Playoff stunner: Lions Dodge Hornets’ nest for emotional football winDodge scores with no time left to help knock off defending regional champions
Turner — For years to come, it will be remembered as one of the most exciting, down-to-the-wire, emotionally-satisfying playoff victories in Belfast Area High School football history and it happened 78 miles from the Lions' den in the middle of a Hornets' net.
It was a victory that left Lion players, coaches and fans abuzz with happiness.
There are tears of sorrow, sadness and disappointment, and then there are the tears of complete and utter joy. And those flowed from many of those associated with the Lions Friday night after a job well done so far from home.
It is no secret BAHS has had, for several seasons, trouble with Leavitt on the gridiron.
The Lions had made the postseason two of the previous three years heading into this season's playoffs, each year falling to the mighty Hornets, the three-time defending regional champions.
And, as the luck of the draw would have it, the pesky Hornets were on the docket for the first game of this fall's playoffs.
However, all things — good and bad — come to an end and for the Lions on Oct. 26, it was their recent losing streak to the Hornets that became a memory. Belfast turned a negative history into a positive current and future.
In a monumental upset, the No. 7 Lions (5-4) traveled to Turner — several hours drive from home — and stunned the No. 2 Hornets (7-2) on the final play of the game, coming away with an emotionally-draining and completely-satisfying 20-17 victory in Friday night's Eastern Class B quarterfinal playoff game.
With the visitors trailing 17-14 with no time remaining on the clock, Lion Carl Dodge powered across the goal line on the game’s final play to seal the win for Belfast, which will face No. 6 Waterville (5-4) in next weekend's semifinals, on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 1 p.m. The Purple Panthers were 25-17 winners over No. 3 Hampden Academy (7-2) in another quarterfinal upset Friday night.
During the regular season, Belfast did not face Waterville, but did fall to Hampden Academy 42-14 on Sept. 21.
On Friday in Turner, Dodge scored 14 of the Lions' 20 points, while Tyler Tran also scored a touchdown for Belfast in the victory.
Dodge finished with 85 yards on 18 carries, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion, while Tran had two catches for 45 yards and quarterback Zach Collier was 11-of-17 passing for 125 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Collier also had two fumble recoveries and Albert Ray a fumble recovery.
The Lion defense was led by the interior linemen and linebackers Peter Kelley and Travis Tufo, said BAHS coach Chris Bartlett.
The Lions and Hornets were deadlocked 8-8 early in the game before the Hornets began to pull away, taking leads of 14-8 and 17-8, after field goal.
Dodge then scored 12 unanswered fourth-quarter points on a 20-yard touchdown run and the game-winning 1 1/2-yard plunge as time expired to lift the Lions to the victory.
Tran’s touchdown was a 15-yard reception in the first quarter from quarterback Collier, who had a tremendous overall passing performance for Belfast. Dodge finished that scoring drive with a two-point conversion.
Friday's win was made more satisfying because it came on the Hornets' field and avenged a 36-0 regular-season loss to Leavitt Sept. 7 in Turner.
Prior to Friday night's game, the Hornets had outscored the Lions 288-42 in their previous six games dating back to 2009, two of which were playoff affairs.
That all changed Friday night when, to a man, the Lions "believed" they could put together a solid all-around performance against their postseason nemesis, and did that in a big way.
There were many key plays during Friday's game, including the Lion defense holding talented Leavitt in check before the BAHS offense could methodically mount a comeback, culminating with Dodge's winning touchdown.
In one of the most exciting finishes to a Midcoast high school football in recent memory, as time ran out, the Lions trailed 17-14 and knocked on the door of the end zone. At one point, Collier spiked the ball to stop the clock with a couple of seconds left and, after a quick timeout, Collier handed the ball to Dodge, who got strong blocking up front from teammates, and then appeared to be stopped short of the goal line, only to keep moving and eventually bull his way across the line after the final horn had sounded.
The Lions played their hearts out in all facets of the game, and the emotional toll that effort — and resulting victory — took showed as nearly all of the players and coaches had tears streaming down their faces — tears of utter joy and satisfaction. They were rewarded a season of hard work and dedication, they said.
Dodge said he told coach Bartlett he wanted the ball with the game — and Lions' season — on the line. "I told him I would get it in the end zone," Dodge said, who added that he simply lowered his shoulder, made contact with Hornet defenders as the final buzzer sounded, and then fell foward across the end line to send the Lions into pandemonium.
About 100 BAHS fans, who made the long trip to Turner and who never stopped cheering the entire game, went wild. On the final play, fans for both teams literally screamed their lungs out and made the overall atmosphere amazing for the young student-athletes.
Dodge said Friday's game was the most amazing football contest he has been a part of, even a little more pleasing then the Lions' comeback from a 22-0 deficit to Mount Desert Island earlier this season, an eventual 30-22 win.
Collier said Belfast watched plenty of film on Leavitt and the Lions were prepared for the game and turned in one of their finest performances under the brightest spotlight. He said with time running down and fans from both teams screaming, he had to keep his head about him and maintain poised. He did that by handing the ball to Dodge. From that point, Collier had a front row seat to the final play as his teammate worked to get into the end zone.
"As I watched him, I kept saying to myself, 'Please, please get in,' " Collier said. "When he got in I couldn't believe it. I just fell to my knees and started crying. I was so happy."
Coach Bartlett said immediately after the game he was "still wrapping his head around" what just took place in the amazing 48-minute game. "The boys came out and played hard and I knew if they continued to play and not get shell shocked we had a chance. I am so very proud of these boys."
The coach said he thought, briefly, about attempting a field goal, which would have, if good, tied the game 17-17. But when Dodge asked for the ball, Bartlett said he could not deny the hard-working senior — or all the team's seniors — the opportunity to try to pull out one of the most important victories in BAHS gridiron history.
"How can you not give the ball to a senior tailback when he asks for it in that situation?" Bartlett said. "We had been moving the ball and I figured, 'Why not go out in a blaze of glory?' "
The coach said for the 12 seniors on the 54-player BAHS roster, Leavitt has been a thorn in the side, so it was nice to finally pull that thorn out with a satisfying win in the Hornets' nest.
Assistant Lion coaches Rich Kelley and Keith Holland, both former Rockland District High School head coaches, said Friday night's win was important for the Lion program — now and in the future. Kelley said years from now players on the 2012 Belfast football squad will be able to talk about the night they went into enemy territory and won a hard-fought war.
"This game will stick with them the rest of their lives," Kelley said. "This is a game people will talk abut for a long time to come."
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