PITTSFIELD — Of course Maine Central Institute’s trio of wide receivers is competitive. The three — Dominic Wilson, Will Russell and Nason Berthelette — wouldn’t have enjoyed a successful season if that fire didn’t burn. When asked if they’re competitive with each other, they get evasive, as if they’re getting separation from a defensive back.

It’s up to MCI quarterback Ryan Friend, whose job it is to see the big picture and find the best option, to set the record straight.

“I think they’re very competitive, because they’re always telling me, ‘Hey, throw me the ball.’ I think they’re pretty competitive, they just don’t want to admit it,” Friend said.

No team in the Big 11 Conference threw the ball as often or as well as the Huskies this season. Through 11 games, Friend has 1,813 passing yards and 29 touchdown tosses. Eighty-one percent of those yards came through Wilson, Russell and Berthelette. With just the Class C state championship game to play, Friday night against Leavitt at the University of Maine’s Alfond Stadium, the Huskies will look to have one more big game through the air.

“We worked on that all offseason, getting our route combinations down. We’re really starting to mesh now, and that’s our bread and butter, throwing the ball around,” said Wilson, who was named first team all-conference at wide receiver and has 27 catches for 584 yards.

Wilson is the deep threat of the group, averaging more than 21 yards per catch. Wilson’s 39-yard touchdown catch in Saturday’s 49-21 win over Winslow in the conference championship game broke a 7-7 tie and started the Huskies’ second quarter run, in which they took control of the game.

“Dominic’s been my, get desperate, throw it up to him guy. Adam (Bertrand) was that guy my freshman year. Dominic’s been that last year, and this year,” Friend said.

“They’re all different players. Dom’s the big play guy. He can be a possession receiver as well. We know when the ball goes up to him, something big can happen. It can for any of those guys,” MCI coach Tom Bertrand said of the three receivers. “Will is kind of a workhorse for us. Nason works the underneath a lot, but sometimes we’ll slip him up the field and surprise teams with that. Between the three of them, we’ve got plenty of firepower.”

A starter since his freshman season in 2017, Friend, now a junior, plays with more confidence and poise, and that has helped MCI’s offense evolve into one that can’t be pigeonholed into a particular style.

“We knew we’d be able to (throw). We also knew we’d be able to run the football. We knew we had a lot of athletes. As the season’s gone on, week to week, we’ve mixed it back and forth depending on what the teams are giving us,” Bertrand said. “Ryan is at a point as a junior, he’s a lot more poised than he was as a freshman and even as a sophomore. He grew a lot and he’s seeing the field a lot better. Not trying to force throws maybe as much as he had even earlier in the season.”

With Wilson a consistent deep threat, Russell has become adept at finding space and gaining yards after the catch. Russell enters the state game with 19 catches for 358 yards.

“When we did 7 on 7 (summer passing league), that was really fun for us, because that felt like the football team we really were. I feel like it fits us really well,” Russell said. “I feel like each one of us has a thing we’re better at than the others. We kind of joke around with each other about that type of stuff.”

With both Russell and Wilson out for a midseason game against Wells, Berthelette stepped up. Berthelette made 12 catches that night, including a 68-yard touchdown catch.

“That did really build my confidence, of what I can actually do without Will and Dom on the field,” Berthelette said.

While known as a possession receiver who can pick up the chain-moving short gains, Berthelette can be a deep threat, too. His 55-yard touchdown catch from Friend with 33 seconds left in the first half Saturday came just 25 seconds after Winslow scored to gain what it hoped was momentum to carry into the second half. Berthelette’s touchdown, caught with no Black Raiders defender within 20 yards of him, gave the Huskies a 35-21 halftime lead.

Friend sprinted out on the play, and that simple act caused Winslow’s defenders to creep up for the potential run, leaving Berthelette wide open down the left sideline.

“The primary route was a backside post to Dominic. When I looked back to throw it to him, I think (Winslow defensive back Colby) Pomeroy decided to come up and cover Will on the under route,” Friend said. “I looked over and Nason was just all alone. So I let it fly. It was a big play, for sure.”

While the passing game has evolved into a  bigger part of the Huskies offense, it’s not something they rely on. MCI threw the ball only six times in Saturday’s Big 11 Conference final, and only once in the second half. The running attack, led by Isaac Bussell and Friend, was working. The Huskies were able to maximize their passing game, gaining 104 yards on four completions, while running with success.

“We certainly had lots of a pass package together for last Saturday. We got to the point where giving the ball to Isaac and Ryan running the football, that was working pretty effectively and we didn’t have to use a lot of it. We’re prepared to go with it if we need to,” Bertrand said.

Friend’s improvement isn’t just about finding the open receiver. It’s about knowing when there’s not an open guy and it’s time to just throw it away. Friend is a football junkie, Bertrand said, often going to the coach’s house in the offseason to grab the keys to the gym so he can throw footballs with his father.

“Live to fight another down, and that will be important for us Friday night as well. Leavitt will bring the heat and try to force us into bad decisions,” Bertrand said. “We want Ryan to be able to play football, and he’s got plenty of guys out there to get the ball to.”

Leavitt will be MCI’s biggest challenge of the season. Wilson, Russell and Berthelette know, they don’t need to tell Friend to throw them the ball. He’ll see them, and let if fly.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.