It’s just the third week of the season, but it’s not too early to call Bucksport and Maine Central Institute the class of the Little Ten Conference. Bucksport is the defending conference champion, while MCI looks to be building off a strong 2013 season with two dominating wins to start 2014.

Tonight, Bucksport and MCI play in Pittsfield in a game that will put one team in the driver’s seat for the number one seed in the playoffs. Last year, these teams played one of the best games of the regular season, trading early touchdowns before Bucksport pulled out a 42-35 win.

Here is a look at the Bucksport-MCI matchup.

• Bucksport players to watch — QB/DB Matt Stewart, RB/LB Jack Cyr, G/LB KP Hilaire, RB/DE Asher Bowden.

• MCI players to watch — TE/DE Mitchell Hallee, RB/DB Jonathan Santiago, FB/LB Alex Bertrand, QB/DB Greg Vigue, WR/DB Austin Tolman.

• Bucksport coach Joel Sankey on MCI: “They’re well-coached, good athletes. They’re quick in all phases of the game. They’re very explosive. Usually, a game like this comes down to offensive and defensive lines. The team that makes fewer mistakes wins.

• MCI coach Tom Bertrand on Bucksport: “We know Bucksport’s coming to town ready to represent the championship caliber team that they are. We’ve been excited about this one for a long time, so hopefully it’s a good matchup. Their quarterback (Stewart) and their skill guys, are seniors and another year older. Like us, they lost some kids, but they’ve got the core, the nucleus, back. Watching them offensively, they’re pretty confident. Defensively, they continue to fly around. They’re playing with a lot of confidence and poise as well.”

• Three keys for Bucksport:

1. Start fast. Last season, the Golden Bucks returned the opening kickoff for a score, and had the Huskies playing catchup right from the start of the game.

2. Spread it around. In Stewart, Bucksport has one of the top quarterbacks in the league, and Cyr is a strong runner. Bertrand said the Huskies need to contain Cyr and make somebody else beat them. The Bucks have the talent to make that happen.

3. Try to slow down MCI running back Jonathan Santiago. Santiago already has more than 450 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. Bucksport did a decent job keeping him in check last season. The Bucks need to do that again, yet at the same time, be wary of MCI’s other talented skill player.

• Three keys for MCI:

1. Get everyone involved. Just like Bucksport, MCI has multiple athletes capable of making big plays. The more players getting the ball, the harder it is for the defense to key on oneguy, like Santiago, for example.

2. Don’t get beat deep. “We absolutely have to be able to limit their pass game,” Bertrand said. MCI’s defense hasn’t been tested yet, but Bucksport will try. Big gains in the air could open up opportunities on the ground.

3. Win the battle on the line. Bucksport’s aggressive defense has a talent for blwoing up plays before they have time to develop. MCI’s line needs to keep players like Hilaire at bay long enough to let the offense do its thing. “Defenisvely, they’re coming hard, and we’ve got to be able to nuetralize them at the line of scrimmage,” Bertrand said. “Let our kids make some plays.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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