OAKLAND — When people talk about a classic smash-mouth football game on a Friday night in central Maine, this is the kind of game they’re talking about.

Long gains on offense were almost nowhere to be found. There were about 30 plays that could have made the difference in the game. And the hitting? Just ask Messalonskee’s Jake Dexter, who took a few hard shots.

And as often happens in close games, the result came down to turnovers. Dexter ran for two touchdowns, and Messalonskee forced three Skowhegan turnovers in the fourth quarter to hold on for a 13-7 victory at Veterans Field.

“Skowhegan’s a really tough team,” Dexter said. “They’ve got a lot of grinders. I knew we were in for a battle the first play.”

The last turnover came after Skowhegan stopped Messalonskee on downs at the Skowhegan 18-yard line, and the Indians took over with 1:23 left and no timeouts. Skowhegan quarterback Nate Morris dropped back to pass and was under pressure, so he stepped forward in his collapsing pocket. Messalonskee senior Jake Doyon hit Morris from behind and forced a fumble that the Eagles recovered to ice the game.

“I was just trying to do anything I could to stop ’em,” Doyon said. “I saw it was a pass, did everything I could to get to the quarterback. He rolled off to our right, and I got off my guy, flowed down the line, had an open shot on him, so I took it.”

Skowhegan (1-1) was held to 190 total yards on offense, while Messalonskee settled for 187. Jack Bernatchez led the Eagles with 101 very hard-fought yards on 23 carries, while Morris rushed 12 times for 59 yards.

Even with those relatively low offensive numbers, both teams had chances to score. Messalonskee recovered a fumbled punt return at the Skowhegan 13 in the first quarter, but Gus Benson ended the drive with an interception. On the Indians’ ensuing drive, Kaleb Brown ran one in from 19 yards out, but the touchdown was nullified by a penalty and Bernatchez batted down a fourth-down pass.

The Indians got on the board when a 39-yard pass from Morris to Logan Stevens set up Morris’ own 7-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead. Messalonskee slugged its way downfield, and Dexter ran in a bootleg on fourth and 1 from the 8 to make it 7-7 at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Indians were backed up at their own 7 when Morris hit Sam Baker for 34 yards, and only Dexter’s speed saved a touchdown. Early in the fourth quarter, Skowhegan had first and goal at the Messalonskee 4, but Bryce Eldridge dropped Morris for a loss of five, and the Indians missed a 26-yard field goal on fourth down.

Midway through the fourth quarter, with the game still tied at 7, Dexter rolled right and found Josh Boucher, who made a nice catch for a 35-yard gain. It was the only pass Dexter completed on the night, and he paid for it. He took a straight-on hit after the throw and was down for about 15 seconds.

“I took a little lick,” Dexter said, smiling. “I’m just trying to stay in there for the boys. I took a nice lick, but anything for these guys.”

That drive ended with Dexter going 14 yards on a quarterback sneak for the go-ahead score with 5:55 left. Skowhegan had three more possessions, but those ended on interceptions by Jake Dexter and Colby Dexter, and Doyon’s forced fumble.

“Tomorrow, we’ll look at the good things,” Skowhegan coach Matt Friedman said after the game. “Tonight, it’s tough to look past five turnovers, and just a lot of mental mistakes on offense. I thought our defense played very well. But we can’t give the ball up that many times, and stall on drives, and expect to win games.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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