Sometimes, when Maine Central Institute ran the fake punt in practice, Will Russell held the ball if he didn’t see a receiver open immediately. Coach Tom Bertrand implored Russell, the Huskies sophomore punter, to throw the ball, kick the ball, run the ball, do something other than stand there waiting for a receiver to get open.

Of course, when MCI finally ran the fake punt in a game, nobody was immediately open. And it ran exactly as drawn on the white board in the MCI coaches room.

“I saw TJ (Kuespert) down the middle. At first, I saw a few guys covering him, so I got worried it wouldn’t work, so I didn’t know what to do. When I let it go, I was kind of relieved he was as open as he was,” Russell said, looking back at what became the defining play in MCI’s 43-42 win over Winslow in Saturday’s Class C North semifinal.

The Huskies had a 15-point lead at the half, but two quick third quarter touchdowns pulled the Black Raiders within three points. Two of MCI’s first three drives of the third quarter ended with a turnover, and the other was a three and out punt. With the Huskies facing fourth down and 9 from the 50 and the Black Raiders owning momentum, Bertrand called for the fake punt. Russell completed a 21-yard pass to Kuespert to move the chains. Four plays later, Pedro Matos scored on an 18-yard touchdown run, and the Huskies’ lead was back to 10 points. Suddenly, momentum was giving the Black Raiders the cold shoulder.

As the playoffs advance and each game becomes bigger than the last, high school football coaches are more apt to reach deep into the playbook to take a chance on a trick play. With the season on the line, what do you have to lose?

That’s how Bertrand approached each of the two trick plays he called in the victory over Winslow. In the first quarter with his team trailing 8-0 and looking at third down and 24 from its own 40-yard line, Bertrand called a play requiring wide receiver David Young to take a pitch, stop, and throw the ball to Matos, who ran a deep route down the middle. Young’s throw was high, but Matos was able to out-jump the defender, catch the ball, and sprint to the end zone.

“It was kind of spur of the moment and feel,” Bertrand said.

Winslow called a trick play of its own, a flea flicker with approximately 30 seconds left in the first half. It didn’t work. Adam Bertrand intercepted the pass, and two plays later, MCI scored to make its lead 29-14. In its 7-6 win at Leavitt in the Class C South semifinals, Gardiner called a halfback pass in the fourth quarter, shortly after Leavitt had taken a 6-0 lead with 3:17 left in the game. It was second-and-8 from the Leavitt 45. Quarterback Sean Michaud tossed the ball to Collin Foye, mimicking a pitch play the Tigers use often. This time, Foye pulled up and heaved a pass down the right sideline. It fell incomplete, but the Hornets were flagged for pass interference. On the next play, Foye ran for the go-ahead score.

Every team has these plays in the playbook. Calling them in a game isn’t always a matter of gut feeling or planning. It often comes down to game situation. For example, with his team holding onto a lead late in Friday’s semifinal win over Brunswick, Lawrence coach John Hersom asked offensive coordinator Ken Lindlof to be conservative in his play calling. Running time off the clock was more important than catching the Dragons by surprise.

“If you have a lead, it does make sense to protect that lead and do what makes sense for the team,” Hersom said.

In a 2014 conference semifinal win at Cony, Lawrence scored a late touchdown to pull within a point of the Rams. In selecting a play for the go-ahead 2-point conversion, Hersom went with one that wasn’t exactly a trick, but it wasn’t something the Bulldogs ran much, either. Running back Cole Robinson lined up at quarterback in a wildcat formation. In previous plays run from that formation, Robinson took off running to his right. He did that again, but this time, Robinson pulled up, and completed the pass to tight end Seth Powers across the field.

Having a trick play at the ready only works if the players have the confidence to run it, and the coach has the confidence in them to let them try, Hersom said.

“If you’re going to call a play that you haven’t shown all season, you need to have faith in your team that they can execute,” Hersom said.

Madison coach Scott Franzose agreed.

“The only time I truly feel confident is when we’re making sure we’re getting time to rep that. I tell my guys a lot, ‘Hey, I’ve got to trust you,'” Franzose said. “We just try to make sure we rep it enough so when that situation comes, if it does, we can take advantage of it.”

Madison tried a fake punt in a regional quarterfinal win over Dirigo two weeks ago.

“It’s one we work on when we see certain alignments. We botched it. We missed a block. That doesn’t scare us away from looking at it again,” Franzose said.

In the case of MCI’s fake punt, the Huskies had practiced it over and over. So much, that Russell wasn’t nervous when it was finally called in a game.

“We practice it a lot, actually. When we go through punt drills, we usually run it three or four times. I got excited when we got to do it in a game,” Russell said, adding in practice, the play worked approximately 75 percent of the time.

In the Pine Tree Conference Class B championship game Friday night at Skowhegan, Hersom and the Bulldogs could see a trick play or two from the Indians. When the teams played in the regular season a few weeks ago, Skowhegan called a few trick plays. One, a wide receiver pass from Sean Savage to Jon Bell for a game-tying touchdown in the first quarter. In the third quarter, quarterback Marcus Christoper completed a 15-yard pass to Cam Barnes on a flea flicker.

“We put in a trick play a week,” Skowhegan coach Ryan Libby said.

Just because a trick play works once, it may not work again. Mt. Desert Island learned that past success does not guarantee future performance last season, when it called the same tick play in the Class C North final against Winslow, and again in the state final against Wells.

The Trojans used a halfback pass, with quarterback Andrew Phelps as the receiver. Against Winslow, the play went for 20 yards, and a few plays later, MDI scored a touchdown on the final play of the first half. A week later against Wells, the Warriors sniffed out the play, and Michael Wrigley returned an interception 39 yards to give Wells a 21-0 lead.

The opportunity to try a trick play has to present itself. Rarely will a team build a game plan with a trick play in mind. But at the right moment, the right play call can change a game.

“I don’t like to call them gimmicky, because you want to make sure they’re sound,” Franzose said. “Can they attack a weakness, something that you see? We look at those. It can become part of the game plan.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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