LEWISTON—The Leavitt Hornets are as good as advertised.

And as a result, Cape Elizabeth won’t repeat as Class C football state champion.

Saturday evening at Don Roux Field on the campus of Lewiston High School, the third-seeded Capers hoped to repeat their magic from a year ago, when they upset the Hornets on the final play of the regional final, but it didn’t take long for top-seeded Leavitt to seize control.

And keep it.

Hornets junior quarterback extraordinaire Noah Carpenter set the tone with a 49-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter.

Carpenter then got it done through the air later in the frame, connecting with senior Dayton Calder for a 37-yard score and Leavitt held a 14-0 advantage after one period.

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In the second, with the Hornets’ defense locking down the high-powered Cape Elizabeth attack, Carpenter scored on a 23-yard run and after a turnover, Carpenter added a 3-yard TD run for a commanding 28-0 lead at halftime.

When Carpenter connected with senior Brett Coburn on a 29-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, Leavitt induced a mercy rule running clock and the Hornets added one more score in the fourth period, as junior Will Keach scored on a 6-yard run, putting the finishing touches on a shockingly one-sided 43-0 victory.

Leavitt stayed perfect at 10-0, advanced to take on Medomak Valley (9-2) in the Class C state game next Saturday in Bangor and in the process, ended Cape Elizabeth’s season at 8-3.

“This was a chance at a reckoning and it was something we were looking forward to,” said Hornets coach Mike Hathaway. “For the guys to come out and play this way was awesome.”

“(Leavitt) took it to us from the get-go,” said Capers coach Sean Green. “Credit to Coach Hathaway, his staff and those players. They came out and out-played us and out-coached us. Hats off to them and I’m excited to watch them next week.”

Collision course

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Last fall, Leavitt was one stop away from making it to the state final, but Cape Elizabeth embarked on the most storied drive in program history and as time expired, senior Caden McDuffie, who would go on to win the Fitzpatrick Trophy, scored on a short run to give the Capers an unforgettable 25-23 victory on the Hornets’ home field in the Class C South Final.

Cape Elizabeth then easily handled Winslow in the state final, but it was the previous game that produced the most indelible memory.

To say Leavitt has bounced back this fall would be an epic understatement, as the Hornets won their eight regular season games (including victories at Class B state finalist Portland as well as Cheverus) by a composite 321-82 margin. As the top seed in Class C South, the Hornets had a bye into the semifinals, where they outscored No. 5 Cheverus, 64-28, last weekend.

The Capers, meanwhile, lost twice in the regular season (see sidebar for links to previous stories), then had to navigate a most difficult playoff road, first, having to delay their quarterfinal 72 hours due to illness but having no trouble with No. 6 Fryeburg Academy, 46-8. Cape Elizabeth then had to turn right around and play four days later at second-seeded Wells and the Capers held on to advance, 20-14.

Last year’s regional final win was Cape Elizabeth’s first in four all-time tries against Leavitt in the playoffs (see sidebar).

The regional final was originally scheduled to be played Friday night in Turner, but bad weather moved the game back a day and to the turf in Lewiston.

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Saturday, on a comfortable evening (59 degrees at kickoff), in front of a large and boisterous crowd (scores of people waited in line to get in well into the second quarter), the Hornets made themselves at home and continued to stake their claim as not only the best team in Class C, but perhaps the best squad in the entire state.

Leavitt won the opening coin toss and deferred possession to the second half and by the time they got the ball in the third quarter, the Hornets had the game well in hand.

Fully aware of how dangerous Capers senior standout Nick Laughlin is with the ball in his hands, Leavitt instead kicked the ball out of bounds to start the game, allowing Cape Elizabeth to begin at its 35.

Junior Ceroi Mello got the Capers off to a promising start with a six-yard run, but after a fumbled exchange, senior James Rickman was held to just one yard on third-and-4, forcing a punt.

Laughlin didn’t boot the ball away, however, as he kept it and ran for seven yards and a first down at the 49. After the Hornets jumped offsides, Laughlin was dropped for a two-yard loss by Carpenter, but junior quarterback Mike Foley picked up six yards to the 42, setting up third-and-1. Foley wasn’t able to move the chains, as he was brought down by Keach for a two-yard loss and on fourth-and-3, Foley’s deep pass to the left sideline was caught by a leaping Laughlin, but he couldn’t come down inbounds and as a result, Leavitt took over on downs at its 44 with 7:22 to go in the first period.

It took the Hornets just three plays and 72 seconds to march for the game’s first score.

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Junior Maddox Demers got the ball first and ran for three yards. After Carpenter ran for four, he tried again and after hurdling a tackler at the line of scrimmage, Carpenter eluded another and broke away to the right and easily left the pursuit in his wake en route to a 49-yard touchdown. Calder’s two-point conversion rush was stopped short, but with 6:10 remaining in the opening stanza, Leavitt was ahead to stay, 6-0.

Cape Elizabeth started its next drive at its 33 and Mello caught a nine-yard pass from Foley on first down and an unnecessary roughness penalty was tacked on, moving the ball to the Hornets’ 42, but the Capers couldn’t take advantage, as Foley threw incomplete, Cape Elizabeth moved early for a five-yard penalty, Foley threw incomplete and after a delay of game penalty set up third-and-20, Laughlin took a touch pass from Foley and only gained two yards, forcing a punt.

Laughlin’s punt pinned Leavitt at its 14, but the Hornets showed off their big-play acumen and drove 86 yards in 2 minutes, 3 seconds to extend their lead.

Carpenter nearly got all of the yardage on first down, breaking free, cutting back up the middle and finding room before Laughlin saved the touchdown, bringing him down at the Capers’ 37, after a 49-yard gain.

Green called timeout to try and settle down his team and it worked initially, as junior Jake Leiss dropped Calder for a one-yard loss. Carpenter then ran for six yards and after a false start penalty, Carpenter threw incomplete, setting up fourth-and-10, but Leavitt had no trouble converting, as Carpenter hit Calder on a quick throw to the left and after breaking a tackle, Calder raced toward the end zone and while Laughlin ran him down, Calder managed to fall on the pylon for the 37-yard touchdown with 2:58 left in the period. This time, the Hornets added the two-points, as Carpenter connected with Coburn to make it 14-0.

After sophomore Brady Inman returned the ensuing kickoff to the 44, Cape Elizabeth had a chance to answer, but after Mello ran for a yard, Laughlin picked up four and Leavitt jumped offsides, setting up third-and-inches, Keach and junior Colten Taylor dropped Laughlin for a two-yard loss and on fourth-and-3, Foley only gained two, as senior Beau Mayo brought him down, giving the ball to the Hornets again, at their 47.

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As the first quarter came to a close, Demers ran for three yards, then Keach picked up four. Leavitt started the second period with a false start, but on third-and-8, Carpenter hit Calder for 15 yards and a first down at the Capers’ 36. Cape Elizabeth’s defense then stepped up, forcing an incomplete pass and after sophomore Tucker Clark dropped Keach for a two-yard loss, Carpenter was only able to scramble for six yards on third-and-12 before throwing incomplete on fourth down, giving the Capers ball back at their 32.

Cape Elizabeth moved the chains, as Laughlin ran for four yards, Foley gained three and Laughlin picked up four more, but after Foley threw incomplete under pressure, Mello ran for five yards and Foley was sacked by Coburn for a four-yard loss, forcing Laughlin to punt and he got off a beauty which pinned the Hornets at their 4.

After a holding penalty backed it up two more yards, Leavitt got some breathing room, courtesy Carpenter, who broke free to the left for 31 yards to the 33. Carpenter then ran for seven yards, but Demers was held to no gain and the Hornets had a 15-yard personal foul penalty tacked on before Carpenter threw incomplete, forcing a punt.

