Coming off back-to-back state championships, the Maine Central Institute football team knows every game is going to be a grind. Every opponent wants to reach the Huskies’ level of success, and every opponent knows it must beat the Huskies to get there.

When that opponent is also a leading contender for the state championship, that intensity only amplifies. That’s the case opening night, when MCI travels to Libby Field in Turner to take on Leavitt in a Class C crossover game between two teams with title aspirations.

Week 1 is full of matchups between contending teams. Along with MCI at Leavitt, Class C North features Saturday’s game between Winslow and Nokomis, two of the top three seeds in the region’s playoffs last season. Defending Pine Tree Conference Class B champ Skowhegan plays at Kennebunk, which will challenge Marshwood for supremacy in Class B South. In Madison, the Bulldogs host defending Class D champion Wells in a rematch of last season’s conference title game.

Here is a closer look at the matchup between MCI and Leavitt:

Where: Libby Field, Turner

When: 7 tonight

MCI coach Tom Bertrand on Leavitt: “They’re pretty athletic and good at all aspects of the game. They’re high-powered offensively. They have a great athlete at quarterback. What they do defensively can cause you problems.”

Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway on MCI: “They’re really big. Up front, I think most of their guys are bigger than our biggest lineman. They have a lot of size across the front five.”

Three keys for MCI:

• Rearviewmirror. The Huskies have won two consecutive state titles in separate classes. That alone should help the team avoid the complacency that sometimes comes after a successful season. MCI’s motto this season is “back to back to back to work.” That work ethic will be key against a strong Leavitt team.

• Inside job. MCI’s up tempo, no huddle offense can be difficult to stop. If the Huskies are able to exploit their size advantage on the line and get backs running downhill between the tackles, they can put together long drives and keep the Hornets strong spread offense off the field.

• Do the evolution. MCI lost a number of standout players to graduation, but a hallmark of the team’s success over the last four seasons, in which it won four straight regional title, is the next man up mentality. Younger players have waited for their chance to play. Now it’s here.

“Guys have stepped up and filled voids. We’ve got guys who are ready to step in and make plays,” Bertrand said.

Three keys for Leavitt:

• State of love and trust. Wyatt Hathaway, Coach Hathaway’s son, is the first sophomore starting quarterback the Hornets have used in Hathaway’s time as head coach. Wyatt is talented and knowledgeable of Leavitt’s offense, but against a team of MCI’s caliber, he’ll need to rely on his veteran teammates for support. Tight ends Camden Jordan and Cole Morin, tailback Allen Peabody, and linemen Cole Melanson and Riley Parmenter will need to play well to take pressure off their young quarterback.

• Off he goes. Seth Bussell moved from the offensive line to fullback in the middle of last season, and became a force running between the tackles. The 5-foot-7, 225-pound Bussell has a low center of gravity and is tough to bring down. Containing him will be a focus for the Hornets.

“We’re going to have to play fast and aggressive,” Coach Hathaway said. “We have to be really tough up front. We’ve going to have to know what we’re doing.”

• Nothing as it seems. A staple of MCI’s run through the playoffs last season was perfect execution of trick plays. There’s no doubt Bertrand and his coaching staff will have something cooked up to catch Leavitt off guard. The Hornets can’t over-think it, but they need to be aware that the Huskies could try anything at any time.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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