PITTSFIELD — Eric Hathaway felt something, but he didn’t hear a pop.

The tell-tale pop coming from the knee is a good sign of a torn ligament. Still, Hathaway, knew it wasn’t good. Maine Central Institute’s nose guard, Hathaway was moving to his right in pursuit of a John Bapst runner, when a teammate accidentally rolled up on his left knee.

“I didn’t hear a pop, but I definitely felt something,” Hathaway said.

For a few days, Hathaway feared the worst, that a ligament was torn and his senior season was over. After an MRI showed no tear, Hathaway let the knee rest before starting a rehab assignment.

Hathaway returned for the Little Ten Conference playoffs, and will be a key player for the Huskies when they face defending state champ Oak Hill in the Class D state championship game on Saturday afternoon at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium.

The 5-foot-11, 225 pound Hathaway is a force on both sides of the ball for the Huskies. As a running back, he’s a verrsatile north-south runner who is tough to bring down. As the nose guard in the middle of MCI’s defensive line, he’s an agent of chaos.

“I’m worried about just blowing the center off the ball and then drawing a double team so that my backers, and everybody else, is free to make the plays,” Hathaway said.

“When (Hathaway’s) down there in the middle, it frees up our linebackers. It frees up other defensive lineman to make plays, but he’s very capable of making plays even when he’s getting doubled,” MCI coach Tom Bertrand said.

Hathaway’s injury occurred in the Huskies’ fourth game, at John Bapst on Sept. 26. In basically half a regular season, Hathaway had 28 tackles, with one sack and one fumble recovery. As a piece of MCI’s deep offensive backfield, Hathaway had 29 carries for 205 yards and three touchdowns before his knee injury.

When the MRI showed no structural damage to Hathaway’s knee, first he rested before beginning a vigorous rehab assignment. Plyometrics, squats and lunges gave way to sprints, and when the regular season was over, Hathway was ready to return.

“Seeing how the other guys stepped up and filled the role I had left, I was just anxious to get back and help out the team. We had been working so hard, I felt like I owed that to my team,” Hathaway said.

In MCI’s 20-0 semifinal win over Mattanawcook Academy of Lincolln, Hathaway ran for 111 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, and helped a defense that held the Lynx to a scant 26 yards of offense.

Last Saturday, in the LTC championship game, Hathaway had his first touchdown catch of the season, a 30-yard pass from quarterback Greg Vigue early in the fourth quarter that gave the Huskies a two touchdown lead. While running his route, Hathaway feared Vigue would be sacked, but the quarterback scrambled free and found him in the end zone.

“It was definitely up there for a while, but their player was out of position,” Hathaway said. “Greg practices that type of stuff all the time. He threw it up there and it was a perfect ball, and I caught it.”

Hathaway left in the second quarter with an injury. He returned in the second half, when the Huskies dominated Bucksport on the way to a 21-7 win.

“When he’s not in the game, it’s different. There’s a lot of kids we could say that about, but certainly when Eric went down in the first half last week, (Bucksport) started going at the middle of our defense. Our kids responded, but when he was able to come back in the second half, it changed things,” Bertrand said.

Added Hathaway: “If every man does his job, defense works perfectly. You make a play, and you get to have a chip on your shoulder, a little attitude. It’s the fun side of the ball for me.”

Bertrand approached Hathaway over the summer, and told the senior-to-be the Huskies would build the defense from the inside-out. The plan to move him to nose guard. A former linebacker and defensive end, Hathaway embraced the change.

“I definitely liked the idea, and liked the idea of a new challenge. I gladly did it,” Hathaway said.

Hathaway’s combination of size and speed made him perfect for the middle of the defensive line, Bertrand said.

“When he was a sophomore, he was the look team nose guard, and our linemen couldn’t block him. We knew that was a good spot for him, but with his athleticism, we tried to use him in some different places,” Bertrand said. “His speed off the football, his power, his strength. Some kids would see it as a demotion. He took it as a challenge and was excited about it and has made the most of it.”

Last spring, Hathaway won state championships in the javelin and discus at the Class C outdoor track and field meet. The two colleges he’s looking at to study law enforcement, Husson University and Thomas College, have club track and field teams, and that interests Hathaway.

“I don’t want to sit in my dorm all day,” Hathaway said.

With his knee healthy and a state title in his sights, Hathaway isn’t sitting anywhere. When he hears a pop, it’s his pads driving a center off the line of scrimmage.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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