Ponies best Bucksport in the elements to win Class D North championship; Foxcroft to face Wells on Saturday for the Gold Ball

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DOVER-FOXCROFT — Both Foxcroft Academy and Bucksport High School had to contend with a kickoff temperature of around 20 and a windchill dropping the conditions into single digits during the 2017 Class D North championship on the evening of Friday, Nov. 10. But the Ponies weathered the situation better, jumping out to a 20-0 first quarter lead and claiming the regional crown with a 34-0 victory.

Top-seeded Foxcroft (the team improved to 8-2 after recording a shutout for the third consecutive game and combined with a bye week extended the scoreless run dating back to the regular season finale on Oct. 20) will face South No. 1 Wells High School (11-0) at approximately 2:35 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18 at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland in the Class D championship. The Ponies will be in the state final for the first time since winning the Class C Gold Ball in 2012. Wells will enter the state game a year after having won the Class C title — like Foxcroft the Warriors dropped down to Class D for 2017.

After winning the opening coin toss, Foxcroft opted to defer until the second half. The decision allowed the Ponies to choose which way the team wanted to go, and forcing Bucksport (the second-seeded Golden Bucks end the season at 6-4 including a 45-18 loss at Oakes Field in week four which was the team’s the last defeat before a five-game winning streak) to head into the stiff eastward blowing wind.

Foxcroft senior quarterback Nick Clawson said this was key. “Especially getting out on defense, they had to go against the wind in the first quarter,” he said. “That gave us an advantage in the first quarter.”

The strategy worked as Foxcroft forced a three-and-out, and a short punt combined with a flag for a personal foul put the ball at the Golden Bucks’ 34-yard line. Three plays later the Ponies faced a third-and-22 at the 30-yard following a bad snap — the first of several fumbles for each team.

On third down Clawson looked to pass and he found junior Hyatt Smith open in the endzone for the 30-yard touchdown. A PAT by senior Levi Stedman made the game 7-0 on what would turn out to be the winning play.

The visitors would get a pair of first downs on the next possession to cross into Foxcroft territory, but the team punted again and the ball was downed at the Pony-25.

Clawson began the drive by rushing for seven yards and he then threw deep to Smith for a 50-yard completion all the way to the opposition’s 18-yard line. Smith’s pair of receptions gave him a game-high 80 yards and accounted for the bulk of Clawson’s 99 yards through the air.

The Foxcroft quarterback displayed his dual skill set by then scrambling down the left sideline 18 yards for the touchdown. Clawson finished with a contest-best 180 yards on 21 carries. The rushing total put him over 1,000 yards on the season to go along with his 1,100-plus passing yards in 2017.

On the following possession the Pony defense forced its second three-and-out in three chances with the ball at the Golden Bucks-20. Bucksport attempted to punt but Foxcroft senior R.J. Nelson burst through the line and blocked the punt. The football fell to the frozen turf where senior Cody Labbe scooped it up at the 17-yard line. The lineman then returned the ball for the touchdown to put his team up by a score of 20-0.

“I’ve actually never been the one to go chase after punts but I got the opportunity tonight and I just went as hard as I could and I got my hand in there,” Nelson said, as he was filling in for a teammate on the return team. “They just put me in this week, they taught me how to do it and we executed.”

Nelson and his teammates’ preparation would lead to another big play in the third quarter when the Bucksport offense was again heading heading into the wind but got well into Foxcroft territory.

The Golden Bucks had a third-and-5 at the Pony-31 when senior quarterback Chase Carmichael threw a short pass toward the right sideline. Nelson jumped in front of the intended receiver, made the interception and returned the ball 70 yards for the pick six. A Stedman PAT then made the score 27-0.

“Bucksport has got a great passing attack and that’s what we prepped for,” Nelson said. “The wind helped us a little for two quarters when they were going into it, and I think our athletes could stay with them down the field so that forced them to throw the ball short.”

“Earlier in the third quarter they were getting us with that hitch to the boundary and I just read it perfectly,” Nelson said. “There was no play-action fake and I fronted over and I was in the right position to take it to the house.”

The Ponies would pick Carmichael off four times, including twice in the third quarter and three times in the second half, to help keep the Golden Bucks from getting any momentum.

The last of the four interceptions came in the fourth quarter as Clawson made the pick — his second of the game — and his return put the ball at the Bucksport-38 with just under 7:30 to go. Foxcroft then kept the ball on the ground to eat up as much clock as possible and eight plays advanced the offense to the 1-yard line for a third-and-goal.

Backup junior quarterback Matthew Spooner took the shotgun snap and he dove over the goalline for the fifth and final Foxcroft touchdown at the 2:29-mark. Stedman’s PAT — he finished 4-for-5 on the evening — was the 34th and final Foxcroft point.

With the last regional championship for Foxcroft coming when the current players were in middle school or younger, Nelson said the experience is new for he and his teammates. “This is big for us, we’re all excited.”

Since the Maine Principal’s Association began crowning a state championship in a matchup between regional winners, Foxcroft has now reached 13 title games. The Ponies have won five Gold Balls under this format and seven state championships overall including two in the 1960s.

Wells will play during state championship weekend for the second year in a row. The 2016 Class C championship was the program’s first at that level. The Warriors had previously played in five Class B title contests, winning in 2011 and 1997.

No. 1 Foxcroft 34,
No. 2 Bucksport 0
BUC 0 0 0 0 | 0
FOX 20 0 7 0 | 34
First: F — Clawson 30 yds
to Smith (Stedman kick)
F — Clawson 18 yds
(Stedman kick)
F — Labbe 17-yd
punt block return (kick miss)
Third: F — Nelson 70-yd Int return
(Stedman kick)
Fourth: F — Spooner 1-yd
(Stedman kick)
Passing: B — Carmichael
12-of-32 108 yds 4 Int
F — Clawson 3-of-6
99 yds TD Int;
Spooner 0-of-0
Receiving: B –Tolmasoff
5, 28 yds;
Riccard 4, 43 yds;
Stanley 1, 19 yds;
Gray 1, 11 yds;
Wardwell 1, 7 yds
F — Smith
2, 80 yds TD;
Richard 1, 19 yds
Rushing: B — Carmichael
8, 47 yds;
Tolmasoff 7, 17 yds;
Wardwell 9, 16 yds;
Stanley 2, 4 yds;
Day 2, 3 yds;
Malenfont 1, 2 yds;
Wilson 1, 2 yds
F — Clawson
21, 180 yds TD;
Niles 10, 43 yds;
Richard 5, 14 yds;
Marsh 1, 10 yds;
Spooner 3, 3 yds TD
Records: B — 6-4,
F — 8-2

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
STOPPED COLD — Foxcroft seniors Cody Labbe (54) and Ryan Dankert bring down Bucksport junior Lucas Wardwell during the opening quarter of the Class D North championship in Dover-Foxcroft on Nov. 10. Looking on is Pony senior Reggie Johnston (66) and Bucksport senior Chase Carmichael (10) and junior Carter Tolmasoff (1). The Ponies came out on top in the frigid conditions 34-0, and will now face South champion Wells on Saturday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
WATCH YOUR STEP — Pony junior Jeremy Richard avoids a tackle and is aided by a block from classmate Hyatt Smith on Friday evening. Smith would score the game’s first touchdown on a 30-yard pass from senior Nick Clawson, and the six points would turn out to be all Foxcroft needed as the team posted its third consecutive shutout dating back to the regular season finale.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
1,000 YARDS RUSHING/PASSING — Senior Nick Clawson led all players during the regional championship with 180 rushing yards. Clawson surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground during the Nov. 10 contest vs. Bucksport and he also exceeded 1,100 passing yards in 2017.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
JOHNNY ON THE SPOT — Foxcroft senior Johnny Labree pursues Bucksport senior quarterback Chase Carmichael during the Class D North championship at Oakes Field. With the 34-0 win, the Ponies will be appearing in a state championship for the first time since winning the 2012 Class C Gold Ball.

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