Waterville wide receiver Spencer Minihan, center, makes a catch between Yarmouth cornerback Sam Bradford, left, and cornerback Liam Henning in the 8-Man Largge school football championship Saturday at Fuller Field in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — The fourth downs giveth and the fourth downs taketh away.

Maybe literally.

“I think the Lord was with me on that one,” Yarmouth coach Jim Hartman said with a laugh after Waterville’s high snap on 4th-and-inches led to the Clippers’ game-winning, 86-yard, 16-play drive in Saturday’s 30-24 win over the Purple Panthers for the Eight-Man Large School title at Fuller Field. “I think you can only give credit to him.

“But yeah, (that play’s) the game,” he said on a more serious note.

Whether from someone up above or something more earth-bound, fourth-down attempts played a big role for Waterville on Saturday. The Purple Panthers were 2-for-4 on fourth down, with one play directly resulting in a touchdown and one eventually leading to a touchdown. Of the two misses, one was an incomplete pass, and the other, well …

Up 26-24 in the fourth quarter, Waterville drove 40 yards down to the Yarmouth 3-yard line on the legs of sophomore quarterback Dustan Hunter, who finished with 132 yards rushing and a touchdown on 14 carries.  An offsides penalty against Yarmouth turned a fourth-and-2 attempt into fourth-and-inches with about seven minutes left. The end zone and a touchdown to potentially put the Clippers away were in sight, but the high snap sent Hunter scurrying back to the 14-yard-line to recover the ball.


The Clippers took over from there, converting a pair of fourth downs of their own on a drive that culminated in Michael McGonagle’s winning 2-yard TD run with 32.9 seconds left in the game.

“They went on the drive, and we had a couple chances to stop them, and they made some great plays to continue the drive,” Waterville coach Isaac LeBlanc said.

But Waterville would not have made it this far were it not for its earlier success on fourth down. Twice, Hunter and the Panthers came up big when it mattered.

Down 6-0 and on its first drive of game, Waterville faced 4th-and-goal from the Yarmouth 8 after Hunter was driven to the turf on the first of three sacks by 6-foot-2, 220-pound Yarmouth behemoth Spencer LaBrecque. Hunter peeled himself up and on the next play connected with Spencer Minihan for an 8-yard touchdown pass and pull to within 8-6 with 3:21 left after the 2-point conversion attempt failed.

“When games are this close, every play is big,” LeBlanc said.

In the third quarter, Hunter and Minihan again connected on fourth down. With Waterville down 24-12, a run for negative yardage and a pair of incompletions gave the Panthers 4th-and-11 at the Yarmouth 44. Hunter scrambled to his right and heaved a long ball over the middle that Minihan pulled down in tight double coverage for a 26-yard gain. Two plays later, Hunter fired a slant to Minihan, who raced 19 yards down the left sideline to the end zone to cut the deficit to 24-18 with 4:36 left in the quarter.


Minihan finished with five catches for 80 yards and the two TDs.

“Minihan’s a good athlete and (Hunter) played his heart out and he’s only a sophomore,” Hartman said. “They’re a good football team and they had the mismatches on us.”

Waterville took a 26-24 lead just 1:31 later on Gage Hubbard’s 60-yard pick-six off Yarmouth QB Sam Bradford, followed by a Hunter-to-Hibbard 2-point conversion.

The season did not end to Waterville’s liking, but the Panthers (6-4) still had reason to celebrate. Seeded third out of four teams in the North bracket of the playoffs, Waterville upended higher-seeded Morse and Mount Desert Island on the road to reach its second straight 8-man final. The Panthers lost to Cheverus, 56-0, in last year’s title game.

“I’m very proud of my kids, we didn’t give up,” LeBlanc said. “They studied hard, the prepped hard. Nobody picked us. We used that underdog mentality the whole playoffs. I’ve never been more proud of a football team in my whole life. They just don’t quit.

“It’s tough to lose like this. But I wouldn’t to be with any other group of guys in the world.”

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