November 9, 2012

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Battle for a title shot

By Travis Lazarczyk tlazarczyk@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

BY TRAVIS LAZARCZYK

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Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans in the Eastern B semi finals game in Waterville Saturday.

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Staff Writer

Gary Parlin spent some time early this week going over scores with his team. The Mt. Blue High School head football coach, Parlin recited the list of teams that beat an opponent in the regular season, only to lose the rematch in the playoffs.

"Wells beat Marshwood, then lost. Oak Hill beat Dirigo. Leavitt beat Belfast," Parlin said. "There's quite a few of them."

In the regular-season finale a few weeks ago, Mt. Blue beat Waterville, handily, 53-24. The message Parlin sent his team was clear. On Friday night, do not get added to this list.

The top-seed in the Pine Tree Conference Class B, Mt. Blue (10-0) hosts No. 6 Waterville (6-4) at 7 tonight. The winner plays in the Class B state championship game next Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland against the winner of today's Western Maine final between No. 3 York (8-2) and No. 1 Marshwood (9-1).

Mt. Blue narrowly avoided making the upset list when it held off No. 8 Mt. Desert Island in the quarterfinals, 14-13.

"I really think the MDI game helped us," Parlin said. "We just weren't as sharp as other weeks."

Waterville is the upstart, reaching this game with a quarterfinal upset of No. 3 Hampden, followed by a win over No. 7 Belfast in the semis. The Purple Panthers are the lowest seed remaining in the entire state, and head coach Frank Knight joked about the difficult matchup with the Cougars.

"Mt. Blue is bigger, faster, stronger and more athletic than we are. Other than that, we match up really well," Knight said. "Out of 14 teams (in the conference), there's two left and we're one of them. We're going to go after it."

The Panthers dropped three of their final four regular-season games, including a tough last-second loss to Brewer. Since the win at Hampden, Knight has seen a different attitude from his team.

"This team has a special personality. We had some self doubt in October, now we're back to believing we are a good football team," Knight said.

Junior quarterback Aidan FitzGerald has thrown the ball well in the playoffs and had a 16-yard touchdown pass to Nick Danner last week. Senior running back Racean Wood ran for 143 yards against Belfast last week. The Panthers run behind a big line, led by senior tackle Tom Cox, center Ben Cox and Connor McLeod.

"They're pretty balanced. (FItzGerald) keeps getting better," Parlin said. "With the Wing T (offense), it's deception but it's power, too. The first time we played them, Danner didn't play. He makes them better."

The Panthers will be missing a key player in defensive back David Bailey, who suffered a shoulder injury in practice before the Belfast game and is out, Knight said.

Waterville's defense will be challenged by Mt. Blue's talented offense, which averaged 40 points per game in the regular season. Everything the Cougars do starts with quarterback Jordan Whitney, who has 1,718 passing yards with 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions. In last week's 33-21 win over Gardiner, Whitney also was Mt. Blue's leading rusher.

Seven players have caught at least one touchdown pass for Mt. Blue this season and, although the Cougars are without Cam Abbott, who is out with a torn ACL, Nate Backus had 254 yards receiving and four touchdowns since returning from injury for the second half of the season.

Defensively, the Cougars are led by linebackers Chad Luker (108 tackles) and Bradley Jackson (93 tackles). Defensive end Zak Kendall leads a strong defensive line, while Whitney has three interceptions.

"The first time we met Mt. Blue, it was a little one-sided. They're definitely the best team in the league and we've got nothing to lose by going up there and putting on a good performance," Knight said. "It would be a huge accomplishment for us to beat them. We have an opportunity to knock them off and that's what we're going to try to do. It's a tall task, but we won't come short on the effort part. I can guarantee you that."

Travis Lazarczyk -- 861-9242

tlazarczyk@centralmaine.com

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