Brunswick’s Noah Goddard, center, snaps the ball during a drill during Tuesday’s practice in Topsham. (Eric Maxim / The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — It takes success in all facets of the game to reach the State Class B Football Finals five out of the last six seasons. You can’t just have an electric offense or a suffocating defense, you need to have a combination of both if you want to have success and play deep into November.

The 2019 edition of the Brunswick High School football team is just that, a combination of a potent offense that rushed for over 2,500 yards and 40 touchdowns during the regular season, and a stifling defense that has allowed just 153 points in 11 games. Only once did a team exceed 21 points on the Dragons (Skowhegan in the Class B North semifinals in a 44-29 victory).

On Saturday, the Dragons (11-0) will square off with B South champ Marshwood (10-1) at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland, with kickoff slated for 6 p.m. It will be the fourth time in six years that the Dragons have faced the Hawks in the state final. Marshwood has defeated Brunswick in all three previous meetings — 44-18 (2014), 21-14 (2015) and 49-0 (2018). Brunswick captured a Gold Ball in 2016 with a 28-6 win over Kennebunk.

Three-headed dragon

Brunswick’s Owen Richardson seeks running room during the Dragons 44-29 victory over Skowhegan in a Class B North semifinal round playoff contest. (Eric Maxim / Times Record)

On their way to scoring 508 points thus far this season, the Dragons have done it mainly on the ground. Sure, there have been some big touchdown passes from quarterback Noah Goddard to players like Cam Hathaway, Chandler Coombs or Treyvon McKenzie, but it’s been the “three-headed Dragon” that has garnered most of the headlines.

Seniors Owen Richardson, Mitch Lienert and junior Cody Larson have carried the bulk of the ground game this season, making Goddard’s job a lot easier under center.

“It helps our team having three unbelievable backs. It doesn’t matter whose number I call, they can all run behind our line,” Goddard said. “It’s great when you have so many guys that can rush the ball. It definitely takes pressure off me, it’s awesome to have.”

McKenzie, who opens up a lot of blocks for the talented backs from the tight end position, loves the depth.

“Our running backs have skill in all departments, if one goes down, we have another to take his place, it’s a great thing,” McKenzie said.

For opposing teams, it’s been a nightmare, with the Dragons’ offensive line pushing the way.

“It gives any team trouble,” Lienert said. “It is a hard thing to defend, so I think it’s been a huge factor for us. But a big thing for us has been our phenomenal offensive line play. They have raised it up this year and they’re a big reason we’re able to run so well, makes it so we can do our thing.”

Larson also credits the offensive line for Brunswick’s successful running game.

Brunswick’s Mitch Lienert tries to push through Windham players toward the goal line in a game at Brunswick. Brunswick won, 27-14. (Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald)

“We call our linemen the ‘hogs,’ they do all of the dirty work up front,” Larson said. “We follow our blockers, as they find us the holes and we run through them.”

Brunswick coach Dan Cooper is pleased how his backfield has developed.

“They’ve completely bought into the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back. Winning is more important than the stats,” Cooper said. “They’re good at all phases of the game, they run well, they block well, they receive well, and carry out their fakes. I think they understand if one does well, they all do well. It makes it easy for them all.”

And if you ask either of the three, they would all unselfishly explain that whatever number is called in the huddle, there is no rivalry among the backs, as they have each other’s back.

“Not at all,” Richardson, who has rushed for over 1,600 yards and 27 touchdowns, said. “When we get in the huddle and we hear the play called we know who’s getting the ball. When I hear my number called I have the same reaction as if I heard Mitch or Cody’s number called up. We are all confident in Coach (Eric) Sulzberger’s play calling, and we know we’re all very skilled running backs.”

For Lienert, having the junior Larson come in and grab some of the carries has helped him stay fresh.

“It’s been a luxury for us, especially for me. For most of the season I’ve been playing both ways and to be able to take some breaks and have Cody come in for me, it gives me time to rest and that keeps the team going while giving me time to rest. With that, I don’t feel guilty for taking a little time for myself.”

Richardson agreed.

Brunswick’s Cody Larson takes down Windham quarterback Will Ledbetter. (Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald)

“Cody being the younger one has been exceptional in stepping into that role for us,” the senior, who rushed for 301 yards in the South B Regional Final against Lawrence, said.

We’ll see how that works out on Saturday, against a Hawks team that has allowed just 90 points through 11 games, including three shutouts. Marshwood’s only loss this year came to Thornton Academy, a 28-27 setback in September. The 11-0 Trojans play for the State A title, also on Saturday.

Defense

The Brunswick defense, according to some of its own admissions, started out slow. But as the 2019 season progressed, the Dragons found their niche, and collectively became a unit to be reckoned with.

“I think early in the year Treyvon carried us, he was making all the big plays. As we’ve gotten into it, he’s making less big plays and everyone else is making them as we’re sharing the load,” Cooper said. “Obviously Jack (Harvey) has made a lot of big plays lately, Noah has been making big plays, Chandler Coombs has, as well as Cody, and Cam Hathaway in at linebacker, we’re all making plays now. As a whole, we’re a much better defense with more people chipping in.”

“The beginning of the year our defensive line was still working on things,” senior defensive end McKenzie said. “Throughout the year, the line has worked really hard to get where we are today and is one of our best parts on defense.”

Senior linebacker Jack Harvey, a key cog in the Dragon defense the past couple of years, explained the approach his team went through at the beginning of the season.

“We went back to the basics this year and focused on the fundamentals. Flying to the football has been our big thing,” Harvey said. “Our defensive linemen have rocked this year as their play has been one of the reasons for our success this year. They clog up the line and make it easier for our linebackers to make a play. Our goal on every defensive drive has been to force a three-and-out. I think our defense shutting the other teams down has prevented them from gaining momentum.”

Goddard, who had a key goal-line interception in the fourth quarter of the B South semifinals against Skowhegan, likes the way the Dragons’ defense has improved and hopes to slow down the fast-paced Hawks offense that has scored 496 points this year.

“We had some points where we may have not been playing our best defense, but overall as a squad, when things started to go the wrong way, we began to tighten up and listen to coach Coop’s game plan and go with it,” Goddard added. “Good things have happened playing this way, so we hope to stick with that. We have some different guys and different schemes this year that have worked well. As long as our big assets on defense come to play, we’ll be right there.”

Marshwood

The Hawks enter Saturday’s game playing in their sixth State B title in eight years, winning it all in 2014, 2015, 2017, and again in 2018.

Cooper and company are looking forward to the rematch.

“We’re glad to play Marshwood again, we haven’t beat them yet,” Cooper said. “We have that and of course you want to beat the best team to be the best and certainly Marshwood is that. Every time we’ve played them they have been so good. A couple of those games they were that much better than us. The scores were out of hand, but our kids played hard and we played well, they were just that much better.”

“We took a loss last year, but that made us more hungry to play for (a Gold Ball) again,” McKenzie added.

For Richardson, last year’s loss was especially tough as he had to watch from the sidelines after suffering a season-ending injury in the first game of the year.

“This year has been different for me on a personal level. It was very hard watching my team get thrown around a little bit last year and not being able to go out there and be there with them and help out,” Richardson said. “I know if I was in that game I would have helped out all my teammates, whether it had been score-wise or just another leader out there on the field. It was very hard for me even after the state game for it to sink in that I was just on the sidelines helpless and not being able to do anything. I translated that into this year and have used that for motivation, that’s not happening again.”

For returning players like Harvey and Lienert, it’s been a long time coming for the rematch and possibly a little revenge.

“We definitely have a little bit of a bitter taste in our mouth from last year,” Harvey said. “We know that they are going to play us well and we have to play a perfect game to beat them. We’re going into it with the mentality we have nothing to lose, might as well just play our best game for 48 minutes and see how it goes.”

“I was on that team and it was tough, it’s been a little needle in my side ever since,” Lienert said. “Even though we didn’t know if we were going to play Marshwood, it’s been our goal, to get back. As things played out, we now have them again and a getting a chance for a little revenge is always nice.”

Goddard also echoed those feelings.

“Our goal was always Gold Ball or bust, so we wanted to go back and get another chance at it,” the senior said. “Once we saw things going in the right direction, we got a pretty good idea of what was going to happen and saw it was Marshwood. They’re a good team over there and we’ll have to play very well to beat them.”

While the two schools don’t play during the season, Brunswick is all too familiar with the team from South Berwick.

“We’ve scrimmaged them a few times over the years,” Cooper said. “We are quite familiar with them. We have used some of their plays and incorporated them into our game plan. We feel we’re as good as them, they have speed, we have speed. They’re good up front, we’re good up front. They have a great quarterback, we have one. I feel this is the best chance we’ve had to match up with them as a team, as in other years they were just that much better than us.”

But either way, to play again against a program like Marshwood, Cooper and his team appreciate that they are still in the Maine high school football conversation midway through November.

“It’s a compliment to be considered good enough to compete with them,” Cooper said. “We take it as a compliment and a challenge at the same time. They’re a quality team and we feel we’re a quality team and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to beat them and win a Gold Ball.”

And Larson notes what every Dragon is feeling.

“They’re a great team with a winning program like us,” Larson said. “We were feeling pretty confident coming in this year with our skill players. We have a good game plan that our coaches have prepared for us and we feel like we’re ready to go”

Brunswick High School football players warm up before Tuesday’s practice in Topsham. (Eric Maxim / The Times Record)

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