The Capers took over at their 32 and after two Foley incompletions, he hit Laughlin for 14 yards and a first down. A defensive holding penalty on Leavitt moved the ball to the Hornets’ 44, but Foley threw incomplete, then Laughlin was stripped of the ball and Carpenter recovered.

After two scoreless possessions, Leavitt wasn’t about to settle for a third and it drove 56 yards in four plays to start to pull away.

After Calder ran for four yards, Carpenter weaved through traffic for 22 more for a first down at Cape Elizabeth’s 30. After Calder picked up seven yards, Carpenter did the rest, eluding the defense then diving into the end zone to complete a 23-yard burst with just 1:03 remaining in the half. Carpenter then connected with Coburn on the two-point conversion pass to make it 22-0.

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Had the half ended there, the Hornets would have been thrilled, but they weren’t done.

The Capers started their next possession at the Leavitt 47, but on first down, Foley’s pass was tipped and intercepted by senior Sawyer Hathaway, who was tackled at the Hornets’ 46.

Two plays later, Leavitt was in the end zone again.

This time, the score was set up by a long pass from Carpenter to Hathaway, which was good for 51 yards, setting up first-and-goal at the 3. Carpenter did the rest, bulling his way in over the right side and with 33 seconds to go, after a two-point conversion pass failed, the Hornets were in command, up, 28-0, a lead they took to the break.

“It was huge to get it to 22-0, then we got another one right before the half, so we felt pretty good for sure,” Mike Hathaway said.

In the first half alone, Leavitt out-gained Cape Elizabeth, 273 yards to 80, as Carpenter ran for 199 yards and threw for 103 more.

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The Hornets got the ball first to start the third quarter and after recovering an onside kick, Leavitt had great field position at its 44 and in six plays and 3:11, drove for another touchdown.

Carpenter ran for three yards, then Keach picked up three before Carpenter ran for 15 yards on third-and-4, breaking multiple tackles along the way. After Calder ran for three yards, a defensive holding penalty set up first down at the Capers’ 22. Keach then ran for five yards and after a holding penalty moved the ball back to the 29, Carpenter hit a wide open Coburn on a post pattern and Coburn reached out and plucked the ball out of the air before crossing the goal line for the 29-yard touchdown with 8:44 left in the period. Carpenter kicked the extra point to make it 35-0 and by rule, that triggered the running clock.

Cape Elizabeth’s first possession of the second half began at its 36 and after Foley ran for two yards, then threw incomplete, he misfired again and Laughlin’s subsequent punt only went three yards, giving the Hornets possession at the Capers’ 41.

Leavitt drove again as the third quarter dwindled, but was ultimately stymied.

After an incomplete pass, Keach ran for two yards, Carpenter picked up three, then on fourth-and-5, Carpenter connected with Coburn for 31 yards to set up first-and-goal at the 5.

To its credit, Cape Elizabeth’s defense stiffened, forcing an incomplete pass and after a chop block penalty on the Hornets moved the ball back to the 17, Carpenter threw incomplete again before Laughlin intercepted the ball in the back of the end zone on the final play of the frame.

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The Capers started the fourth period at their 18 and got an eight-yard run from Mello, but after an incomplete pass attempt from Laughlin, Foley threw the ball to Mello, who lost three yards on the play, and on fourth-and-5, Foley was intercepted by Calder.

Starting at its 46, Leavitt embarked on one more scoring drive, marching 54 yards in eight plays and 5:46.

Demers got it started with a five-yard run and after Keach picked up one. Carpenter moved the chains to the Cape Elizabeth 33 with a 15-yard scamper. Demers then ran for four yards, but Leiss dropped Keach for a four-yard loss before Carpenter returned to the air and hit Demers for 20 yards and a first down at the 13. After Carpenter ran for seven yards, Keach capped the drive with a 6-yard TD run to the right. Carpenter then hit senior Nick Morin in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion and with 3:19 remaining, the lead was up to 43-0.

The Capers hoped to score on their final drive after the Hornets pulled several starters, but it wasn’t to be.

