SKOWHEGAN — When things started to work for the Skowhegan Area High School football team’s passing game, they really started to work right. Like, do a double take when reading the box score, double check your math right.

Two games in Weeks 3 and 4 marked the introduction of junior quarterback Marcus Christopher to the Pine Tree Conference. In back-to-back games against Messalonskee and Brunswick, Christopher threw for 922 yards and 12 touchdowns. On the season, Christopher has 1,199 yards and 14 touchdown passes, and is completing 65 percent of his throws. A trio of senior receivers, Cam Barnes, Sean Savage and Jon Bell, are helping make things easier for the first-year starting quarterback. The three have combined for 65 receptions, 930 yards, and 12 touchdowns.

A 47-6 win over Hampden Academy last Friday improved Skowhegan’s record to 3-2. With a tough non-conference game this week against Biddeford (3-2), and conference games against old rivals Lawrence (3-2) and Mt. Blue (1-4) ahead, the Indians are gearing up to make their aerial playoff push.

Skowhegan graduated quarterback Garrett McSweeney, a two and a half year starter and one of the top passers in the state. For the senior receivers, work with Christopher began in the offseason, in 7 on 7 leagues.

“I didn’t have any worries because I knew that (Christopher) could throw the ball very well. He worked with Garrett when Garrett was here,” Bell said.

Added Barnes: “We’ve been working with Marcus a long time. We knew what he can do.”

Even with plenty of confidence from his teammates, Christopher entered the season without much varsity game experience, and in Week 1 against a strong Marshwood team, it showed. Christopher completed 9 of 21 passes for just over 100 yards, and threw three interceptions in a 55-12 loss. The following week against Cony, Christopher looked sharper, but Mother Nature dictated it would be a ball-control night. A 57-minute lightning delay slowed momentum, but Christopher and his coaches felt the junior showed improvement.

“We really got into a rhythm offensively. We moved the ball, even though we didn’t score a lot of points because of the weather,” Christopher said.

“He was clearly nervous out there against Marshwood. I think most would be,” Skowhegan coach Ryan Libby said. “He seemed more confident from the get-go (against Cony). He had to play through the weather, and had to hand the ball off a lot just to grind through it, but when he was given the opportunity, he made the right decisions. Getting the ball to those other three guys gave him the confidence to move forward.”

In Skowhegan’s 57-42 loss at Messalonskee on Sept. 15, Christopher threw for 450 yards and five touchdowns. A week later, it was 472 yards and seven touchdowns in a 48-29 win at Brunswick. In last week’s win over a young Hampden team, Skowhegan only asked Christopher to throw the ball eight times. He completed five of those passes, for 116 yards and two touchdowns.

The trio of Barnes, Savage, and Bell have caught 69 percent of Christopher’s completions. Each brings a different facet to Skowhegan’s offense.

“We all do our job, and we rely on each other,” Barnes said.

At 6-foot-1, Barnes combines height with speed and is Skowhegan’s top deep threat. He leads the team in catches (27), yards (369) and touchdowns (five). His 18-catch, 202-yard effort against Messalonskee showed Barnes at his best.

“The kid can jump through the roof. If we need to take a shot (downfield), he’s our guy,” Libby said.

Savage has 20 receptions for 308 yards and four touchdowns, and also has been a part of Skowhegan’s run game, with four carries for 14 yards. Lining up in the slot, Savage is apt to come across the middle to make a catch and move the chains.

“Sean is a slot possession guy. He was always the guy who wasn’t as fast as the other guys, but had great hands. He had a couple drops early in the season, but he corrected that fast,” Libby said.

In Bell, Skowhegan has a receiver who can run the deep routes, but also is shifty enough to make a play on an underneath pattern. Libby pointed to a catch Bell made in the Brunswick game, on a screen pass. Bell caught the ball within a yard of the line of scrimmage, and broke it for a 72-yard touchdown. On the season, Bell has 18 catches for 253 yards and three touchdowns.

“He’s dangerous and shifty,” Libby said.

With three strong receivers, a rarity in Maine high school offenses, the question for opposing defenses is, how do you cover Skowhegan?

“Teams have to pick their poison,” Savage said.

Often, the Indians have seen cover one looks, which is man-to-man coverage underneath, with the help of one free safety at the back of the defense. Against a team with one deep threat, or a spread team that still primarily runs, one high works. With so many weapons and a quarterback who is adept at finding the open receiver, Skowhegan has been able to exploit this defensive scheme more often than not. The free safety can only help to one side, and that leaves Christopher with plenty of options.

“When we see one high (safety), Marcus kind of drools a little bit. That definitely plays into our hands,” Libby said. “A lot of teams around the league stick with what they like to do. They like to play man, they like to play one high. They want to tell their kids ‘We’ll make it work,’ but when you’ve got three weapons like that outside, it’s tough to match up. If we see two high, Marcus has tons of underneath game, and we’ve got to establish the run and help him out.”

While Skowhegan is the highest scoring team in the conference, averaging just under 34 points per game, its postseason fate will depend on defensive improvement as much as continued growth offensively. Even after allowing just six points to the Broncos last week, Skowhegan opponents still average just over 32 points per game. In the PTC B, only Hampden and Brunswick, each winless, have allowed more points.

“Our defense has been a little bit of a heel for us this year, especially stopping the run,” Libby said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM