MCI’s Ryan Friend circles the end zone after scoring a touchdown against Winslow last Saturday in Hampden. Buy this Photo

The Class C state championship football game many expected in 2018 is here, a year late, but to Leavitt and Maine Central Institute, better late than never.

Leavitt and MCI entered the 2018 playoffs as the No. 1 seeds in their respective regions. MCI bowed out with a loss to eventual state champ Nokomis in the semifinals. Leavitt lost to Fryeburg Academy in the regional final hours after the unexpected death of assistant coach Peter Casey.

“It developed a lot of resiliency and toughness since then,” Leavitt head coach Mike Hathaway said. “It put a bond on our team… These guys have played 40-plus games together. There’s not much they haven’t seen.”

Leavitt (11-0) and MCI (9-2) will meet for the Class C state championship Friday night at the University of Maine’s Alfond Stadium in Orono. It’s the first of four 11-man football state championship games this week. On Saturday, Class A (Bonny Eagle vs Thornton Academy), Class D (Bucksport vs Lisbon) and Class B (Brunswick vs Marshwood) will play at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium. The state’s first 8-man title was won by Mt. Ararat last Saturday.

Maine Central Institute’s Elijah Bailey, center, carries the ball as quarterback Ryan Friend blocks Wells defender Payton MacKay during a Class C crossover game Oct. 4 at Alumni Field in Pittsfield. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

This season, neither Leavitt nor MCI hit a speed bump in the regional playoffs. The Hornets rolled through the South, winning each game by at least 35 points, including a 42-7 win over York in the regional final. The Huskies won each of their three playoffs games by at least 25 points, including a 49-21 victory over top-seed Winslow in the regional championship. While both teams have a potent offense, both know the yards will not be as easy to gain Friday night.

“They’re very physical, defensively. They cause you fits just with alignment and different things they do,” MCI head coach Tom Bertrand said of Leavitt. “It’s a big game. There’s a lot of plays. It’s a long game. There’s going to be some ebbs and flows and some ups and downs. Don’t overreact to any of those. Let’s line up and play football. We’re the underdogs here.”

For the Hornets’ defense, everything starts with defensive end Cam Jordan. A senior, Jordan has been dominant this season, with 103 tackles, 17 sacks, 32 tackles for a loss, five forced fumbles, and five blocked kicks.

“He’s as good an edge player as I’ve seen,” Hathaway said of Jordan.

Also coming up big for the Hornets defense are linebacker Riley Parmenter (75 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss), linebacker Tommy Casey (85 tackles, eight tackles for a loss), and corner back Mark Herman (five interceptions). Leavitt’s defense must contend with an offense led by Ryan Friend, a junior quarterback who has more than 2,500 yards of offense, including 1,813 passing yards and 29 touchdown passes to a receiving group led by Dominic Wilson, Will Russell and Nason Berthelette.

In the regular season, Leavitt saw strong running teams like Wells, passing teams like York, and spread looks like Cape Elizabeth. In MCI, Hathaway sees an offense that resembles the best of those tough opponents.

“To me, they’re probably the most well-rounded team we’ve played,” Hathaway said. “Friend has a lot of experience in big games. They can get some things done in the passing game, and (Isaac) Bussell is a big back for them.”

Running Leavitt’s offense is junior Wyatt Hathaway, the coach’s son. Like Friend, Hathaway is versatile, with 1,725 passing yards and 18 touchdowns to go with 726 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. No players in the Hornet offense have eye-popping stats. What causes a double take is how many Hornets contribute to a unit averaging just under 40 points per game. Cole Morin, Dasean and Damion Calder, Keegan Melanson, Allen Peabody and Jordan are all players the Huskies must account for. The jet sweep and the passing attack have been on the minds of Bertrand and his coaching staff.

“Their offense is so high-powered. The Hathaway kid at quarterback, it starts there. They’ve got all kinds of receiving threats and good backs and an offensive line that’s very obviously well-coached and works well together as a unit,” Bertrand said.

Among the defenders tasked with slowing the Hornets down are defensive end Harrison Sites, defensive lineman Bryce Bussell, linebacker Isaac Bussell, and defensive backs Russell, Berthelette and Wilson.

While Leavitt and MCI did not meet in the state game last season, they did play each other in the 2018 season opener. Leavitt took a 28-0 win that day. Played more than a year ago, with some of the players that will take the field Friday night but many who are gone, neither coach said that game means much this time around. That doesn’t mean neither gave it a look.

“We’ve gone back and watched it, certainly, but I’m sure they have too,” Coach Hathaway said.

“A  lot of our guys didn’t play in that game, but we’ve gone back and looked at that film, gone back and talked about that style of football and what they do. They’ve got a lot of the same kids. Those kids were younger. There’s something to be taken from all of it, but when it comes down to it, we’re playing a football team we haven’t played before,” Bertrand said. “That’s what state championships are all about. Prepare frantically in an exciting week for an opponent you don’t know much about. Give the kids some situations they can be successful on the field.”

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