Battle of the Bridge: 2002 Lewiston-Edward Little playoff game was an instant classic

Oct. 27—Former Lewiston High School running back Jereme Madore put it in simple terms when speaking of the 2002 Pine Tree Conference championship game against Edward Little in mid November 20 years ago.

"That game was the greatest game I've ever played in my life," Madore said of the game also known as the Class A Eastern championship. "Like both teams going back and forth. It was a dog fight."

And Madore played for the losing team. The Red Eddies defeated the Blue Devils 16-13 in double overtime with a 17-yard kick from junior Will Claxton, which sent Edward Little to the Class A state championship game against Portland High School.

"You know, both of the teams kind of being up and down (during the regular season), even through my high school career," Edward Little senior defensive back Matt Capone said. "It was special for us to come together and really be able to put a great one out there for everyone that was there that day."

The Eddies entered the playoffs as the No. 5 seed; the Blue Devils were the No. 6 seed. Lewiston had a 7-3 record entering the regional championship, while Edward Little was 6-4.

The Red Eddies beat the Blue Devils 17-14 in their regular season matchup.

"We had an inclination that (Edward Little coach Jim Hersom) was going to throw the ball more, but they had already been such a run-orientated team," Lewiston coach Bill County said. "He threw the ball very well against us; the Red Eddies did in that regular season (game) and knocked us off."

The Red Eddies squeaked out a 7-6 win against No. 4 Gardiner in the quarterfinals and upset No. 1 Skowhegan 20-14 in the semifinals. Lewiston slipped past Mt. Blue 20-14 in the quarters and defeated Waterville 26-0 in the semifinals.

"We upset Gardiner and we upset Skowhegan, who was actually undefeated," Hersom said. "We noticed Lewiston was winning as well, and it was an exciting week for the community, and was it exciting for the two schools. Our kids were very confident and playing well. We knew it would be a tough game."

During the week, the school administrators from the two schools organized a spaghetti dinner for both teams on Thursday night in the cafeteria at the Walton School. Mike Haley who had coached both teams was the guest speaker.

"We were taken aback when we were asked to do that," Hersom said. "We didn't have a problem too much. Again our kids were really focused on playing football and we did what we had to do. I think it was a good gesture and the townspeople appreciated it."

Madore said the coaches from both teams sat with each other since most of them knew each other. Hersom and County played at Edward Little with each other in the 1970s. Edward Little's defensive coordinator, Mike Lance, was the defensive coordinator at Leavitt in the '90s when County was the head coach.

The players, though, stayed on their side of the cafeteria.

"Yeah, that was a little weird. I remember it being a weird vibe, I mean," Madore said. "Both teams sat together with each other. I don't remember anybody really crossing a picket line. The coaches were eating together at the same table; I remember that. ... As for the teams, we were on one side eating spaghetti, and (Edward Little) was on the other side eating spaghetti. It was pretty quiet."

A reported 5,000 fans attended the game at Walton Field on that cloudy Saturday, Nov. 17, afternoon. Officials were preparing for upwards of 10,000 fans. Shuttle buses were available from Edward Little High School to the game because of the limited parking around the football field.

"Most of my memories, outside of, you know, being in practice, is just the day of the game, and we got over there early as a team, and the number of people that were already there," Capone said. "I mean, it was just an atmosphere there (before the game). It was really hard to explain. Even now, looking back, it almost seems too real just how many folks came out. About half the people there wanted to see you lose, but, still, just the energy there ... it was incredible."

Madore said the Blue Devils were maybe a little too pumped up because of the crowd early in the game.

"Yeah, that was crazy. I didn't think that many people were going to show up to a small, tiny little field," Madore said. "I don't think the crowd affected the play of the game — the crowd amped the players up. When I said my team was a little overhyped in the first quarter, it had to do with the amount of people that were there. Every play, whether we were getting 20 yards on the ground or getting negative-2, everybody was yelling."

The Blue Devils made the first big play of the game near the end of the first quarter, a fumble recovery of a muffed punt by Mike Lee at the Edward Little 23-yard line — one of a combined nine turnovers by the two teams.

Five plays later, Madore (29 carries, 104 yards) ran in for the game's first score from 2 yards out. Mike LeClair's extra point made it 7-0.

Kirk Bolduc had a stellar drive in the second quarter that helped Lewiston go up two scores. He had 67 yards from scrimmage — a 37-yard run, 14-yard reception and a 16-yard reception for a touchdown with 4:29 remaining in the first half.

