonskee High School football team opened preseason, head coach Brad Bishop pulled aside returning quarterback Austin Pelletier. We’re moving you to fullback, Bishop told Pelletier. Let’s try it and see how it goes.

As Messalonskee (5-4) prepares for a Pine Tree Conference Class B semifinal game Friday night at Brunswick (8-0), it’s safe to say Pelletier’s position change was a success.

With 207 yards and four touchdowns in the Eagles 33-27 quarterfinal win at Skowhegan last Saturday night, Pelletier pushed his rushing yards for the season to 1,321, with 24 touchdowns.

“I’ve always loved playing running back,” said Pelletier, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior. Pelletier was a running back in junior high and as a freshman before moving to quarterback for his sophomore season. “It’s a loss less pressure than quarterback. You can be a lot more mellow. You don’t have to think as much. It’s just pretty straight forward.”

Only Trey Wood of Brewer ran for more yards and more touchdowns than Pelletier in the PTC B regular season. Pelletier said Bishop and other coaches hinted at a possible position change, but didn’t say where. With the graduation of Jack Bernatchez, who led the Eagles in rushing in 2014 and 2015, Messalonskee had a hole at fullback. In considering replacements for Bernatchez, Bishop kept coming back to Pelletier.

“I had an inkling a couple years ago,” Bishop said. “As you know, we’re not blessed with a lot of depth. He was a kid we felt could score at any time if blocking was right. He’s proven that.”

Pelletier opened the season with 159 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-21 win over Gardiner. He followed that with 192 yards and a touchdown in a 46-14 win over Cony. By then, everyone associated with the Messalonskee football program knew the position switch was working.

“During the preseason, the scrimmages, it was like, ‘all right, we’re moving.’ But when we played Gardiner for the first game, everybody was clicking. It seemed like it was a pretty good fit,” Pelletier said.

While Pelletier doesn’t have the size of a traditional fullback, he makes up for it with speed and strength. A talented wrestler (Pelleiter placed fourth at the Class A state meet last winter in the 152-pound weight class), he’s not afraid of contact. As a blocker, Pelletier has helped his fellow starters in Messalonskee’s backfield, Colby Dexter and Tyler Lewis, combined for more than 1,200 yards rushing.

“I also like lead blocking. When I was quarterback, I missed the hitting,” Pelletier said. “Wrestling gives you the toughness, the aggressiveness. It’s the ‘mano y mano’ that you really need. When you’re in a game, you think, I’ve been in tougher than this in wrestling. It kind of makes it a little bit easier.”

Twice this season, Bishop asked Pelletier to dust off his quarterback skills, and he’s 2 for 2 for 60 yards in throwing the option pass. Few teams in the PTC B throw as little as Messalonskee. Eagles quarterbacks Cam Goff and Deklan Thurston combined to complete eight passes in the regular season. Five were to Pelletier.

“He’s one of the better ones I’ve ever had. He’s tough and he’s durable,” Bishop said. “He’s got speed. He’s got good vision. He’s coachable. That’s the biggest thing. He listens well. He’s got discipline. He’s a good kid.”

Unlike many fullbacks, Pelletier isn’t limited to carries between the tackles. In the regular season finale, he broke to the left and sprinted for a 40-yard touchdown at Lawrence. In the regular season game against Skowhegan, Pelletier had a run on the first play of the second quarter on which he made a quick cut to the right, and went 85 yards for a touchdown.

“We’ve got some toss plays. We added an outside play and a counter play for him later in the year, feeling he could handle the workload. He’s smart enough. He’s been a great addition back there.

He’s a good athlete,” Bishop said.

What Pelletier doesn’t have is a varsity wrestling team at Messalonskee. As a freshman, he trained with nearby Winslow, but last season Pelletier started working out with Skowhegan, so he’d see the Class A competition he’d face in the postseason meets. Pelletier is hopeful he’ll soon have a wrestling team at Messalonskee.

“We’ve been trying to get a program going for a few years. All the steps are starting to click. The main thing is getting mats,” Pelletier said. “We might even be getting a meet to host here at Messalonskee. We have 10 or 11 kids who are signed up to wrestle this year.”

As talented as Pelletier is on the gridiron and on the mat, he says his first love is lacrosse.

“It’s my favorite sport. Just the creativity, and of course, the hitting,” he said.

Pelletier knows the Eagles face an enormous challenge in the Dragons this week. Brunswick is undefeated, winning each game by at least 23 points. Brunswick won at Messalonskee on Sept. 23, 42-0.

“We want to go out there and play our best game. Our homecoming game, we played them and we didn’t show much,” Pelletier said. “We kind of laid down and didn’t do anything. Win or lose, we just want to have a really good game with them.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczyMTM