Members of the Brunswick football team — inluding Sullivan Boyd, middle — celebrate after they sank Kennebunk 28-6 in the 2016 Class B final in Orono. Portland Press Herald file photo

Gold Ball or bust.

That was the motto of the Brunswick football team entering the 2016 season, and rightly so. The Dragons had reached the Class B state final each of the previous two seasons, losing to Marshwood on both occasions. With 21 returning seniors for the 2016 campaign, Brunswick returned with a confidence and desire to return to win its first state title of the modern era. The Dragons last won a state title in 1963, when they shared a league title with Madison. This was before the Maine Principals’ Association began to have state championship games.

“We knew we were going to make a run, and we knew we were probably going to be in the state game again, our goal was to finish it (in 2016),” senior running back Jesse Devereaux said. “It definitely isn’t fun to lose at that stage. We were going all in. We had too many seniors, too much depth.”

The Dragons had an abundance of talent. Even with the graduation of 2015 Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist Will Bessey, Brunswick had three different weapons at running back. On any given night, Hunter Garrett, Jesse Devereaux or Ben Palizay could be in line to gain well over 100 rushing yards. On multiple occasions, more than one member of the Dragons’ backfield gained over 100 yards.

“The offense was very much a three-headed hydra,” Garrett said. “You would have no idea going into a Friday night if it was going to be a Jesse Devereaux show, a Hunter Garrett show, a Ben Palizay (show). It was a three-headed hydra. You just never knew what was going to come at you and where it was going to come from.

“We all brought a certain perspective out of the backfield,” Garrett added. “Palizay was very powerful, but he was very balanced. He had that power where, if you hit him, it felt like you hit a brick wall, with you falling down and him staying on his feet. I was on the other end, I was just shifty and agile. I was going to be in the secondary before you’d even blink an eye. Jesse was the same as me, he was just so little and quick… If he hid behind a big guy like (offensive lineman) Austin Phillips, you wouldn’t see him until he’s behind you.”

The potent run game helped open up the play-action pass for quarterback Christian Jensen.

“I always joked that we didn’t have a quarterback, we had four running backs,” Jensen said. “I didn’t have to throw the ball too much, but once we had the play-action going, there was always a good opportunity to score a touchdown on passing plays, because (defenses) weren’t expecting it.”

Brunswick began to roll through Class B North during the regular season, with victories over Lawrence (47-0, with the Dragons racking up 432 offensive yards) and  Messalonskee (42-0, in which Garrett rushed for 265 yards and three touchdowns). But one of the more memorable games of the 2016 season came against Skowhegan, a late September matchup that saw the Dragons take a 65-42 victory. In that game, Devereaux (171 yards, two touchdowns), Garrett (174 yards, three touchdowns) and Palizay (94 yards rushing, 45 yards receiving, three touchdowns) all had over 100 yards of offense — in the first half.

“The score is a little misleading,” Jensen said. “I would say we were up by at least 42 points near halftime. We played a couple of series in the third quarter, and then we throw our (junior varsity) in. Our JV team goes out there, and (Skowhegan) puts their backups in as well, and their backups are slaughtering our JV secondary. And the (Skowhegan) backup quarterback is passing for like, 250 yards. They score four or five touchdowns, unanswered. There was a decent amount of time left in the fourth quarter, and we’re like, ‘They might actually have a decent shot of pulling out this game.’ So our first team goes back in the game, and they put their starters back in. I think we scored once or twice more after that. It was a pretty crazy game. I think if we’d stayed in the game, it pretty much would have been a blowout. But it definitely made it interesting, and we certainly weren’t happy we had to go back in.”

The Dragons were undefeated (8-0) heading into the playoffs. Brunswick trounced Messalonskee 44-7 in the regional semifinals. Nine games into the season and Brunswick had yet to punt.

Brunswick met Brewer in the regional final The Dragons prevailed 42-12 in the regular season, but the Witches were big and physical enough defensively to handle the challenge. The game would end up being Brunswick’s toughest of the season, a 14-12 victory. Brunswick fell behind 6-0 early — the first time it had trailed in a game all season. But Garrett broke free for an 80-yard touchdown run to tie the game 6-6. In the third quarter, Garrett scored on a 36-yard TD run, with Jensen scoring on the 2-point conversion to give Brunswick a 14-6 lead. The Witches would respond with a late touchdown run by Ray Wood, but the 2-point conversion failed, helping to seal the B North title for the Dragons.

The Brunswick football team celebrates after they sank Kennebunk 28-6 in the 2016 Class B final in Orono. Portland Press Herald file photo

Unlike the previous two seasons, the Dragons would see two changes entering state title week. Brunswick played each of its previous two state finals at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. This time around, they would be playing at Alfond Stadium in Orono. And instead of facing Marshwood for the title for the third straight season, the Dragons would get Kennebunk, which topped Biddeford for the B South title.

Jensen recalls thinking about how he didn’t want to let the town down when preparing for the state title game.

“We had fallen short before and didn’t want to disappoint the town again,” Jensen said. “The community of course would have supported us either way, but it felt good to bring one home for the town.”

Palizay set the tone from the opening kickoff, with a return of 70 yards, and gave the Dragons the opening score with a 1-yard TD run.

“It wasn’t a very deep kick, (the kicker) kind of pooched it almost, and it had a few hops,” Palizay said. “I fielded it, and I didn’t even think, I just took off. I avoided one guy, and before I knew it, there was great blocking and I just had a lane, so I just took that. A guy had an angle on me and (got the tackle), but it was just a big momentum boost. I think it kind of set the tone for the rest of the game, but it was great blocking.”

Though the Brunswick offense garnered headlines, it was the defense that sealed the state title. Its biggest contribution came from Jaznel Burns, who missed all of the regular season with a torn shoulder labrum he suffered in a preseason game. Burns returned for the playoffs and made a huge impact; he had two sacks and a fumble recovery.

The Brunswick football team celebrates after they sank Kennebunk 28-6 in the 2016 Class B final in Orono. Portland Press Herald file photo

“Being able to come back and help the team have success was a surreal moment for me,” Burns said. “My first game back from injury is something I will remember for a long time.”

“I think (Burns) was the best player on our team,” Devereaux added. “No one in the state could block him. We had him back, and that was absolutely massive. I remember he made a huge play in the first half, stripping the quarterback and recovering the fumble, all in a swift motion. I was like ‘Man, it’s nice to have Jaz back,’ because we didn’t have him for the whole year, pretty much.”

Brunswick held Kennebunk to just 14 yards of offense in the first half. Meanwhile, Palizay and Garrett would each add touchdown runs, sealing a 28-6 victory. After 53 years, Brunswick had its Gold Ball, finishing off an 11-0 season.

“We got back around 1:30 in the morning and there were a ton of people in the gym ready to celebrate with us. That was awesome, and it showed that it meant the world to the town,” Burns said.

“When I saw the police, escort is when I realized how big of a moment this was,” Palizay added. “People were lining the streets; it was a historic event for the town.”

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