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Bangor Daily News
Orono football topples Bucksport, improves to 4-0
By Sam Canfield,
The Orono Red Riots outlasted their conference rival Bucksport Golden Bucks 44-18 Friday night in a matchup that lived up to the hype until the home team went up and pulled away.
Coming into Friday night’s game, both sides had ridden their high-powered offenses to undefeated starts and were keen on establishing their dominance over the region. But it became clear early on that neither team would be able to rest on its laurels.
Orono quickly found itself in an undesirable position after the first drive, when senior running back Ben Francis had the ball stripped in Bucksport territory, and the Bucks proceeded to use up 10:30 of clock en route to a Connor Fitch touchdown catch on fourth and goal.
When Orono received the ball again, they knew they had to kick it into gear.
“I wouldn’t call it panic, but there was definitely some uncertainty on the sideline,” junior Orono quarterback Jack Brewer said. “But the leaders stepped up. We told the guys, ‘This is a small setback, but if we keep working, we’re gonna get this win.”
In only three plays, the Red Riots equalized on a 22-yard senior Pierce Walston touchdown from junior quarterback Jack Brewer. And then when Orono forced a Bucksport punt on the ensuing drive, junior Will Francis promptly put Orono back on top.
Catching the punt at roughly his own 25-yard line, Francis sped and juked past everyone in his sight for the touchdown, and the crowd went crazy.
“It’s a lot of speed, and being able to read the field quickly,” Francis said. “My blockers are always there, I find that hole, and don’t look back.”
Francis was a threat on kickoff and punt returns all night, including a 37-yard return on the opening kick. He had two kickoff returns for touchdowns in last year’s state championship game loss against Old Orchard Beach.
“You can’t stop him!” the student section chanted.
After the Francis touchdown, Bucksport retaliated by stringing together a 25-yard pass to the senior Fitch and some pesky runs from senior quarterback Ayden Maguire. Maguire ran for 26 yards on three carries in the drive, including a touchdown from six yards out, cutting the Orono lead back to 14-12.
But Walston wasn’t done with his scoring spree.
Two drives later, Walston snagged a Brewer pass for 33 yards, and then caught another for a four yard touchdown, making it 20-12 with 48 seconds to go before halftime. He nearly had a third catch in the drive, which was barely ruled out of bounds.
“It was just my night,” Walston said.
Flash forward to the third quarter, and Bucksport was back at it again, grinding out another long drive and keeping the ball out of Orono’s hands. Finally, nearly nine minutes into the quarter, Orono forced a gritty turnover on downs, giving them a chance to build a two-score lead.
“We knew it was [going to] happen, but it was a matter of when it was happening,” Brewer said.
In another lightning-quick scoring drive, Brewer and company made it 28-12, with two short passes to Walston and then a 56-yard bomb to Will Francis on third and long.
In the fourth quarter, Orono turned to their ground game to wind out the clock, with Brewer and Ben Francis pounding for a handful of first downs and one touchdown apiece. On defense, junior Saladin Wise and Will Francis hauled in interceptions to help ice the game.
“It’s always great to beat Bucksport,” Brewer said. “They’re a great rival, and a great opponent. We knew that they were our best competition in this league, and they showed that tonight.”
Orono lost to Bucksport 36-15 in the regular season last year, before the Red Riots upset the Golden Bucks in the first round of the playoffs, 51-46.
Before losing to Old Orchard Beach in the 8-man small state title game, the Red Riots had won five in a row, and are building off that momentum this year. They are averaging 48.8 points scored this season, and only 9.5 allowed.
“We all have that one goal,” Walston said preseason. “To get that gold ball.”