They trailed 12-7 for much of the game and showed no signs of offense after their opening drive. Even when their defense caused turnovers, the Nokomis Warriors stalled out.

“We needed a big play,” Nokomis Coach Jake Rogers said.

Tyler Pelletier made that play. With 4:19 remaining, Pelletier fielded a punt, saw an opening to the right sideline and raced 68 yards into the end zone. His punt return gave Nokomis a 13-12 victory over Fryeburg Academy in the Class C football state championship game Saturday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Fryeburg drove to the Nokomis 47 in the final minutes, but after a 4-yard gain on third down, Fryeburg was called for a personal foul. On fourth-and-19, quarterback Oscar Saunders was sacked.

Nokomis (8-4) ran out the clock and celebrated its first state championship. Fryeburg, seeking its first title since 1965, finished at 10-2.

“They made a play when they had to, but we couldn’t stack together enough plays,” Fryeburg Coach David Turner said.

Fryeburg held the Warriors to 156 yards – 65 coming on the first drive.

The Raiders had 233 yards and scored two first-half touchdowns, but committed two turnovers in the second half.

“The defense played great, especially after the first drive,” Turner said. “We moved the ball enough, but we had some turnovers that stopped drives.”

Nokomis knew it could not run against the Raiders and immediately went to the air. On its first possession, Nokomis drove 65 yards in seven plays. Two runs gained two yards, but Andrew Haining completed 3 of 5 passes for 63 yards. He found Pelletier for a 13-yard touchdown, and Cade Kreider’s extra point made it 7-0.

“We hadn’t seen much (passing) lately and we were not executing on that first drive,” Turner said. “Then we settled down.”

Fryeburg’s offense answered quickly. A short kickoff gave the Raiders the ball on their 46. Fryeburg covered 54 yards on 12 plays – with one third-down conversion and two fourth-down conversions. The Raiders mixed in runs by Saunders and running backs Caleb Bowles and Calvin Southwick. Southwick eventually took a pitch to his left and cut through a wide hole for a 12-yard touchdown. The extra-point kick was wide, and Nokomis led 7-6 with 4:33 left in the first quarter.

Nokomis kept passing but didn’t have much success. Eli Mahan, Tucker Buzzell and Reece Kneissler put constant pressure on Haining.

“If you could take one thing from watching them on film, it was that they were a really good defensive team,” Haining said. “They have so much team speed.”

Fryeburg moved ahead in the second quarter with a 51-yard drive, capped by Saunders’ 4-yard run. The conversion pass was incomplete.

Nokomis twice took over in Raiders territory after turnovers in the second half, but Fryeburg held both times.

Saunders intercepted Haining at the Fryeburg 34 with 6:20 left. On third down, Fryeburg tried a halfback pass and Nathan Knapp got open, but the pass was off target, forcing a punt.

“A little halfback pass, we had it for a touchdown. We missed it. Then we punted to the kid,” Turner said.

Pelletier credited Chance Graves for a key block on the punt return.

“The lanes just opened up,” Pelletier said. “Chance Graves was in front of me. I saw one defender. I held onto (Graves’) back and said, ‘block him, block him.’ He blocked him, and I just ran in.

“I got all teary-eyed. I had no idea what to do to celebrate. It was just insane.”

Haining was running along the sideline, cheering Pelletier.

“I was so thankful he scored because I don’t think our offense could have done it,” Haining said.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-7411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinThomasPPH

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