HAMPDEN — From the first snap he took, when he ran 78 to set up Maine Central Institute’s first touchdown of the day, to the last snap he took, taking a knee in victory formation, quarterback Ryan Friend was in control. The junior three-year starter was confident and poised, and the entire MCI team fed off that.

“Now that I’ve been in this position before, I grew a little bit. I’m more composed and mature. I make the right decisions, and know I won’t get down if I turn the ball over or if something bad happens,” Friend said.

After giving up 61 points and 500 yards to Winslow when they met in the regular season, MCI clamped down on the Black Raiders at Hampden Academy Saturday afternoon. The Huskies held Winslow’s explosive offense to 192 yards and pulled away with a 49-21 win to claim the Big 11 Conference title.

“We knew it had the potential to be any kind of game. We’re fortunate and lucky it went the way it did. Either team is high-powered enough to make the other team pay,” MCI coach Tom Bertrand said.

MCI, now 9-2, will face Leavitt in the Class C state championship game Friday night at the University of Maine’s Alfond Stadium in Orono. This was the Huskies fifth regional title in six seasons, including  three won in Class D from 2014-2016.

Winslow ended the season at 9-2, and the loss snapped a nine-game win streak for the Black Raiders.

“We met a very good team. They really did a nice job in all phases of the game, and we wish them luck in their championship game against Leavitt,” Winslow coach Mike Siviski said. “They were really ready. They played a great game.”

The Huskies took control of the game with a 28-point second quarter. With 8:52 left in the quarter, MCI took the lead for good when Friend connected with Dominic Wilson on a 39-yard touchdown pass, breaking a 7-7 tie. MCI put an exclamation point on the first half when Friend hit Nason Berthelette for a 55-yard touchdown pass with 35.3 seconds left in the quarter for a 35-14 halftime lead.

“The biggest thing was the offensive line gave me plenty of time to make my reads on the field, and the receivers made the plays,”Friend said.

Friend threw for 104 yards and ran for 185, with 78 of those rushing yards coming on MCI’s first offensive play. After forcing Winslow three and out to open the game, the Huskies took over on their own 21. Friend kept the ball, sprinting down the left sideline before being caught at the 1. Isaac Bussell plunged in on the next play to give MCI a 7-0 lead.

That touchdown was the first of three for Bussell, who was back at fullback after spending the last month at guard. Bussell played fullback in a pair of regular season games for MCI, including the first Winslow contest. Saturday, he ran for 134 yards on 20 carries, and his two yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter capped the scoring and cemented the Huskies’ win.

“We have to be healthy up front in order to use (Bussell) back there.  It’s got to be the right formula for us to put him back there, and it just is right now,” Bertrand said. “It’s not his natural position, but he’s a natural athlete that’s making plays for us and he’s tough to bring down.”

Winslow capitalized on a short punt to set up its first scoring drive, taking over at the MCI 34 late in the first quarter. Evan Bourget’s one yard touchdown run with 0.7 seconds left in the first tied the game at 7-7.

The Black Raiders jumped on another MCI mistake in the third quarter. After the Huskies fumbled away the kickoff to start the half, Winslow went 68 yards, all on the ground out of a tight double wing formation, and Rob Clark (124 yards rushing) scored from five yards out to cut MCI’s lead to 35-21 with 8:23 left in the third.

“We couldn’t use it when we got down by 28 points,” Siviski said of the double wing attack. “In retrospect, maybe we should have used it earlier.”

It was the second scoring drive on which Winslow used the double wing with success. Clark had a 16-yard touchdown run from it with 58 seconds left in the second quarter. That momentum was swiped away when the Huskies answered quickly with Berthelette’s score. MCI responded to Winslow’s third quarter touchdown with a four play, 67 yard scoring drive, capped by Friend’s 47 yard touchdown run for a 41-21 lead.

“We talked before the game about the ebbs and flows of a big game like this. We haven’t responded greatly to those kinds of things all season long. I wanted to prep them for that kind of football game,” Bertrand said.

While MCI’s offense was putting up 443 yards, the defense was clamping down. MCI forced a pair of turnovers, a Will Russell interception in the second quarter and a Berthelette fumble recovery in the third. The Huskies special teams also made big plays, with Wilson returning a punt 55 yards for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead with 4:30 left in the second quarter.

“We knew we had to do better up front, for sure, and contain their big play guys. We did a pretty good job of that. It’s nothing revolutionary. It’s football,” Bertrand said. “It’s lining up and not making mistakes and doing what you’re supposed to do.”

Added Friend: “We just started trusting each other more, believing in each other more. The first time, I think we underestimated them a little bit… We made it a point to hammer down on defense this week.”

After Winslow turned the ball over on downs at the MCI 41 with 9:31 to play, the Huskies ran out the remaining time, converting a pair of fourth downs to keep the clock moving.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

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