MDI’s Brendan Graves stiff-arms a defender during a high school football playoff game against Waterville on Oct. 29 at Waterville Senior High School. The Trojans finished their inaugural season of eight-man football 3-5 with the loss. PHOTO COURTESY OF BARRY GUTRADT

MDI football falls to Waterville in 8-man Large-School semis



By Drew Bonifant, Morning Sentinel

MDI’s Spencer Laurendeau bursts through the Waterville defense during a high school football playoff game Oct. 29 at Waterville Senior High School. Laurendeau threw for 232 yards and four touchdowns and added a 16-yard touchdown on the ground.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BARRY GUTRADT

WATERVILLE — Liam Von Oesen wore a smile of relief and exhaustion moments after the final whistle Friday afternoon. His coach, Isaac LeBlanc, had one too.

The Waterville football team was moving on in eight-man football’s Large-School North playoffs. But for the Purple Panthers, it wasn’t easy.

Von Oesen ran for 288 yards and five touchdowns and also threw a touchdown pass, and No. 1 Waterville defeated No. 4 Mount Desert Island 50-40 to reach the Large-School final.

The Panthers (6-1) were victorious, but they were tested. Von Oesen needed to carry the ball 40 times to reach his yardage total (41 including a final kneeldown), and while Waterville had control of the win for much of the game, the Trojans (3-5) kept answering the blows and ensuring that if the Panthers wanted to advance, they were going to have to work for it.

“They’re a great team,” Von Oesen said. “It was a lot of running, but I felt great doing it. I was just so happy to get the win today. It’s something Waterville hasn’t done for a long time.”

“I’m glad we won. MDI, to me, that’s probably one of, if not the best defense we’ve played all year,” LeBlanc said. “They have tremendous athletes on defense, their linebackers are phenomenal. We had to really earn this one.”

The Trojans were tough, but so was Von Oesen. MDI forced Waterville to change its gameplan with the star quarterback, focusing on taking away the outside runs that have sprung Von Oesen for so many big gains throughout the season.

“The nice thing is our kids wanted to play against him,” MDI head coach Mark Arnold said. “This guy’s the best athlete in the conference, there’s no doubt about that. As a coach, you’re just proud when you have a team that wants to play players like that.”

Von Oesen had only two runs for more than 20 yards.

“We had to come up with some stuff on the fly,” he said. “But it worked. Our coaches did a great job today.”

“We had to earn literally everything,” LeBlanc said. “We wanted to keep grinding the ball. … Instead of trying to get a first down on first and second down, like we’ve been able to do a lot this season, it was more like, ‘OK, let’s stay on schedule to get a first down in three plays.’ We did a lot more power run inside.”

Even held to smaller chunks of yardage, Von Oesen still proved tough to stop. He had 8- and 1-yard touchdown runs in the first half, and also found Spencer Minihan for a 24-yard touchdown pass en route to leading Waterville to a 28-18 halftime lead.

In the second half, the dam finally broke. Von Oesen shifted through three tackles en route to a 26-yard touchdown run on Waterville’s first possession of the second half. And after MDI’s Brendan Graves turned a simple dump-off pass from Spencer Laurendeau (8 of 15, 232 yards, four touchdowns) into a 56-yard touchdown two plays later, Von Oesen swung momentum back to Waterville’s side with a 57-yard touchdown run on the next play from scrimmage for a 42-26 lead with 1:59 left in the third.

“He’s not a real vocal guy, but he just leads by example and he grinds,” LeBlanc said. “We gave him more (carries) than I wanted to, but we needed him to carry that many times. The kid’s got a lot of heart. He loves the game, he’s a great teammate.”

Mount Desert Island’s Jacob Shields looks to bring down Waterville’s Liam Von Oesen during a high school football playoff game Oct. 29 at Waterville Senior High School. MDI’s season came to an end with a 50-40 loss to the top-ranked Purple Panthers in eight-man football’s Large-School North semifinals.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BARRY GUTRADT

The Trojans didn’t give in. Even after a turnover on downs, they forced the only Waterville punt of the game, and Laurendeau quickly found Alex Gray (two catches, 63 yards) for 40 yards and then A.J. Lozano (three catches, 90 yards) for 27 and a touchdown, making it 42-32. Waterville seemed to knock MDI out with a 65-yard drive lasting 6:52 that culminated in Von Oesen’s 17-yard run, but the Trojans got a 16-yard scramble from Laurendeau followed by a 35-yard touchdown pass to Lozano that made it 50-40 with 2:53 left and kept hope alive.

MDI reached the Waterville 26 on its next drive, but Minihan batted down a fourth-down pass with 22 seconds to finally end it.

“They’re the No. 1 team in the pool for a reason. We knew that,” said Arnold, whose team also got a 4-yard touchdown run from Aiden Grant, an 11-yard touchdown reception from Jacob Shields and a 31-yard scoring connection on a trick play from Graves to Laurendeau in the first half. “I’m really proud of our team, just to battle and not give up all the way to the end. For us, that wasn’t our goal today. We really believed all week we could come in and win this football game.”

In addition to Von Oesen’s scores, Waterville also got an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Dustan Hunter.

“We did just enough,” LeBlanc said. “They made us work though, man. I’m exhausted.”

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