PORTLAND — A botched hold, a sprint, and two years of frustration are gone. They’re all gone.

The Maine Central Institute football team won its first state title in 42 years, on a play fans in Pittsfield will talk about for 42 more.

With 3.1 seconds left, the Huskies lined up for a 37-yard field goal try. On a misty night, holder Eli Bussell bobbled the perfect snap and let his football instincts take over. Bussell raced down the right sideline, the biggest run of his high school football career on the last play of his high school football career, and when he crossed the goal line, it capped the second half comeback and gave MCI a 20-14 win.

“Perfect snap. Horrible hold,” Bussell said. “I yelled fire, got around the corner, and Adam (Bertrand) gave me a great block to get me in the end zone.”

“You yelled like there was a fire behind you, man,” MCI quarterback Josh Buker said. He was clutching the Gold Ball.

Last week, it was Lisbon winning in improbable fashion, completing a Hail Mary pass to set up a one-yard, final-second touchdown run in the Campbell Conference championship game. This week, the Greyhounds were stunned to see their championship dreams dissolve in a busted play.

It was a busted play. MCI head coach Tom Bertrand said his team never considered a fake field goal.

“We haven’t kicked a field goal all year,” Bertrand said. “We’ve got guys who can kick 40-yarders. We were going to kick it, no doubt about it, and it just didn’t happen with the snap, and our playmaker made a play.

“That was unreal. That was an unreal finish.”

For most of the game, it looked as if the Huskies were going to see a finish that for them has become too real. This was MCI’s third straight state championship game. Each of the last two ended with a double-digit loss to a very talented Oak Hill team that was in the middle of a run of three straight state championships. Until Oak Hill did it, no high school football team in Maine had won three straight titles in a generation.

So when Lisbon took a 14-0 lead into the half, MCI was starting to look like Maine high school football’s Buffalo Bills, the team that gets close over and over, only to finish runner-up. At halftime, it looked like MCI would have to make room in its trophy case for another second-place plaque, not a Gold Ball.

Not much the Huskies did in the first half provided clues that they could complete the comeback. The Huskies had the ball in Lisbon territory twice in the first half, only to be pushed back. On the game’s opening drive, MCI had first and goal at the Lisbon 7. There was a four yard loss on first down. A false start on second down pushed them back five more yards. A sack on third down lost 12 more yards, and first and goal at the 7 became fourth and goal at the 27. Nobody has a play for fourth and goal from the 27.

On the final drive of the first half, MCI advanced to the Lisbon 39. Again, a four yard loss on fourth down, followed by back-to-back penalties. Third down and 27, against a strong defense, is almost insurmountable, although the Huskies gave it a great try, executing the hitch and pitch for 10 yards.

That’s how you become a football Sisyphus, who in Greek mythology was doomed to an eternity of pushing a boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back to the bottom every time.

You commit a penalty. The boulder slips from your sweaty grip and slides down the hill.

“I thought we were in trouble if we kept doing what we were doing, but we didn’t. We made a change. We responded,” Bertrand said. “We just told them we need to get on our toes. Get the ball in our playmakers’ hands and see what happens. Our guys did a heck of a job up front, and our playmakers made some plays.”

Four seasons ago, MCI was winless, the doormat of the Little Ten Conference. The Huskies kept working. Back-to-back undefeated regular seasons in 2014 and 2015 ended with disappointment in the state game, but they kept working. “Champions find a way” was MCI’s motto this season.

Champions turn a 14-point deficit into a rally. Champions turn a broken play into the most memorable play of the season. Champions get that boulder to the top of the hill, lean against it, and celebrate.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.