WATERVILLE — It’s been more than a quarter-century since Waterville last played in a state championship football game. Thanks to a dominant performance from quarterback Liam Von Oesen and a big special teams touchdown from Dustan Hunter in the fourth quarter, that drought is now over.

The senior Von Oesen ran 30 times for 194 yards and added 148 through the air, Hunter returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown and Waterville defeated Morse 22-20 in the eight-man large North final Saturday.

The win gives No. 1 Waterville (7-1) its first regional title since 1994 (Class A), but more importantly, a shot at the eight-man large school state title Nov. 13 Cheverus (7-0), which rolled past Mt. Ararat in the large South final Saturday.

“It feels amazing to win a game like this one, but our job isn’t done,” said Hunter, a freshman who caught two passes for 11 yards. “This was a full team effort. We executed in all three phases of the game.”

After Gabe Aucoin rushed for his third touchdown to give No. 2 Morse (6-3) a 20-14 lead with 8:59 remaining, Hunter returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to give the Purple Panthers the lead right back.

“I saw a hole and went for it,” said Hunter of the return. “It was a big play, I had my guys blocking downfield and I just found the open space.”

The Morse defense had held Waterville scoreless from the second quarter until the kickoff return by Hunter. Four false start penalties on the first two Morse drives proved to be costly.

Waterville kick returner Dustan Hunter (10) celebrates a kickoff return for a touchdown with head coach Isaac LeBlanc during the eight-man large North final Saturday at Drummond Field in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We didn’t start off like we wanted to,” said Morse head coach Jason Darling. “In games like this sometimes it just doesn’t go your way. Unfortunately (Saturday) we were on the short end, but I’m awfully proud of our effort and our resilience.”

Aucoin rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries to pace the Shipbuilders. Aucoin’s touchdowns came on 9, 43 and 5 yard runs. He also picked off Von Oesen inside Morse’s 5-yard line in the third quarter. Quarterback Josh ter Mors rushed for 54 yards on 11 carries, but was unable to find anything through the air. He went 0 for 6 passing.

“I told them I’m proud of them and that I love them,” said Darling. “We fell short of our ultimate goal and that’s going to sting in the moment, but when we reflect on the season I think we’ll remember the season we had for a long time. It was a great year.”

Ben Doughty had rushed for 22 yards. The Purple Panthers held the potent Shipbuilders’ offense to just 260 total yards.

“This was the most complete game we’ve played all year,” said Von Oesen. “When they came back we just stayed in it, I’m just so proud of our guys.”

Waterville wide receiver Dawson Harrison (22) fumbles the ball after getting hit by Morse defender Gabe Aucoin during the eight-man large North final Saturday at Drummond Field in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Von Oesen threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Billy Place on fourth and goal from the 2-yard line on the Purple Panthers’ opening drive. He added a 1-yard rushing touchdown later on in the quarter.

Despite no scoring from the offense after the first quarter, the Purple Panthers made plays when they needed to.

“When Dustan (Hunter) made that play, our morale skyrocketed,” said Von Oesen. “We gained all of the confidence we needed, we just had to go out and finish it.”

Head coach Isaac LeBlanc, who took over the Waterville program in 2020 as the team was making the transition to eight-man football, says he wasn’t surprised with the level his team played at on Saturday.

“I’m not going to say I’m surprised, these guys would run through a brick wall for each other,” said LeBlanc. “We had Nov. 13th (the day of the state championship) circled on our calendar since the beginning of the season. Not a lot of people believed in us and we proved them wrong.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.