PORTLAND — Tyler Pelletier caught the ball, got a blocker, found a lane, and was gone.

Just like that, the Nokomis football team’s storybook season had gained its most improbable chapter.

Pelletier returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, the Warriors defense made its biggest stand of the season and No. 4 Nokomis stunned No. 2 Fryeburg, the fans at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium and any remaining doubters with a 13-12 victory in the Class C championship game.

There’s a Gold Ball going back to Newport, and coaches and players alike struggled to find the words for what they had accomplished.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet. It hasn’t hit me since the punt return,” coach Jake Rogers said. “Our kids, they weren’t willing to quit, they weren’t going to get down, they knew we were one score away. … It’s just amazing how they persevered.”

In more ways than one. The Raiders (10-2) put the clamps on the Warriors (8-4) after allowing an opening-drive touchdown, but for Nokomis, the adversity started well before. It dated back to 2015 and ’16, when the Warriors had back-to-back 0-8 seasons and wondered if they’d ever win games, let alone championships.

“I never saw winning a state championship coming,” quarterback Andrew Haining said. “I was like ‘Man, maybe it’ll never happen,’ even though I’ve always wanted it. It’s a dream, and it happened.”

For it to happen, Nokomis needed a play. With four-and-a-half minutes to go, the Warriors got it. Fryeburg was forced to punt from its own 35, and the ball drifted back to Pelletier, who had already tallied Nokomis’s lone score.

As he awaited the ball, Pelletier said he had a feeling he was on the brink of breaking something big for his team.

“Chance Graves, No. 17, he told me I was going to get it,” he said.

Pelletier ran to his right, beat a group of Raiders to the edge, outran the traffic and raced the rest of the way for the go-ahead score and a 13-12 lead with 4:19 to play.

“I just brought it to the right, I saw a big lane and I got ahold of Chance on his back. I’m like ‘Get him, get him, get him!’ ” Pelletier said. “And he got him, I got to the end zone, my eyes teared up.”

Rogers said the play was a throwback.

“It’s something we put in for postseason,” he said. “It goes back to my days at Lawrence, wall return, old school. … We knew it would be a good weapon to have, and it paid off today.”

The Nokomis defense, meanwhile, had been resilient, keeping the Raiders from building their lead and the Warriors in the game. Needed for one more stop, it delivered. Fryeburg crossed into Warrior territory and had a 1st-and-10 from the Nokomis 48, but the Warriors forced the Raiders into a 3rd-and-5, and then stopped Calvin Southwick (15 carries, 44 yards) for gain of a yard.

Fryeburg — led by 63 yards on 10 carries from Caleb Bowles — saw its hopes for a dramatic rally dashed when Southwick was flagged for a personal foul after the tackle, turning the 4th-and-4 into a daunting 4th-and-19. Alex Costedio sacked Oscar Saunders (16 carries, 36 yards) on the next play, allowing Nokomis to run out the clock and a championship celebration — Nokomis’s first as a program — to begin.

“It’s the best feeling I think I’ve ever had,” Haining said.

Nokomis, which beat No. 1 MCI and No. 2 Hermon in the North bracket en route to the state final, started fast, going 65 yards in seven plays. Haining (11-of-23, 97 yards) completed three passes for 63 yards on the drive, the last being a screen to Pelletier (four catches, 49 yards) that went for a 13-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 10:32 to go in the first.

“We tried to take our deep shots in the game, make them back up a little bit, that way we could have more success running the ball,” Haining said. “We threw a quick screen out to Tyler. … He kind of did the rest.”

The offense from there, however, dried up. Meanwhile, Fryeburg went ahead, first answering Nokomis’s score with a 54-yard drive capped by a 12-yard run by Southwick, and then going ahead 12-7 on Saunders’s 4-yard run with 4:47 to go in the first half.

Nokomis’s offensive struggles continued in the second half. The Warriors got a fumble recovery by David Wilson early in the third quarter and an interception by Costedio on the first play of the fourth but couldn’t muster any points out of them, turning the ball over on downs in Fryeburg territory both times.

“Their defense is phenomenal. We struggled to gain a yard at times,” Rogers said. “That’s what I enjoy about playing these guys so much. We were identical. Two teams that lean heavy on defense.”

Still, even as time was running out, the Warriors knew the game was one play from turning.

In a matter of moments, Pelletier proved it.

“We drew up a couple of deep balls, we should have had (them),” Rogers said. “Just a few breaks that didn’t go our way. And one finally went.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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