The Maine Central Institute football team was determined to break its hex. And the Huskies found the wildest, craziest, zaniest way to do it.

MCI secured its first state title in 42 years Saturday night, beating Lisbon 20-14 in the Class D final when Eli Bussell picked up a botched snap on a field-goal attempt and sprinted 20 yards for a touchdown on the last play of the game.

“It’s amazing. It feels impossible to put into words. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Bussell said. “Indescribable. It was an amazing feeling.”

The play was only possible because of a frantic second-half rally by the Huskies (12-0), who trailed 14-0 at halftime and seemed out of answers. Quarterback Josh Buker rallied MCI, however, rushing for 66 of his 97 yards after the break and guiding the Huskies to scoring drives in the third and fourth quarters.

“You’re not feeling better than that, right there,” Buker said. “It’s confidence, but it’s heart. It’s a lot more heart than it is confidence. We’re shaky sometimes with that confidence, but we never go down.”

Buker completed a 58-yard touchdown pass to Adam Bertrand with 3:16 left in the third quarter, then combined with Bussell on a 21-yard scoring run in which Buker ran 19 yards and then pitched the ball to the running back, who scored the tying touchdown with 3:47 to play.


Buker’s greatest heroics, however, came on the final drive. MCI took over at its own 23 with 40 seconds left, and Buker ran for 17 and 21 yards before hitting Bertrand with a 19-yard pass down the right sideline with three seconds to go.

Out trotted Devon Varney for what would have been a 37-yard field-goal attempt, but he never got a chance as Bussell mishandled the snap. Bussell picked up the ball, beat the defenders around right end and sprinted down the sideline into the end zone, giving MCI the title after losses to Oak Hill in the 2014 and 2015 state finals.

“That’s Eli,” Coach Tom Bertrand said. “He doesn’t panic. … He knows we have complete confidence in him.”

Lisbon (8-2) took control in the first half when quarterback Tyler Halls rushed for two touchdowns after a promising drive deep into MCI territory ended with an interception.

A 4-yard run by Halls put the Greyhounds ahead 6-0 with 6:37 remaining in the half. After MCI gambled and lost by going for it on fourth down from its own 38, Lisbon made the Huskies pay, with Halls again leading the charge. The quarterback took the ball himself on five of the drive’s six plays, converting a third-and-2 from the 18 with an 8-yard run. On first-and-goal from the 10, he burst through a hole in the middle to make it 14-0 with 2:32 to go in the half.

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