Only the greenest members of the Maine Central Institute football team haven’t experienced championship week. For most of the Huskies, the newness of this week has worn down. On Saturday, MCI will play in the Class D state championship game for a third consecutive season, and the Huskies hope the only new thing is the outcome. This season, the Huskies want to end holding high the Gold Ball, not the runner-up plaque.

“It’s definitely a different atmosphere. The first year, we were excited. We were just excited to get a chance at it. We competed to win both years, but this year’s been business as usual. There’s not a lot of fanfare. I think we’re getting down to work. We need to finish this job and accomplish this goal. It’s time to prep and make sure we’re as ready as we can be,” MCI head coach Tom Bertrand said.

Oak Hill beat MCI in the state game each of the last two seasons. This time, the Huskies’ opponent is Lisbon, a team trying to win for its longtime coach Dick Mynahan, who is retiring after 30 years as the Greyhounds head coach with more than 200 wins and three state titles. The last came in the Class C game in 2006.

Kickoff for the Class D state championship game is set for just after 6 p.m. Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

“We know they’re going to be a pretty good team. It’s not going to be easy. We’re going to go in there, (we’ve) got to play our best football, we know it’s going to be a dogfight. The team that makes the least amount of mistakes is probably going to win,” Lisbon running back Lucas Francis said.

When asked about Lisbon, MCI players are quick to point out the Greyhounds’ size.

“They’re definitely a lot bigger than some of the teams we’ve played,” MCI guard/defensive tackle PJ Plummer said. Plummer will be in the trenches, lined up across from Lisbon’s hulks, which include Tanton Mattson and Nathan Havlicek.

Bertrand can’t remember the last time the Huskies played a team with Lisbon’s size, particularly at running back, where Noah Francis is a 280-pound wrecking ball for the Greyhounds.

“The story of our season, and the story of our program. They’ve got bigger kids. I don’t know how big they are, they’re giant. Across the front, their fullback. They’ve got athleticism and speed in the backfield,” Bertrand said. “Defensively, they’re fly around. It’s just so hard when you don’t see a team all season long. You scout them a little bit, but you don’t know them. They look good.

“Alex was a big fullback, but nothing as far as height and sheer mass,” Bertrand said, referring to his son and former MCI fullback Alex Bertrand, who is now an assistant coach with the Huskies. “(Francis is) a big kid. We saw him last year, and he’s gotten better and better. He’s athletic. He’s got quick feet.”

Along with Noah Francis, Lucas Francis, and Jared Glover in the backfield, Lisbon has a strong quarterback in Tyler Halls. A senior, Halls may have thrown the pass of the year in Maine high school football, when he connected with Kurtis Bolton in the closing seconds of the Campbell Conference championship game Saturday at Winthrop. The pass set up Noah Francis’ game-winning touchdown and capped a 20-17 win in a game that appeared lost when the Ramblers took the lead with 16 seconds left. Halls thinks the improbable comeback win at Winthrop toughened his team.

“We beat a great team, Winthrop, and MCI, they’re a great team, but the conference that they’re playing in, the teams are really weak,” Halls said. “I’d rather beat a good team than just have an easy game because maybe that won’t prepare you the right way before a big game like the state championship game.”

That’s been the knock on the Little Ten Conference for a few years. The LTC hasn’t won a state title since Foxcroft Academy won Class C in 2012, and MCI rolled through the league this season. The Huskies’ closest regular season game was a 10-point win over Orono, and they won both conference playoff games by 33 points. That could coincide with Oak Hill’s dominant run of three state championships, or it could be indicative of a larger imbalance between the Class D leagues. Either way, Bertrand likes the way his team is playing and thinks the Huskies are peaking at the right time.

“I think we’re balanced. I think our defense is playing really well. We can count on them. We shored up our past defense later in the season. We knew we needed to do that. Our run defense has been pretty good. They’re (Lisbon) going to challenge us on that, for sure. Our offense is starting to click a little bit. We’re limiting mistakes,” Bertrand said.

MCI allows an average of just over nine points per game, and is scoring 43 points per game. The running game has four capable ball carriers in Eli Bussell, Willie Moss, Adam Bertrand, and Pedro Matos. Quarterback Josh Buker is the top run-pass threat in Class D, with more than 1,100 combined yards. David Young and Clark Morrison lead MCI’s receivers.

“We’ve watched their offense and their defense. They’re a solid team,” Mynahan said. “Their quarterback is an unbelievable runner, I think their whole backfield is talented. They’ve got good receivers. They’re just a talented bunch of players.”

Staff writer Drew Bonifant contributed to this report.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczyMTM

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