Defense propels Dexter past Stearns-Schenck for North 8-player football crown

By Ernie Clark, Bangor Daily News Staff

DEXTER — Even in a high-scoring sport like 8-player football, the quest for a championship still often comes down to defense.

The Dexter Tigers understand that quite well.

Last week they scored 60 points in a semifinal victory at Houlton, but on Saturday, Nov. 6 coach Andrew Shorey’s club yielded just a single touchdown while capturing the North region small school championship in 8-player football with a 22-6 win over Stearns-Schenck of Millinocket at Tiger Field.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom REGIONAL CHAMPS — Dexter defeated the Stearns-Schenck cooperative program 22-6 at home on the afternoon of Nov. 6 to capture the north 8-player small school championship. The Tigers will now play for the state title against South champion Maranacook of Readfield on Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

“Offensively we really couldn’t block things up and we were struggling at times, but defensively we just played amazing,” Dexter junior quarterback and defensive back Bryce Connor said.

The victory sends Dexter to next Saturday’s 8-player small-school state final at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. The Tigers will face South champion Maranacook of Readfield — the fifth seed in the region — which routed No. 2 Dirigo of Dixfield 50-7 in its regional final on Friday night. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13, following the conclusion of the large school championship between Waterville High School and Cheverus High School of Portland.

Third-seeded Dexter (6-2 which includes a 36-14 regular season win in Millinocket on Sept. 10) yielded just 164 yards of total offense with a defense that stymied No. 4 Stearns-Schenck’s passing game. Senior Cam Allen led the way with two pass interceptions and a fourth-down stop that ended a Stearns-Schenck drive at the Dexter 3-yard line.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
GETTING OVER THE GOAL LINE — Dexter senior Cam Allen extends to break the plane on a 2-point conversion during the second quarter against Stearns-Schenck on Nov. 6 in the regional championship. Allen helped the Tigers go up 14-0 and the team won by a final score of 22-6. Looking on are Dexter sophomores William Spratt (39) and Zakary Adams. In on the tackle is Minutemen sophomores CJ Lyons, (7) and Brady McAvoy (50) and sophomore Caden Raymond (12) in the background.

“[Dexter] defending the pass and taking away the deep pass — something that we do a lot and have success doing — was big,” said Stearns-Schenck head coach Cody Herring, whose team managed just 67 yards through the air on 6-of-20 passing efficiency.

Dexter also generated a 55-39 advantage in offensive plays thanks to a rushing attack featuring Connor and senior Avery Gagnon that amassed 287 of the team’s 360 total yards. That came despite the Tigers being without senior fullback Nathan Schobel, sidelined with a right ankle injury after rushing for 307 yards and three touchdowns in the team’s semifinal victory a week ago.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
HARDWARE IN HAND — Senior Gage Sinclair hoists the regional championship plaque with classmates Avery Gagnon (3) and Cam Allen (7). The 22-6 victory over Stearns-Schenck gave Dexter its first berth in a football state championship at any level since the 1989 squad reached the Class C title game.

Connor totaled 127 yards on 17 carries, including second-quarter touchdown runs of 57 and 13 yards to stake the Tigers to a 14-0 halftime lead.

Gagnon, who missed Dexter’s two previous games due to injury, returned to action and grew stronger as the game progressed, gaining 79 of his 107 rushing yards after intermission.

He also threw a 40-yard pass to junior Will Kusnierz on a fake punt play in the first quarter.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
REDZONE STAND — Junior Will Kusnierz, with senior Avery Gagnon (3) in on the play, knocks away a pass intended for Stearns-Schenck junior Aidan Sanders late in the first half. The Tiger secondary forced fourth straight incompletions from the Dexter 12-yard line to preserve a 14-0 lead at that point.

“We struggled a little bit in the first half,” Shorey said. “[Stearns] did some good stuff and we weren’t moving our feet and they’re physical up front, but we got it going a little bit and broke some big runs. We have some talented backs.”

Dexter drove 78 yards in five plays to take a 6-0 lead with 3:56 left in the first half on Connor’s improvisational longest run of the afternoon.

“It was a direct snap and I was just taking the ball and going,” Connor said. “It wasn’t blocked up right on the left so I cut back to the right and the field was wide open. It was a broken play but it worked.”

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
THREE-TOUCHDOWN DAY — Dexter junior quarterback Bryce Connor runs around a block by junior Kayden Kimball (5), senior Avery Gagnon (3) and sophomore William Spratt (39) during the third quarter. Connor would score touchdowns on 57- and 13-yard runs and throw for another for 160 all-purpose yards.

Dexter got the ball right back when the ensuing kickoff bounced off the foot of a Stearns-

Schenck player and was recovered by sophomore Will Spratt at the Minutemen’s 30. Connor raced 13 yards through the middle of the defense to the end zone five plays later and Allen rushed for the two-point conversion for Dexter’s second touchdown within a 1-minute, 21-second span.

“The execution on special teams hurt us,” Herring said.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
100 YARDS ON THE GROUND — Senior Avery Gagnon helped Dexter by rushing for 107 yards on 17 carries, including this 17-yard run for a first down in the fourth quarter.

Stearns-Schenck (5-4) nearly got one score back before intermission after senior defensive tackle Alex Jacobs recovered a Dexter fumble at the Tigers’ 12-yard line with 27.6 seconds left, but Dexter’s defense induced four straight pass incompletions to get the ball back without yielding a yard.

“They love to pass, so we focused all week on shutting down the passing game and it worked,” Connor said.

Dexter used a four-play, 61-yard march to extend the lead on its second possession of the second half. Gagnon began the drive with a 24-yard cutback run and Connor did the rest with runs of 7 and 10 yards before he fired a 22-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Kayden Kimball with 5:28 left in the third quarter.

Kimball added the two-point conversion run to make it 22-0.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
TRICK PLAY — Backed up in its own territory to start the second quarter, Dexter faked a punt with senior Avery Gagnon throwing to Will Kusnierz (24) for a 40-yard completion to the 50-yard line.

Stearns-Schenck then earned its initial first down since midway through the opening quarter while driving from its 42 to the Dexter 12, but when Shearer found sophomore Caden Raymond wide open at 3-yard line with a fourth-and-goal pass, Allen raced over to make the tackle before Raymond could reach the end zone with 52.5 seconds left in the third.

The Minutemen finally broke through on their next possession as Shearer passed 15 yards to freshman Cameron Atkinson for the touchdown with 5:20 left in the game.

Stearns-Schenck got the ball back two plays later on a fumble recovery by sophomore defensive end Brady McAvoy, but while Shearer hit junior Jack Morris for a 26-yard gain to the Dexter 27 on the next play the Minutemen weren’t able to threaten further and eventually relinquished the ball on downs.

The regional championship is the first for Dexter since the 1989 team reached the Class C title game. More recently, Dexter played in the Class D North championship in 2016 and in 2019 when the program was still in the 11-player ranks.

History will be made on Saturday when Dexter and Maranacook play for the inaugural 8-player small school championship, as in 2019 there was only one division. The Black Bears of Maranacook will play in the program’s first football state championship at any level.

Stuart Hedstrom of the Piscataquis Observer contributed to this story.



Small School



No. 3 Dexter 22

No. 4 Stearns/Schenck 6

STR  0  0  0  6  |  6

DEX  0  14  8  0  |  22

Second: D — Conner 57 yds

(rush fail)

D — Connor 13 yds 

(Allen rush)

Third: D — Connor 20 yds 

to Kimball (Kimball rush)

Fourth: S — Shearer 15 yds

to Atkinson

(rush fail)

Passing: D — Connor 2-of-5

33 yds TD; Gagnon 1-of-1

40 yds

S — Shearer 7-of-21 77

tds 2 Int

Receiving: D — Kusnierz 1,

40 yds; Kimball 1, 20 yds TD;

Allen 1, 13 yds

S — Raymond 3, 20 yds;

Sanders 2, 18 yds; 

Morris 1, 24 yds;

Atkinson 1, 15 yds TD

Rushing: D — Connor 17,

127 yds 2 TD; Gagnon 17,

107 yds; Allen 7, 62 yds;

Kimball 6, 15 yds; 

Kusnierz 1, -2 yds

S — Shearer 7, 54 yds;

Raymond 13, 43 yds

Sanders 4, 10 yds

Records: D — 6-2

S — 5-4

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