READFIELD — The Mt. Ararat football team lost both of its regular-season games with Maranacook. But there was a catch.

The Eagles didn’t have Holden Brannan for the last game. And in a third matchup on Friday, with the Eight Man Class Large School division title at stake, he reminded both teams just what had been missing.

Brannan ran 26 times for 198 yards and three touchdowns, Riley Morin ran 20 times for 83 yards and two scores, and Mt. Ararat beat Maranacook 36-14 to earn a spot in the state championship game at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

Mt. Ararat’s Kyle Graffam catches a pass in front of Maranacook’s Isac Philbrook during the 8-man large school championship game Friday at the Ricky Gibson Field of Dreams in Readfield. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

The Black Bears (9-1) were the only team to beat the Eagles (8-2) all season. With hardware on the line, however, Mt. Ararat found an answer.

“It’s hard to beat a team three times,” Brannan said. “We knew that. We knew it was going to be a grind.”

Over on the other sideline, the sentiment was the same — nearly word for word.

“People kept asking me ‘How do you think it’s going to go?’ And I said ‘It’s tough to beat a team three times.’ No matter how good they are,” Maranacook coach Jordan DeMillo said. “It almost felt like a rivalry game coming in, that anyone could win at any time, and they just happened to be the lucky winner tonight.”

The Eagles executed on both sides of the ball. On offense, the speed and power mix of Brannan and Morin, respectively, had the Black Bears struggling to consistently set the edge and hold up inside.

“We have a good gameplan with Riley running up the middle and me running around the outside,” said Brannan, who missed the Eagles’ 34-24 loss on Oct. 18 with a concussion. “When that combo hits, it’s kind of hard to stop.”

Asked how Mt. Ararat finally figured out the league’s top seed and No. 1 scoring defense, Morin nodded over to his backfield mate.

“One answer right there is Holden Brannan,” he said. “And our O-line’s just unbelievable. We’re just a ground-and-pound team.”

On defense, the Eagles keyed on stopping Maranacook quarterback Garit Laliberte, who ran 25 times for 102 yards but got 67 of them on two carries. He also completed seven of 15 passes for 92 yards, four for 37 to Joey Dupont.

“We know what they like to do. … It was just about execution for us tonight, making sure we wrapped up and tackled,” Mt. Ararat coach Frank True said. “He’s one of the best in the league, if not the best. We practiced defense all week. … Special teams and defense, to be able to slow down a kid like (Laliberte).”

The Eagles took a 22-0 lead before the Black Bears closed the gap. A Laliberte kickoff return for a touchdown made it 22-8, and Maranacook (9-1) drew closer when Laliberte dove in for a 1-yard touchdown to make it 22-14 with 42.9 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Black Bears needed a stop, but they couldn’t get it. The Eagles scored on their next possession, with Brannan finding the end zone on a 17-yard run for a 30-14 lead with 9:03 to play.

“He’s got speed that’s unbelievable,” True said. “I don’t think it’s matched in our league.”

Maranacook turned the ball over on downs on its next two series, and a 4-yard touchdown run by Morin sealed the outcome with 2:14 to go in the game.

“We realized we had nothing to lose,” Morin said. “We have a lot of seniors who only had 48 minutes of football left if we didn’t win.”

Mt. Ararat’s Cody Holman, bottom, tackles Maranacook’s Garit Laliberte during the 8-man large school championship game Friday at the Ricky Gibson Field of Dreams in Readfield. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

DeMillo said there was too much early damage done for the Black Bears to overcome.

“They did a great job,” DeMillo said. “They ran the edge, their blockers were hitting well. Hat’s off to Ararat, they played a great game.”

The Eagles clicked from their first drive, which Brannan capped by sweeping around the left side for a touchdown and an 8-0 lead with 9:01 left in the first quarter.

A Laliberte 32-yard keeper had the Black Bears in Eagles territory and in position to respond on their next drive, but Mt. Ararat held the Maranacook quarterback for 4 yards on 4th-and-6 to take over at its own 23. Brannan struck five plays later with a 52-yard touchdown run down the left sideline for a 14-0 lead.

The lead went to 22-0 when Morin’s 5-yard run capped a 12-play, 64-yard drive with 5:35 left in the half. In danger of being buried, Maranacook answered when Laliberte took the ensuing kickoff back 74 yards for a touchdown, weaving his way through the defense before taking off down the left sideline. 

The Black Bears were in position for more, and even had an apparent 62-yard touchdown pass from Laliberte to Dupont, but a holding penalty negated the score. The drive ended without points, preserving the halftime score at 22-8.

 

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