Pass defense wasn’t exactly the Maine Central Institute’s forte at the start of the season.

It certainly was Saturday afternoon. And for the Huskies, the timing couldn’t have been better.

The pass defense played a key part in MCI’s 49-21 triumph over Winslow in the Class C North final. While the Huskies’ offense came up with big plays from start to finish, their defense took away the Black Raiders’ ability to keep up.

“We repped it all week, we went over all the plays that they run, and we just had communication and we talked out there,” defensive back Will Russell said. “It all came together, we all meshed together, and it turned out great.”

The stats indicated as much. Winslow quarterback Colby Pomeroy, one of the area’s most efficient passers, was chased from the pocket and forced to throw into tight windows all game long, and finished with four completions on 18 attempts for 29 yards and an interception.

“We just had to step it up all week with preparation and going over the route combinations,” defensive back Dominic Wilson said. “We were just really prepared for these guys, and we stepped it up big time.”

Winslow isn’t a pass-heavy team, but with an excellent quarterback in Pomeroy and talented pass catchers in Cody Ivey, Nathan Newgard and Marek Widerynski, the Black Raiders have shown an affinity for burning teams through the air that sell out to stop their running attack. In the semifinals against Hermon, for instance, Pomeroy threw touchdown passes on three straight attempts.

MCI coach Tom Bertrand knew his team couldn’t fall victim the same way. And he knew he had a defense that could hold up.

“We knew that that was a threat for us, that their throwing the ball was a threat,” he said. “We know they make big plays when you’re least expecting it. … We talked to our (defensive backs) about being pass-first defenders, being disciplined all week, and they did what we asked.”

It was a different story at the start of the season. The Huskies were often vulnerable through the air, as the members of their secondary were needing time to get used to playing with one another.

“At the beginning of the season it was tough for us, and it was something that we struggled with. We felt like that’s what teams were going to attack us with,” said Russell, who had the interception Saturday. “But we’ve honed in on getting a lot better with the pass defense.”

Russell said the key was just getting on the same page, a process that took some time.

“I think it was just communication,” he said. “At the start of the year we weren’t communicating, and now we all trust each other and we’re talking, who’s got who.”

“At the beginning of the season, it’s hard,” said senior defensive lineman Harrison Sites, who was a disruptive force in the backfield all game. “You have to mesh as a team, especially as a secondary where it’s trades and a guy’s coming across and you have to know when to switch and all that kind of stuff.”

By Saturday, however, the kinks had been worked out. That was evident on Winslow’s second drive down 7-0, when an MCI surge forced Pomeroy to throw off his back foot, and the ball went straight to Russell for an interception.

The message was delivered: Going to the air was not going to be easy.

“You could feel the momentum change when big plays happen like that,” Russell said. “We just rolled with it.”

The rest of the game, MCI’s pass defense was a perfect synergy of two parts. The first was the pass rush, anchored by Sites and Bryce Bussell, which had Pomeroy on the run on dropback after dropback.

“We got after it,” Bertrand said. “Our kids got after it, and we had to do that.”

“If you get two or three rushes in a row, usually the offensive line starts to lose their mojo,” Sites said. “It gets to the point where, if you know what you’re doing, you can just keep hammering and you’ll get there.”

When Pomeroy did have time to throw, Wilson (who had an interception called back for a roughing the passer penalty), Russell, Ryan Friend and even Sites, whose job was to stay on Newgard on the short passes that killed the Huskies in the Black Raiders’ 61-37 win on Oct. 11, made sure there was nowhere easy to go.

“We mixed everything up. Zone, man, different variations of things,” Bertrand said. “Communication is always big around the field, but certainly in the secondary, we’ve got to have it.”

There’s no question they have it now.

“We knew if we didn’t stop them, that would be what killed us,” Russell said. “We just have a trust out there that everybody’s going to do their job, and we’re going to get it done.”

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