WATERVILLE — How many times could the Foxcroft Academy defense turn away a strong Waterville offense?

With five minutes left in Saturday afternoon’s Eastern Class C semifinal game, the Purple Panthers had driven into the Ponies’ territory five times, but had no points to show for it.

In the final minute of the fourth quarter, Foxcroft’s bend-but-don’t break defense finally shattered.

Cam Thomas scored on a 4-yard run with 8.4 seconds left to give Waterville a 13-7 win in a game dominated by defense.

No. 2 Waterville (8-1) will face rival and top-seeded Winslow (9-0) on Saturday for the regional title. No. 3 Foxcroft ends the season at 7-3.

“I guess at the end we leaned too heavily on our defense. The effort was just awesome. Our defense effort was just fantastic. They did more than we could ever ask them to do,” Foxcroft coach Danny White said.

The Purple Panthers’ game-winning drive started with 4 minutes, 51 seconds left, when Waterville recovered a Foxcroft fumble on its own 41-yard line. As it had all game, Waterville moved the ball on the ground. Only this time the drive didn’t stall with a missed opportunity on fourth down. With 29.8 seconds left, Waterville had first and goal at the Ponies 7. Thomas ran up the middle for 3 yards on first down, and Waterville called timeout with 12.5 seconds left, setting up the winning play.

“We’d been grinding all game. A few of the pass plays did work, but we didn’t really want to stop the clock. We had faith in the guys we’ve been relying on all year long, the line and the running backs,” Waterville coach Matt Gilley said. “Once again, they came up huge. We put in a little bit of that power I with the extra guy in the backfield and it paid some dividends today.”

Added Thomas, who ran for a game-high 173 yards: “We just kept driving. The line kept on their blocks and the backs kept chugging along. That’s what we’ve been taught all year to do, and that’s what we were doing.”

Foxcroft got the ball back at its 34-yard line with 5.5 seconds left and had time for one play. The pass was incomplete and Waterville began celebrating a strong defensive effort of its own. The Panthers held the Ponies to just 93 yards of offense. Running back Peter Boyer gained just 17 yards on seven carries while quarterback Hunter Smith ran 18 times for 40 yards. The Waterville defensive line, led by Ben Cox, Corey Huerfano and Trever Gray, among others, controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the game.

“Our second team guys did a great job, the last two weeks, repping their offense. I think that had a lot to do with our defense recognizing what they were looking for. The defense set the tone today,” Gilley said.

“We had a good week of practice. We knew their plays. We knew what they were running, and we were prepared for it,” Thomas, a linebacker said.

Foxcroft scored first, when Smith returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown midway through the second quarter. Boyer caught the punt, and gave the ball to Smith on a reverse, who raced down the left sideline for the score and a 7-0 lead.

With just over two minutes left in the first half, Thomas broke a 61-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7.

Before the final drive, Waterville got inside the Ponies’ 20-yard line twice in the second half, coming away empty each time when it was unable to convert a fourth-down play.

“It was a little frustrating, but we’ve had adversity all year long,” Thomas said. “That was some adversity right there, and we just overcame it.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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