Cape Elizabeth quarterback Caden McDuffie gets taken down by Leavitt defenders, including Ben Sirois, left, during the Class C South championship game Saturday in Turner. Duffie’s touchdown run on the final play lifted Cape to a 25-23 victory. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

TURNER — An 18-play, 10-minute drive by Cape Elizabeth, capped by quarterback Caden McDuffie’s 3-yard touchdown run on the game’s final play, lifted the second-seeded Capers to a 25-23 victory over No. 1 Leavitt in the Class C South football final Saturday at Libby Field.

Trailing 23-19, Cape started the final drive at its own 43 and methodically moved down the field, led by McDuffie and running backs Colin Campbell and Nick Laughlin. Campbell and McDuffie said afterward that the Capers were trying to kill as much time as possible in addition to getting the go-ahead touchdown.

“I come from an offense, growing up, that we milk the clock down, three or four yards at a time,” said McDuffie. “We didn’t intend on taking all the time, but that’s just how it played out. I’m proud of them, they did it to perfection.”

Cape Elizabeth (9-1) found itself with fourth down at the 3 and called a timeout with three seconds left. McDuffie took the snap out of the shotgun formation, ran up the middle and reached the ball over the goal line as time expired.

“I told them in the huddle that we are the best team in the state and that 3 yards is nothing to us,” McDuffie said. “I think it woke everybody up. The hole I had after the play-fake was the size of a semi-truck.”

Cape Elizabeth Coach Sean Green said he didn’t want Leavitt to have the ball again, and for good reason.

“I’ve coached some good football teams, and I think that was the longest drive with that much at stake,” Green said. “We told the guys that we were going to take the whole clock and go win this thing right now. Leavitt is so good and Coach Mike Hathaway is such a phenomenal coach. I told him after the game that there is no coach in the league I look up to more than him. We just didn’t want to give them the ball back.”

Just like the Hornets did in the semifinals against Wells, they went down the field quickly on the first drive of the game. Dayton Calder scored on a 39-yard run and Noah Carpenter rushed for the conversion, giving the Hornets an 8-0 lead just 2:08 into the game.

On the ensuing drive, Cape Elizabeth scored even more quickly. McDuffie passed to Nick Laughlin on a crossing route to the right sideline, and Laughlin ran it in for a 68-yard touchdown that made it 8-6.

Leavitt was forced to punt, and Cape Elizabeth put together a 13-play drive that ended with McDuffie bullying his way into the end zone from the 1. The extra point was good, and Cape held a 13-8 lead with 10:44 left in the first half.

The Capers got major contributions on that drive from Campbell, who was running on a torn MCL – an injury that was sustained earlier in the season and worsened last week.

“It’s a little sketchy, I’m not going to lie,” Campbell said. “Especially with the field in this condition, but when I have guys like Caden to carry the load for me when I can’t, it means the word.”

Green said he was proud of the senior running back.

“Colin Campbell, senior, captain, torn MCL, broken thumb, ankle issues, tweaked his MCL multiple times and continued to gut it out,” Green said. “I just couldn’t be more proud of him. Obviously, our offensive line paved the way for us.”

“He’s a tough kid and I’ve known that since I moved here in eighth grade,” McDuffie added. “I knew I could count on (Campbell).”

The lead lasted just a couple minutes before Carpenter found Calder for a pass over the top of the defense for a 51-yard touchdown, as Calder sped away from chasing defenders. Carpenter punched in the 2-point conversion again, putting the Hornets up 16-13.

Cape started its next drive from its own 47. Two plays in, Leavitt’s star two-way lineman, Jack Boutaugh, left the game because of an injury.

“Having Jack Boutaugh out there makes a big difference because he’s as good a player as there is in the league,” Hathaway said. “I’m not going to make excuses, but it’s tougher to stop the run without him and it was tougher to run the ball, and that’s a big part of what we do.

“We made some adjustments and offensively I thought we did pretty well, and in the second half, defensively, I thought we got better. We did the best we could without him, but it would have been nice to have him, too.”

The Capers thundered forward, scoring on a 3-yard run for a 19-16 halftime lead.

Cape put together a lengthy drive to start the second half, but McDuffie fumbled and Leavitt’s Reeve Twitchell recovered.

Carpenter opened Leavitt’s first drive of the second half with a 44-yard pass to Ben Sirois. Three plays later, he tucked the ball, ran to the right sideline and stiff-armed a defender to get around the edge, then dove for the pylon. He also kicked the extra point, giving the Hornets a 23-19 lead right before the end of the third quarter.

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