Alex Rotsko of Marshwood High has coached football in Massachusetts and Maine in a career spanning close to 40 years. He knows the key to playing deep into the fall in New England.

“With the weather and field conditions, the running game becomes essential,” he said.

Offensive line play is important throughout the season, but it’s magnified when state championships are on the line.

“It doesn’t matter how good your skill players are,” said Thornton Academy Coach Kevin Kezal. “If the line doesn’t open the holes, the running backs aren’t going anywhere.”

Windham Coach Matt Perkins calls the offensive line “the lifeblood of the team.”

Dan Cooper, the Brunswick coach, calls the line “critical to the success of the team.”

Here’s another term that comes to mind: unsung.

“They don’t have a lot of tangible statistics like quarterbacks, running backs and receivers,” Kezal said. “Offensive linemen don’t hear their names announced.”

Well, that’s about to change.

In the Class B championship game Saturday night at Fitzpatrick Stadium, both Marshwood and Brunswick are likely to run the ball almost exclusively.

Marshwood has rushed for more than 4,500 yards this season. Brett Gerry has rushed for 2,069 yards and scored 31 touchdowns – remarkable totals considering he often didn’t play in the second half of games because the Hawks blew out 10 of their 11 opponents. Quarterback Luc Blanchette has rushed for 622 yards.

The Hawks gained their yardage on sweeps, dives, counters and traps. Their line of center Curtis McLean, guards Zach Mitchell and Nick Dalecki, tackles Tyler Fife and Brian MacDonald, and tight end Jake Lebel have had to execute a variety of blocks.

Alex Bandouveres and Will Bessey of Brunswick are only separated by three carries through 10 games. Bessey has 1,476 yards while Bandouveres has 1,105 yards. The Dragons’ line – center Devin Hewson, guards Andrew Cilea and Tristan Graves, tackles Nick Osbourne and Josh Goddard, and tight end Corban Teel – has done a remarkable job, considering all of the linemen are in their first season as starters.

In the Class A final, Thornton Academy and Windham are likely to strike a greater balance between the run and pass.

Thornton Academy quarterback Austin McCrum and his receivers average 20 yards a catch. Ben Lambert has 26 catches, and Corey Hart and Kevin Barrett have each hauled in 23 passes.

The Trojans have a veteran group of linemen: center Elijah Ayotte, guards Isaac Patry and D’Andre Morgan, tackles Ben Zuke and Ashton Lord, and tight end Kevin Barrett.

Windham probably won’t pass as much as Thornton but is more than capable. Quarterback Desmond Leslie completed 64 percent of his passes – tops in Eastern Class A. Dylan Koza is the Eagles’ leading rusher with 887 yards.

The Eagles’ line features several players in their first year as starters. The group is center Luke Forbush, guards Hunter Bowen and Thomas Sappier, tackles Tyrell Gullatt and Gerry Valliere, and tight end Zach Davis.

“For a lot of the season they’re banged up,” Perkins said of linemen in general. “Drills in practice aren’t fun. They’re pushing a blocking sled or blocking a dummy.”

A talented line makes adjustments on the fly and recognizes where the defense is vulnerable.

“Good line play requires teammates encouraging one another,” Perkins said. “Each guy depends on the other. Good communication is a key. We have some great leaders. They hang out together and sometimes have 10 to 20 players staying overnight at a teammates’ house.”

Even if linemen don’t get the publicity of the guys they block for, their work is recognized by the coaching staff, many of whom were linemen when they played. The skill players are always quick to praise the men in the trenches after games.

“Our linemen are pretty important,” said Cooper. “We’re going to treat them special. They’re kind of a fraternity.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.