From the Cape Elizabeth 49, Laughlin picked up 14 yards, then, after a six-yard rush by Rickman, Laughlin touched the ball for the final time in his tremendous high school career and gained eight yards to the Leavitt 23. After Rickman ran for eight yards, then for one, Inman threw incomplete and time ran out.

At 8:01 p.m., the horn sounded and the Hornets were able to celebrate their emphatic 43-0 victory.

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“We put a lot of work into this and we just played as a team,” Carpenter said. “It feels amazing when hard work pays off. A lot of people say ‘Revenge this, revenge that,’ but I don’t really think that we were playing with that revenge kind of mentality. I think we were just trying to prove ourselves that we were better than that.”

“Everyone on that field and everyone on that sideline prepared,” said Coburn. “We have great players all around, skill, linemen, everyone. It was all of us.”

Carpenter was superb, running 15 times for 242 yards with three touchdowns and completing 6-of-14 passes for 183 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

“I’m not surprised because (Noah) can do it in all phases of the game,” Mike Hathaway said. “He’s a real competitor and he’s super-talented. He’s an outstanding leader. He’s really stepped up in that department for us this year.”

“Noah is probably the best quarterback I’ve ever coached against,” said Green. “He’s a kid who can run or throw. He’s very dynamic. Tonight, it didn’t matter if we knew what was coming, we couldn’t stop it.”

Calder had two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown and he ran four times for 13 yards.

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Coubrn caught two passes for 60 yards with a TD.

Keach finished with 15 yards and a score on eight carries.

Demers rushed five times for 15 yards and caught one pass for 20 yards.

Sawyer Hathaway caught only pass, but it went for 51 yards.

Leavitt finished with 407 yards of offense, turned the ball over once and overcame a whopping dozen penalties for 96 yards.

“Our defense came out to play,” Mike Hathaway said. “Laughlin is a big-play guy who is hard to stop. You have to account for him, but they run the ball as well as anybody. Stopping Foley and that downhill run game was key. When they had to start throwing the ball, it was an advantage for us.

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“We’re resilient and so competitive. The guys just want to get it done. Our practices, meetings, everything is top shelf. They’ve earned it.”

The Hornets now turn their attention to Medomak Valley and a chance to bring home the Gold Ball.

“Medomak can run the ball too and they have some talented athletes,” Mike Hathaway said. “They have some guys who can play and some coaches who can coach, so we’ll have to put a game plan together and have a good week of practice and come out strong.”

Much to hail

Cape Elizabeth, which averaged 35 points per game coming in, was held to zero, as Leavitt only allowed the Capers to gain 124 yards and forced three turnovers.

Laughlin bowed out with 38 yards on nine carries and 16 receiving yards on two catches.

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“Nick is the best football player I’ve ever coached,” said Green. “He’s as dynamic as anybody. He can catch the ball, run the ball. He’s great in the return game and is great defensively. It stinks that this will be his last memory, but he should be very, very proud.”

Foley ran five times for 11 yards and completed just 4-of-12 passes for 22 yards and two interceptions.

Mello gained 19 yards on four rushes and caught two passes for 6 yards.

Rickman ran four times for 16 yards.

Cape Elizabeth was flagged three times for 20 yards.

“We just didn’t execute the way we should have,” Green lamented. “Defensively, they had a great game plan. Offensively, they did everything we thought they’d do. On our side of the ball, our defense was on the field the whole game and our offense couldn’t do anything. They did a great job shutting us down.

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“We had a great season. I’m really proud of the seniors. This class started out as a class of three. They’ve grown. I’m proud of their leadership and what they did. I don’t think, quite frankly, people thought coming into the season we’d do much of anything. Getting back (to the regional final) is great.”

While the Capers will have a different look in 2023, they will be a top contender in Class C South once again.

“We have a lot of good juniors coming back,” Green said. “Mike Foley, Jake Leiss, Brenden Guthrie, Ceroi Mello. A great sophomore group too. We’ve obviously got to back to the drawing board, have a great offseason and go from there.”

Press Herald staff writer Drew Bonifant contributed to this story.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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