I remember seeing a football championship game where the winning touchdown was scored on a botched field goal try as time expired. I watched a baseball championship decided in the ninth inning on a walk-off single. Just this fall, I saw a football playoff game end on an all-or-nothing two-point conversion try in overtime.

Exciting games and thrilling finishes, all.

Drew Bonifant column photo

But I’ve never seen anything better than what I saw last Friday night.

It’s been a week since the Caribou and Maranacook boys basketball teams played for the Class B state title, and normally, a week is a good amount of time for jets to cool and emotions to simmer. Normally, all the people who race to call what they’ve just witnessed “the greatest game I’ve ever seen!” find themselves a few days later walking back that reaction, and putting that game into a more modest perspective.

Not here. When the buzzer sounded on Caribou’s 73-71 double-overtime victory, I knew I had just finished watching the greatest high school basketball game I’d ever seen. One week later, I’m just as sure it’s the best high school game, in any sport, that I’ve witnessed.

A disclaimer: I’m not exactly a grizzled veteran of the Maine sports scene. I’ve only been here since the fall of 2016. But before that, for six years, I covered high school sports in New Hampshire. Before that were two years in Massachusetts. So that’s only a dozen years. But you can see some wild games in a dozen years.

And I’ve seen some wild games. Before Friday, the best were the 2016 Class D South football final between Lisbon and Winthrop/Monmouth, which Lisbon won 20-17 on a last-second touchdown after giving up the lead with 16 seconds to go, and the 2016 Division III hockey final between Belmont/Gilford and Berlin/Gorham in New Hampshire, which Berlin/Gorham won 2-1 after Belmont/Gilford’s attempt at a last-second goal danced along the goal line before officials signaled time had expired.

Tough acts to beat. And Caribou-Maranacook beat them.

It wasn’t just the final score, that it took two overtimes to get there, or the fact that a last-second shot decided it. It was the drastic swings along the way. Caribou, the defending champion and favorite going in, owned much of the first half, and by the time it went on a 12-0 run to go up 32-20 late in the first half, seemed to own every bit of momentum there was to be had. The Vikings may as well have been up 52-20. They couldn’t be stopped.

And then the game flipped on its end. Maranacook refused to go away, and in the third quarter, refused to miss. The Black Bears hit six 3-pointers in the period alone, shooting from wherever they wanted and hitting nothing but twine, and forcing Caribou to scramble just to hang onto that lead.

But it wasn’t just those drastic swings. It was the atmosphere of the building. When Caribou went up 60-53 with 1:13 to play, the side of the Cross Insurance Center packed with Vikings fans hit an ear-splitting level on the decibel meter. And when the Black Bears somehow erased that seven-point lead in 40 seconds, the Maranacook fans responded in turn. After Tim Worster hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 60, I leaned back in my seat — and noticed the Black Bears’ student section had poured down to only a foot or two from the press table.

“We just did that!” they chanted. Loudly.

But it wasn’t just the atmosphere. It was the signature performance. Cash McClure turned in the greatest performance I’ve ever watched in a high-school basketball game. He scored 33 points, 18 of which came after the third quarter, 12 of which came in a row in the fourth, and hit six threes. He savored the moment, hitting pull-up 3-pointers and slipping through one double-team after another, and seemed to drain every shot his team needed him to hit.

You usually see those games in college in March. Not in high school.

As the game was unfolding, I was going through the games I had seen and trying to find the others that measured up to it. One was the 2018 boys Class C South semifinal, when Hall-Dale erased a six-point deficit with 2:10 to go and beat Richmond 76-70 in overtime, despite 37 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter alone, from Zach Small. Another was Cony’s 92-89 victory over Maranacook this season, which saw Simon McCormick’s 19 fourth-quarter points lead the Rams back from 11 down with five minutes to play.

This one was even with them. And then the two overtimes, which saw Caribou take five leads and Maranacook take two before a Sawyer Deprey basket won it for Caribou at the buzzer, broke the tie.

Games like that are a reason why it’s fun to cover high school sports. For every game that feels special in the moment but soon gets lost in the shuffle of historical perspective, there’s always the chance for one like Friday’s, which set a sky-high bar in quality and entertainment value and just kept raising it, over and over again.

The night after, I spoke with Winthrop coach Todd MacArthur after his team beat Dexter for the Class C title. After chatting about the victory, I brought up the game from the night before.

MacArthur’s eyes lit up.

“Wasn’t that just the greatest game?” he asked.

No arguments here.


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