Five weeks into the season, the Maine Central Institute football team was 2-3 and coming off back-to-back lopsided losses to Cape Elizabeth and Mt. Desert Island.

The Huskies had some soul-searching to do. Were they the team that had played in three consecutive state championship games, winning the Class D state title the previous season, or were they going to settle for being another team that struggled when it moved up a class against tougher competition?

“We just decided we were going to either go one direction or the other. We knew we were better than we were playing. There was a lot of doubt, and a little bit of fracturing that was going on within the team. We just decided we were going to come together and believe and trust each other,” MCI coach Tom Bertrand said.

Since that 35-24 loss to Mt. Desert Island on Sept. 29, the Huskies are 5-1. On Saturday night, MCI’s resurgence included a little bit of revenge, when it beat MDI, 27-6, to win the Class C North title. The Huskies opponent in the Class C state game will be Cape Elizabeth.

To win the Class C North playoffs, MCI beat each of the top three seeds on the road. The Huskies’ playoff run began with a win at No. 3 Nokomis, and continued with a win at No. 2 Winslow. That set up the rematch with the Trojans.

MCI is hoping to become the first team since Marshwood in 1988 and ’89 to win back-to-back state titles after moving up a class. In ’88, the Hawks won Class B before taking the Class A crown in ’89.

“A lot of things had to come together for us, but we know we’ve got the guys to do it. A lot of leadership from our seniors and our captains,” Bertrand said.

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Entering the playoffs, Skowhegan faced a tough question: Could it stand up defensively in the Pine Tree Conference Class B tournament? After a pair of dominant defensive efforts in wins over Brewer and Lawrence, the answer is yes.

Skowhegan beat Brewer, 18-13, in the semifinals, before taking a 23-0 win over Lawrence in the conference championship. These games were a huge turnaround for a team that allowed 299 points in the regular season, including more than 50 points four times.

Skowhegan’s defensive improvement can be seen when comparing Friday’s 23-0 win over Lawrence with the 58-56 win over Lawrence in the regular season.

To wit:

• Rushing. In the regular season meeting, Lawrence gained 386 yards on the ground. On Friday, the Indians held the Bulldogs to minus-5 yards rushing.

• Big plays. In the first game, Lawrence had 17 plays go for 10 or more yards. The Bulldogs had eight plays go for at least 20 years. In the playoff rematch, Skowhegan allowed three plays of 10 yards or more. Lawrence gained just 85 yards in the game. Seventy-six yards came on two plays, a Braden Ballard to Isaiah Schooler pass in the first quarter for 37 yards, and a 39-yard Ballard to Logan Fortin pass in the second quarter.

• Third down efficiency. In Friday’s conference championship, Lawrence converted just 2 of 12 third down tries into a first down. Skowhegan forced six three and outs for the Bulldogs. The Indians forced three Lawrence turnovers, and also had a safety.

Skowhegan’s opponent in the Class B state championship game is Marshwood. The Hawks won at Skowhegan, 55-12, in the opening game of the season.

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The Maine Principals’ Association has set the times for the three state championship games scheduled for Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

The Class A game between Scarborough and Windham will begin the day at 11:06 a.m. At 2:36 p.m., the Class D game between Wells and Foxcroft Academy will kick off. The final game will be the Class B championship between Skowhegan and Marshwood, and will kick off at 6:06 p.m.

The Class C championship game between MCI and Cape Elizabeth will be Friday at 7:06 p.m. at the University of Maine in Orono.

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Playing for a Gold Ball is now a Christopher family tradition.

With Saturday’s Class B state game, Skowhegan junior quarterback Marcus Christopher joins his father, Jon, Skowhegan’s athletic director, as a quarterback in a state championship game. As Madison’s quarterback in the late 1980s, Jon Christopher led the Bulldogs to back-to-back Class C state title in 1988 and 1989.

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Around the state: None of the eight teams playing in a state championship game is a first time participant. Of the eight, Scarborough had the longest drought since its last state game appearance. The Red Storm won the Class B title in 2002. The longest Gold Ball drought among the eight belongs to Skowhegan, which last won a title in 1978… Thanks to regional crossover games, three of the four state championship games are rematches of a regular season contest. Scarborough defeated Windham, 66-7, on Oct. 6. Marshwood beat Skowhegan, 55-12, on Sept. 1, and Cape Elizabeth beat MCI, 35-15, on Sept. 22.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM