PORTLAND — The Bucksport football team reached this year’s state title game by using its size advantage to plow through opponents. Facing a much tougher — and faster — foe Saturday afternoon, the Golden Bucks’ Gold Ball push ended in heartbreak.
Bucksport suffered a 28-8 defeat to Lisbon in Saturday’s Class D championship game at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. The loss was a crushing end to a special season for the Golden Bucks, who fell one win short of claiming their first state title since 2004.
“I don’t think we played anywhere near what we’re capable of playing, but you’ve got to give Lisbon a lot of credit because they played very well,” Bucksport head coach Joel Sankey said. “They’re fast, and they executed very well, and we didn’t. … We made too many mistakes.”
Bucksport got off to a rough start to the game as Class D South No. 2 Lisbon (8-3) intercepted a pass from Brady Findlay and took the ball to midfield. The Greyhounds then drove the ball to the red zone, where they took a 7-0 lead on a 17-yard pass from Seth Leeman to Justin Le with 7 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Although Bucksport (9-1) stalled in the red zone on its ensuing drive, the Golden Bucks took an 8-7 lead with 3:44 left in the half via a 1-yard touchdown plunge and successful 2-point conversion run from Jaxon Gross. The lead didn’t last long, though, as Leeman ran for a 55-yard touchdown on the next play from scrimmage to put the Greyhounds up 14-8 heading into the break.
“We’ve generally been a grind-it-out team, so the fact that we were able to score quickly in a couple scenarios was huge for our confidence,” Lisbon head coach Chris Kates said. “When a team is running it successfully against you like [Bucksport was doing], getting that confidence back up allows you to keep fighting.”
The second half started off better for Bucksport, which halted a Lisbon drive to the red zone with a Jake Guty interception before moving the ball to midfield. Yet the Golden Bucks would be forced into a passing situation on third-and-long after being flagged for holding, and the Greyhounds capitalized by intercepting Findlay again to regain possession.
The Greyhounds then capped off a touchdown drive with a 1-yard run from Le to stretch the lead to 21-8 with 2:15 left in the third quarter. Lisbon’s defense kept Bucksport from establishing any sort of momentum in the fourth and put the result beyond doubt with 1:51 to play on a 53-yard touchdown run from Daytona McIver.
Lisbon’s first and third touchdowns came as Leeman led the Greyhounds to a pair of key fourth-down conversions; the quarterback’s pass to Le for the opening score took place on fourth-and-7, and Le’s rushing touchdown in the third quarter came after Leeman completed another fourth-and-long throw to take Lisbon to the 1-yard line.
The Greyhounds were also successful at running the ball outside the tackles. Whereas Bucksport had been able to set the edge and limit outside runs against its Little Ten Conference opponents, the Golden Bucks found it difficult to keep pace defensively against a quick Lisbon team that averaged nearly 8 yards per carry in the win.
“We had some breakdowns on defense,” Sankey said. “That’s what happens when you play these spread teams: They take their best athlete and put him at quarterback where he can throw the ball and run the ball. Unless you’re very disciplined and do your keys and do what you’re supposed to do, that’s what happens.”
Gross finished with 210 rushing yards on 35 carries for Bucksport, which totaled 270 yards as a team. Lisbon, which claimed its first state title since 2006 and 11th overall, had 264 yards of offense. Riley Quatrano had both interceptions for the Greyhounds on defense.
Bucksport’s eight points scored were its fewest in a game all season, and its 28 allowed were its most. The Golden Bucks’ previous low for points scored and high for points allowed both came Oct. 11 against Oak Hill, which they beat 21-14 in their only prior showdown with a Class D South team this season.
Next season, Bucksport will return its talented running back trio of Gross, Ty Giberson and Josh Miller as well as wide receivers Logan Stanley and Tyler Hallett and linemen Gavin Billings and Julian Shook, among others. Yet Saturday’s defeat marked the final game for a talented group of seniors that included Findlay, linemen Dawson Eaton and David Gross and tight end Cam Soper.
“They’re a great group,” Sankey said. “They worked hard, and they deserve everything they got. They’re great kids.”