FAIRFIELD — Take two defensive tackles starting at the varsity level for the first time. One defensive end who used to play linebacker. One defensive end who never expected to play the position, and what do you have?

You have the Lawrence High School starting defensive line, and you might just have the best defensive line in the Pine Tree Conference’s Class A division.

With last Friday’s 25-16 win over Messalonskee, the Bulldogs completed their fifth undefeated regular season in six years. In the Pine Tree Conference Class A, only Brunswick allowed fewer points than Lawrence, which surrendered just under 12 points per game and posted a pair of shutouts. Lawrence hosts Messalonskee on Friday in a conference semifinal game.

“It’s going well, and we want to keep it going,” Lawrence coach John Hersom said. “They all understand the concept of staying low, of getting a good charge and a low charge, where they keep their power angles and keep their low leverage, where they can’t be driven back.”

The Lawrence defensive line — tackles Eriq Stewart, Spencer Sweatt and Roy Barnaby, along with ends Bryant Wade and Jake Doolan — is a big reason the Bulldogs have been successful this season, particularly against the run.

Messalonskee entered Friday’s game against Lawrence averaging 284 yards per game on the ground. The Bulldogs held the Eagles to 40 yards on 25 carries, and Cory McKenzie, Messalonskee’s 1,000-yard rusher, gained 10 yards on five carries.

The previous week, in a 10-7 win over Brunswick, the Bulldogs held a Dragons running attack that came to Fairfield averaging 268.7 yards per game to 54 yards on 30 carries.

“Brunswick was our best defensive game,” Doolan said.

Lawrence held Lewiston’s Jeff Turcotte, who led the league in rushing, to 99 yards on 26 carries. Skowhegan’s strong running game gained just 55 yards against Lawrence’s first string defense, and that includes a 50-yard run by 1,000-yard rusher Adam Dusty. Throughout the regular season, the Bulldogs defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage.

“We’ve played quite a few teams that have really good running backs,” Stewart said.

Added Barnaby: “It’s all out for 48 minutes.”

Stewart and Sweatt, both juniors, stepped into starting roles for the first time this season. Stewart is tied with Wade for the league lead with eight sacks. Sweatt routinely takes on multiple blockers to free other Bulldogs to make a tackle.

“Every play I get double-teamed, one of these guys is getting a sack,” Sweatt said. “I love that.”

Wade moved to defensive end from linebacker to fill a hole left by graduation. Doolan, all 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds of him, was moved to defensive end when coaches loved his tenacity.

“You don’t look at us as a beast team. Then we come out and make sure we’re punching people in the mouth on every play,” Wade said. “(Doolan) might be small, but don’t underestimate him, because he’s going to come hard.”

Added Hersom: “We’re really pleased with (Stewart and Sweatt) coming in and showing they were ready to play, and Roy, when we rotate him in. Bryant, we knew he was returning, even though he played backer last year, was going to be one of our top defensive players. Jake’s really taken to it. He’s just a competitor.”

“We’ve got power,” Doolan said, pointing toward Stewart, Sweatt and Barnaby, “Speed (pointing at himself) and technique,” with a nod toward Wade.

That technique combined with speed is what makes the Lawrence defensive line dangerous. In the first half against Lawrence, Brunswick quarterback Jason Carter dropped back to pass four times. Once, he threw an incomplete pass. The other three times, multiple Bulldogs were on Carter, and before he barely had finished dropping back, he was on his back.

“We make sure we respect every opponent, until game day. At 7 o’clock, we’re going hard. We’re going to put pressure on you. We’re going to do our job,” Wade said.

They also know they won’t always have glamor. While it’s impressive that Wade and Stewart each have eight sacks in a league in which only one team, Cony, threw the ball more than 100 times this season, the Lawrence defensive line knows its main job is to control the line of scrimmage and take on blockers.

“Somebody is sacrificing his body, taking on two or three guys, and getting somebody else free,” Stewart said. “Even a little shot, to keep them off our linebackers.”

“They really buy into that concept, take on blockers, not get driven back, and let our linebackers make their reads and get to the ball,” Hersom said.

Grunt work or big plays, the Lawrence defensive line has done it all. And if the Bulldogs want to reach their goal of their first conference title since 2007, they will need to do a little more.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]


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