WATERVILLE — The Winslow High School football team’s defense has allowed just 57 points in 10 games this season. When it comes to stopping opponents, the Black Raiders have not lacked for big plays. There’s one play that stands out, however, in coach Mike Siviski’s mind as the biggest play his defense made all season.

It came early in the third quarter of the Class C North championship game last Friday night in Old Town, a minute or two after the Black Raiders lost a fumble on the first play of the second half. On third down and 1 from the Winslow 20, Old Town running back TJ Crawford took a handoff from quarterback Jake Jarvis, tried to cut to the left, and was met at the line of scrimmage by Winslow linebacker Kenny Rickard.

Rickard’s tackle was perfect, helmet on the ball, causing a fumble. Linebacker Patrick Hopkins recovered the fumble, and the Black Raiders held off a Coyote team trying to increase its lead to two touchdowns.

The play was a momentum-changing, season-saver. Winslow went down the field and scored, forced Old Town to go three and out on the next possession, and scored again to take the lead for good.

“You want to talk about a big play?” Siviski said after Wednesday’s practice at Colby College’s Alfond Stadium. “That could have been devastating if they went down and scored.”

Winslow’s defense has been excellent at all three levels this season, but the linebacking trio of juniors Rickard and Hopkins and senior Alec Clark are the backbone of what has been the best defense in Class C.

Winslow (10-0) will try to repeat as Class C state champion when it plays Yarmouth (11-0) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

The trio are among the Black Raiders’ top tacklers. Siviski cites the group’s experience working together and solid fundamentals as strengths. Clark plays middle linebacker, with Rickard and Hopkins on the outside. None are particularly big. Clark, who also starts at guard on Winslow’s offensive line, is 5-foot-10, 200 pounds. Rickard (5-9, 205) also starts at fullback, while Hopkins (5-0, 170) sees time in Winslow’s offensive backfield, and scored on a 41-yard run in the fourth quarter at Old Town on Friday.

“They’re all real tough kids, and they’re all pretty smart kids. They run to the football,” Siviski said. “They’re a great group to work with. We’re not oversized, but we have a lot of kids who are rugged and are quick and play hard.”

“We lift a lot together, so we’re together all the time. I think a big part of it is communication. We always talk to each other, and bounce ideas off each other,” Rickard said.

The group has played a lot of football together, and has served as Winslow’s linebacking unit since Hopkins joined the starting lineup midway through the 2014 season.

“We work together great. We go out there and make sure we execute,” Clark said.

Clark is the rare high school football player, in that he’s about to make his fourth start in the state championship game. The Black Raiders were Class C runner-up in 2012 (to Foxcroft Academy) and 2013 (to Leavitt) before beating Leavitt for the title last season.

“Alec is starting in his fourth state game. I don’t know if anybody has done that. Maybe somebody has somewhere,” Siviski said.

Over the years, Clark said his biggest improvement has come with the mental side of the game, as he recognizes more of what he sees on the field.

“It feels good to be back (in the state championship),” Clark said.

In Yarmouth, Winslow faces a team it hasn’t played since the 2012 season. That year, the Black Raiders played in Western Maine Class C, and faced the Clippers in the regular season and again in the regional quarterfinals, winning both games.

“They’re quick. They have a bunch of athletes,” Hopkins said of Yarmouth.

Added Clark: “They didn’t go undefeated for no reason. We expect a good game, just like any game.”

Whatever happens, expect Winslow’s linebackers to be in the middle of it.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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