In a 41-8 Little Ten Conference semifinal victory Friday over Bucksport, Maine Central Institute senior Josh Buker returned his eighth punt for a touchdown this season.

The question has to be asked, why are opponents still punting the ball to Buker at all?

“I wouldn’t be kicking the ball to Josh. If I saw a player on the team had close to 10 punt returns for a touchdown, I wouldn’t kick to him. I can tell you we’re going to kick away from a kid who’s got one or two,” MCI coach Tom Bertrand said before practice Monday. “I’m not questioning coaching or game strategy at all, because I make plenty of mistakes. When he gets the ball in his hands, we know that something electric might happen.”

Sometimes in high school football — particularly in Class D where the smallest schools often have rosters of less than two dozen players — having an experienced, strong punter can be a luxury. Asking someone who is just learning how to punt to angle the ball away from a talented returner can be a challenge.

“At the end of the game, I was telling our punter to kick it out of bounds and he kicked it to the middle of the field. I think sometimes the goal is to not kick it in the middle of the field, and it happens,” Bertrand said.

This Friday, MCI hosts Dexter in the conference championship game. The Huskies will be looking for a faster start than they had against Bucksport, when they led 6-0 after one quarter, when quarterback Buker broke off a 42-yard touchdown run.

“It was a matter of time, and us coming out and making mistakes, which is what we said we couldn’t do. Committing penalties offensively and a bad snap on a punt giving them good field position. Bending, but not breaking, and just finding out what they were going to do to us defensively and find out who we needed to get the ball to,” Bertrand said. “It was Buker’s turn that night. He’s had a couple big games. We feel like we’re versatile enough so that whatever the defense gives us, we’re going to take.”

• • •

Ahead 17-7 at halftime on Big Ten Conference semifinal Friday at Madison, Winslow began the third quarter by mixing things up a little on offense. Wide receiver Dylan Hutchinson went under center for the Black Raiders, while quarterback Ryan Gagnon lined up split wide.

The move gave Winslow’s offense an added dimension.

“He’s fast and he’s an option threat,” coach Mike Siviski said of Hutchinson.

Hutchinson kept the ball for a 5-yard gain on his first play at quarterback. While that drive — the first of the second half — ended with a Winslow turnover at the Madison 29-yard line, the Bulldogs went three and out. When the Black Raiders got the ball back at their own 42, Hutchinson was back at quarterback, and the move quickly paid off. On the first play of the drive, Hutchinson kept the ball and broke down the left sideline for a 58-yard touchdown run and a 24-7 lead. Winslow went on to win 41-21. Gagnon was back at quarterback the remainder of the game, and completed an 11-yard pass to Hutchinson on third down and 9 late in the fourth quarter. Two plays later, fullback Kenny Rickard scored on a 3-yard run to push Winslow’s lead to 39-21.

• • •

While disappointed with the way the season ended, Madison coach Scott Franzose was happy with the continued growth the Bulldogs showed this season. For the third consecutive season, Madison made the playoffs after a long postseason drought. The game also marked the second season in a row the Bulldogs hosted a playoff game. Furthermore by finishing the season 7-2, Madison had back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in a generation.

“It always ends, and the old saying is everything ends badly. If it didn’t, it would never end. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, it’s not always going to be that way, but that doesn’t sum up what they’ve done. Especially this senior group that’s been here for four years. They’re workers,” Franzose said.

The Bulldogs were a bright spot in a town in need of a touchstone. Madison Paper Industries closed in May and the town is struggling.

“They revitalized the community to believe in them and that means something,” Franzose said of his team. “This season ends but that doesn’t end, and I’m proud of them for that.”

• • •

Around the state: Last year, all four state champions from 2014 repeated as state champs. Now, only Winslow in Class C has a chance to win it again. Thornton Academy (Class A), Marshwood (Class B) and Oak Hill (Class D) were all eliminated in the regional semifinal round this past weekend… Dexter will play for the Little Ten Conference for the first time in 25 years when it faces MCI on Friday night. The Tigers won the LTC regular season title in 1991, losing to Stearns of Millinocket in the playoffs… Scarborough will play Bonny Eagle in the Class A South championship. It’s Scarborough’s first regional final since 2002, when the Red Storm won the Class B state title.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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