CAPE ELIZABETH — There’s no doubt about it. Cape Elizabeth High’s offense is explosive.

Operating out of a spread offense, with multiple receiving and running threats, the Capers routinely rush for more than 200 yards per game. Senior quarterback Caden McDuffie has thrown 20 touchdown passes. His top target, Nick Laughlin, has scored 23 touchdowns.

Overall, Cape has averaged just under 50 points per game, outscoring opponents 448-90 in nine games while building an 8-1 record and earning a trip to the Class C South final at 7 p.m. Friday at No. 1 Leavitt.

“We work as a unit. I mean, there’s teamwork all across the board,” McDuffie said. “Our linemen talk to each other every play. It’s great. Our receivers block for each other. They know the routes as well as I do.

“We’re just a really good group of smart kids who understand the offense.”

But this week’s opponent is a different level of challenge. Leavitt, the 2019 Class C state champion, is equally potent, equally diverse on offense, and unbeaten at 7-0 (Leavitt had its first two games canceled because of opponents’ COVID issues). Leavitt is averaging just over 40 points per game, with a 283-66 scoring edge, and is coming off a 46-12 win in its playoff opener against Wells.

In the regular-season meeting, Cape had a brief one-point lead in Turner after scoring on its first possession of the second half, only to give up 18 straight points in an eventual 39-27 loss.

“They have athletes everywhere and (sophomore quarterback) Noah Carpenter is the best football player we’ve played all year,” said Cape Coach Sean Green. “And, on top of that, their offensive line and defensive line are the best units we’ve seen. It’s going to be a battle Friday night.”

Leavitt Athletic Director Ryan LaRoche said any decision to postpone because of the expected heavy rain on Friday will be made Friday morning. Moving the game to 4 p.m. Saturday is a likely alternative.

Cape expected to be in this position, McDuffie said, knowing it would be returning many of its top skill position players from the 2020 7-on-7 season.

Laughlin, a junior, has game-breaking ability and has racked up 1,790 all-purpose yards. He lines up in a variety of positions out of the Capers’ spread offense, primarily in receiving slots. Laughlin caught 29 passes for 592 yards with 10 touchdowns. He’s also had 45 carries for 460 yards and eight scores.

Green said teams have stopped kicking the ball to Laughlin, which seems a wise choice considering he’s returned four punts and one kickoff for touchdowns.

The soft-spoken Laughlin also leads Cape in tackles (62) and interceptions (three) from his free safety position.

Colin Campbell, a senior running back, is back from a midseason injury. He rushed for 110 yards with a touchdown and also caught a touchdown pass in a 33-6 semifinal win against Fryeburg Academy. McDuffie is the team’s leading rusher with 833 yards and 15 touchdowns on 103 carries (8.1 yards per carry). Senior receivers Jack Gorman and Caden Lee join Laughlin as McDuffie’s top targets.

“Now we have the spread offense with Coach Green, more people are touching the ball. It’s not just like pounding the running game,” Laughlin said.

But Cape can run the ball and will use power sets, with Luke Mello and/or Owen Tighe at tight end. Right tackle Colin Smith said he “absolutely” believes the offensive line can produce the room to get a tough yard or two when needed.

“Everything we do comes off of us running the rock,” Smith said. “In almost every game this year, we’ve had over 200 yards rushing.”

The offensive line did take time to jell, however. In the preseason, Green knew he had two anchors in Smith and left tackle Gabe Harrison, both senior captains (along with McDuffie and Campbell). But center Mike Foley, who is also the backup quarterback, and guards Jake Leiss and Brendan Guthrie hadn’t played tackle football since the eighth grade.

“It’s definitely taken some time for everyone to really catch their stride,” Smith said of the offensive line. “I feel like now we’ve caught our stride and I have complete trust in everyone across the board.”

McDuffie believes his line’s improvement over the past month is one reason why the rematch can have a different outcome. Smith said playing better defense – better tackling and fewer alignment mistakes – is another area where Cape will improve. Cape will also need better ball security. In the loss at Leavitt, McDuffie threw one of his three interceptions this season and Cape had three turnovers overall, two in the second half.

“After the half, we had gained the momentum and then we fumbled, and it kind of just sucked the air out of all of us,” McDuffie said. “But personally, I feel like that’s the worst game we played all year. We all know it. We just weren’t ourselves that night, but the boys are ready to go.”


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