PORTLAND — The Maine Central Institute football team was determined to break the hex. And the Huskies found a wild way to do it.

MCI secured its first title in 42 years Saturday and shocked all onlookers at Fitzpatrick Stadium in the process, sealing a 20-14 Class D championship victory over Lisbon in the final ticks of the clock when Eli Bussell picked up a botched snap on a field goal attempt and sprinted 20 yards for the stunning final score.

None of the Huskies could believe it happened. Not even the one at the center of it all.

“It’s amazing. It feels impossible to put into words. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Bussell said. “Indescribable. It was an amazing feeling.”

The play was the ending to an equally frenzied drive that began at the MCI 23 with only 40 seconds to play. Quarterback Josh Buker, fresh from leading the Huskies back from a 14-0 halftime deficit, saved his best heroics for late, keeping first for 17 yards and later running for 21 yards on third-and-10 to take the ball to the Lisbon 39.

Only 18 seconds remained, but Buker followed with a pass to Adam Bertrand, who tip-toed along the right sideline for a 19-yard gain. That allowed the team to trot out Devon Varney with three seconds left for the field goal, and a walk-off championship win after back-to-back losses to Oak Hill in the state final.

He never got a chance, as Bussell mishandled the snap. However, with the ball at his feet, Lisbon players flying around everywhere and the seconds ticking off the clock, the senior captain somehow kept his poise.

“Immediately, I think ‘what can I do?'” he said. “Right as I got around the corner, I realized it was a better chance to get on the board and win the game.”

He was right. Bussell found a clear path to the end zone – with Bertrand throwing a block to take out any lingering obstacles — and seconds later, a celebration no one saw coming, be it at halftime or just seconds earlier, was on.

“That’s Eli,” coach Tom Bertrand said. “He doesn’t panic. … He knows we have complete confidence in him.”

The final play was set up by a rally that proved the grit and fortitude of the MCI team. Lisbon, sparked by quarterback Tyler Halls’ dazzling running, dominated the early going, but the Huskies, led by their own elusive quarterback, rallied in the second half.

“You’re not feeling better than that, right there,” Buker said about the finish. “It’s confidence, but it’s heart. It’s a lot more heart than it is confidence. We’re shaky sometimes with that confidence, but we never go down.”

Buker didn’t let them. Held in check for a half by a Lisbon defense that refused to let him run free, the senior broke through when his team needed him most, putting MCI on the board with a 58-yard touchdown pass to Bertrand (five catches, 105 yards) with 3:16 left in the third quarter.

Buker fumbled on the next series, but he atoned the next time he got the ball. Using both his running (66 of his 97 rushing yards in the second half) and throwing abilities (16-of-28, 194 yards for the game), Buker brought the Huskies 98 yards, capping it off with a 21-yard scoring play in which he ran 19 yards and then pitched the ball back to Bussell for the final two to tie the score at 14 with 3:47 to play.

“I was seeing the defensive ends, they came up hard, so it’s a cutback. That’s all it is,” he said. “You find some blockers downfield and you follow them until you can’t go any further.”

There was still work to do to complete the comeback, but coach Bertrand had seen the signs to convince him his team could pull it off.

“There’s nothing more than sheer will and belief and trust and love for each other that made that happen,” he said. “That’s all on them.”

Lisbon took control in the first half when the Greyhounds, following an interception in the MCI red zone that canceled a promising drive, looked for Halls to make plays with his feet. Lisbon covered 38 yards in three plays on its next possession as the senior picked up 8 (with a late hit penalty), 11 and finally 4 yards to make it 6-0 with 6:37 to go in the half.

After MCI gambled and lost by going for it on fourth down from its own 38, Lisbon made the Huskies pay, with Halls again leading the charge. The quarterback took the ball himself on five of the drive’s six plays, converting a third-and-2 from the 18 with an 8-yard run and a first-and-goal from the 10 when he burst through a hole in the middle to make it 14-0 with 2:32 to go in the half.

“Our bread and butter was really outside. The QB sweep was really working for me, tosses, those were just a good place for us to go,” Halls said. “We felt really good, but we knew MCI’s a good team and that they could come back, just like they did.”

Halls ran 19 times for 101 yards, but only four times for a loss of one after the first drive of the second half. MCI began to contain the multi-talented quarterback, and Lisbon switched in the second half to putting Halls at receiver and Lucas Francis (15 carries, 34 yards) at quarterback.

It didn’t work. The Greyhounds couldn’t get their rhythm back, and though they needed every second the Huskies eventually made them pay.

“I thought in the second half we had some good things happen for us. A couple of times we took ourselves out of pretty good situations with penalties,” Lisbon coach Dick Mynahan said. “They had a great second half, and they have some real talented athletes. (Buker) knew what to do with it. Give him a lot of credit for that.”

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