Quarterback Eric Christensen, a senior, has been the Thornton Academy starter since the first game of his junior year. His counterpart, Liam Fitzpatrick of Cheverus, had to wait for two talented players to graduate before getting his shot.
While they’ve taken different paths to their positions, there’s no denying their importance to their team’s success. The seniors are much more than caretakers of the offense.
When No. 1 Cheverus (10-0) and No. 2 Thornton Academy (9-1) play for the Western Class A football championship at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Cheverus High, both quarterbacks will be asked to stay cool, make split-second decisions, throw pinpoint passes and run for first downs.
For Christensen and Fitzpatrick, it’s nothing they haven’t done all season.
The stakes are higher this week and even more so the following Saturday for the player whose team advances to the state final Nov. 17 at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Last week in the regional semifinals, the quarterbacks had two of their best performances of the season.
On Cheverus’ third play of the game against Portland, Fitzpatrick threw a 52-yard touchdown pass after the Bulldogs had just stuffed a couple of running plays.
So much for momentum.
Against Scarborough, Thornton scored on its first seven possessions with Christensen directly involved in five of those scores — three scoring passes and two short sneaks for touchdowns.
Unlike some teams where the quarterback is the offense, Fitzpatrick and Christensen have the luxury of strong supporting casts. They hand off to arguably two of the best players in Class A — running backs Donald Goodrich of Cheverus and Andrew Libby of Thornton, who also double as defensive stalwarts. Their tight ends, Ryan Casale and Dakota Tarbox, are big, sure-handed receivers.
“It’s great having a playmaker at every position,” said Christensen. “It makes it pretty easy with the players around me.”
Added Fitzpatrick: “I know my teammates are giving 100 percent and they know I’m giving 100 percent.”
Fitzpatrick and Christensen add to their teams’ depth with their running and passing. Neither Cheverus nor Thornton can be considered pass-first teams, but when they do, they make their opponents pay.
The two quarterbacks have shown strong and accurate arms. Last week Fitzpatrick was 4 of 5 for 129 yards and Christensen was 6 of 6 for 140 yards.
Their running styles offer a contrast.
At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Christensen is a battering ram when he gets up a head of steam. He runs almost exclusively north-south.
Fitzpatrick is 6 feet, 160 pounds and elusive. Portland seemingly had him trapped behind the line of scrimmage a few times only to have him escape and turn a loss into a gain. One of the Stags’ plays is to have Fitzpatrick roll out and run.
For the Golden Trojans, Christensen lines up in the shotgun, fakes the handoff and runs straight ahead. With misdirection, the play has been effective all season.
“Eric has been very consistent for us this year,” said Thornton Coach Kevin Kezal. “We ask a lot of our quarterback. His decision making with the run and the pass has improved. Eric has worked hard in becoming a better quarterback. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him.”
Christensen has taken quarterback lessons from two former Boston College quarterbacks — Quinton Porter, a Portland native, and Brian St. Pierre.
“I’ve been working with Quinton for two years and with Brian at the end of last year,” said Christensen. “It was a lot of work on mechanics and footwork. And what to do in certain situations. It’s helped me a lot.”
Christensen started in the secondary as a sophomore, but stopped after he became the starting quarterback. He is a backup safety and outside linebacker.
Fitzpatrick has started in the secondary since his sophomore year and played wide receiver the last two years before moving to quarterback. He was the backup quarterback to Peter Gwilym as a sophomore and to Cam Olson last season.
“They were really good role models,” said Fitzpatrick.
Entering the season, the biggest question for the two-time defending Class A champions was at quarterback. While Fitzpatrick brings his own style, the position hasn’t skipped a beat in terms of productivity or efficiency.
“He has really matured as a player and an athlete,” said Cheverus Coach John Wolfgram.
“He’s a good leader.”
On Oct. 13, Cheverus beat Thornton 28-14 in Saco to tie the Class A record for consecutive wins at 31. Cheverus never trailed in the game.
Cheverus will be looking for the same fast start Saturday, while Thornton knows it can’t afford any offensive lulls, which it had in the first meeting.
“We need to come out more physical and execute better,” said Christensen.
“We need to play our game for 48 minutes,” said Fitzpatrick.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:
Twitter: TomChard PPH