ORONO — For a while, the team that has mastered the art of the upset as well as any other team in the state looked like it was crafting yet another one.

From aggressive calls to perfect execution to a little bit of good luck, the Maine Central Institute football team had everything going for it as the Huskies tried to do what everyone said couldn’t be done and upend the undefeated Leavitt Hornets.

What was a perfect start ultimately lingered, but couldn’t last. MCI led by two scores in the opening minutes and four points at the half, but couldn’t hold off the Hornets in what became a 30-24 Leavitt victory.

“We thought if we could keep this thing rolling, we’d have a really good shot at it,” MCI coach Tom Bertrand said. “That’s what we expected to do. We didn’t come in thinking ‘Wow, let’s just throw caution to the wind and do whatever.’ We were coming in to win the football game.”

If the Huskies were supposed to be just a final helpless opponent left in the Hornets’ wake, however, MCI was instead going off script from the opening play. MCI took Leavitt by surprise with a short kick to start the game, and the Huskies recovered at the Leavitt 45.

It was a good break. And, Bertrand said, an unscheduled one.

“I told the kid to squib it down the middle, and he freaking onside kicked it,” he said with a slight smile. “There was nothing strategic about it, to be honest with you.”

Nevertheless, the Huskies had a prime chance, and they took advantage. On the first play from scrimmage Ryan Friend rolled right, then found Dominic Wilson down the right sideline for 30 yards. The drive appeared to stall, with a pair of Isaac Bussell runs gaining a loss of a yard, and an incompletion setting up fourth-and-11 from the 16.

Just in time, fate and fortune smiled on the Huskies. Friend rolled right and slung a pass to the back of the end zone, looking for senior receiver Will Russell. Leavitt was on the play in time to deflect the ball in the air…where it fell straight to Wilson for a touchdown, and a quick 6-0 lead.

“(Will) just tipped it up to me, I caught it and I was pretty surprised it landed in my hands when I was standing in the end zone,” Wilson said. “(We do tips) in defensive drills, definitely not offensive though.”

The Huskies didn’t need any luck, breaks or divine intervention to build on their fast start. The Huskies took over after a three-and-out at the Leavitt 47, and Friend — on his way to a 7-for-12, 179-yard first half — slung a pass two plays down the seam, where Russell was in tight single coverage. At the last second, Russell separated from his man, made a fingertip catch of the pass, and sprinted the remaining 20 yards for a 47-yard connection and a 12-0 lead with 8:10 to go in the first quarter.

“We were just out here playing our game,” Friend said. “We were trying to do whatever we could do to get the ball in the end zone and stop them, and we started hot.”

The Huskies were jubilant, the Hornets were reeling, and while the start was surprising, it was hardly unprecedented. MCI has built a reputation for upsets, and has appeared at home when the odds have been stacked against it. In 2017, the Huskies were a sixth seed but beat No. 3 Nokomis, No. 2 Winslow, No. 1 Mount Desert Island and South region No. 1 Cape Elizabeth en route to the Class C title.

Last week, it appeared the Huskies’ run would end against No. 1 Winslow, which won the regular-season contest 61-37, but it was MCI roaring out of the gates and coming away with a 49-21 victory.

So on Friday, the powerful Hornets, a juggernaut during the regular season, were nevertheless nothing new.

“We play to our opponents’ strength,” Friend said. “Against good teams, we focus and we respond.”

And powered by their start, the Huskies kept hanging around. A 31-yard pass from Friend to Nason Berthelette gave MCI an 18-14 lead at the half. A 13-yard touchdown run by Isaac Bussell put MCI up 24-14 with 9:41 to go in the third quarter.

Eventually, however, the momentum ran out. Touchdown runs by DaSean Calder and Wyatt Hathaway gave Leavitt a 30-24 lead, and a Hathaway interception with 1:11 to play killed the upset hopes.

“We definitely felt like we had this in the first half,” Wilson said. “They definitely came out harder in the second half.”

It wasn’t the result MCI was looking for. But as always, the Huskies still managed to make a statement.

“We didn’t come this far just to come this far,” Friend said. “We said we were going to try to shock the state, because we were the big underdogs, and I think we did shock the state.”

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