"Kirk was one of those kids that was a hockey player, and traditionally those kids are really strong in the legs," County said. "He has great balance and great power. We were able to lean on him both in the air and tried to get him the ball on the ground also."

Lewiston failed on a two-point conversion attempt after a false start on the extra-point attempt pushed them back 5 yards.

The Red Eddies on their next drive to get on the scoreboard before halftime. It took only four plays, which ended on a 34-yard TD run by BJ Mooney (eight carries, 50 yards).

Claxton, who also played wide receiver, had a 25-yard reception from quarterback Matt Bennett before Mooney's run.

"(Claxton) was a speedster, and he made a couple of big catches that day," Hersom said.

During halftime, the power went out after a pizza oven located in a third concession stand that was specifically put up for the game — Walton Field normally has two concession stands — tripped the breaker. Custodians didn't have access to the keys to the shed where the breaker was. Therefore, there was no sound system and the scoreboard had no power in the second half. WCNN, the radio station broadcasting the game, couldn't finish calling the game.

However, the lights around the field still worked.

County doesn't recall the power going out and Hersom said he remembers reading about it the next day.

Officials had to keep time on the field.

"No one really knew what time it was," Capone said. "I remember talking to the back judge quite a bit when I was on defense — just (trying) to get a sense of how much time was left."

Madore said not knowing the time affected the Blue Devils' offense.

"I'd love to think if we had a scoreboard, the offense could actually try to get out of bounds and do certain things that would help us manipulate the clock a little better," Madore said. "Like I said, we were a run-heavy team. So we're using the clock."

Capone intercepted a pass from Lewiston quarterback Brent Dube and returned it 29 yards into the far end zone to tie the game at 13-13.

Capone celebrated with happy supporters behind the end zone.

"That was traditionally where a lot of our home crowd would stand," Capone said. "I don't want to call it a student section, but a lot of folks lined up there. You know, painted chests and painted faces and all that. They were all just happy to be down there at that time."

Bolduc blocked the extra-point attempt. Claxton said it might have been the first extra point he missed all season.

The Red Eddies returned the favor, blocking a 21-yard field goal attempt by LeClair with about five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Those five minutes passed without either team scoring, the game remained tied 13-13.

In overtime, the Blue Devils won the toss and elected to play defense. Lewiston's Aaron Daley incepted a Bennett pass in the end zone. However, the Devils fumbled the ball twice, and the Red Eddies recovered both times (Brian Taylor and Ethan Caswell).

"I felt like we played well, almost the whole game," County said. "I felt there were a couple of mistakes that we made that cost us incredibly, and a couple of turnovers that really decided the game. That had nothing to do with how well the kids were playing, how much you know they were gutsy. They never gave up on all those things.

"I think we played really well that day and we got beat. I guess that makes it a little easier for me."

After Lewiston's second fumble, Mooney's 7-yard run on a trap play set up a fourth-and-goal for the Red Eddies from the 1-yard line. Hersom said he considered keeping the offense on the field to try and score a touchdown.

"I figured a quarterback sneak we would score," Hersom said. "We decided to kick it, and that was probably the right thing to do."

Capone and Claxton said they recall it being a 50-50 decision on the sideline.

"I remember a little bit of indecision there," Claxton said. "Coach Hersom was definitely an earnest guy, and ultimately that benefits the athlete-coach relationship because you can trust him a lot. Ultimately, he made the right decision, I think. But I think it could have been successful either way."

The field goal team lined up and Mooney, Claxton's holder, handled a low snap. Claxton booted the 17-yard field goal just inside the left upright to claim the 16-13 win.

"I felt uncomfortable being the center of attention at that moment because it was truly a team effort," Claxton said. "Mooney, Capone, Matt Bennett, Brian Taylor all had some great plays that game. I took it in as much as I could."

Even in defeat, County is glad he coached in that game.

"Yeah, we got beat, but what a great day," County said. "The people being bussed in, and the crowd that was there and the fact that you know (it went) a couple of overtimes. It was just everything you want, and we came up short. But I'm still pretty proud to be part of that game."

The following week the Red Eddies faced Portland in the Class A state championship, Edward Little's first title game appearance since winning it 25 years earlier, in 1977.

The Red Eddies lost to the Bulldogs 41-6. It was the only time that season the Edward Little defense gave up more than 14 points.

"I think the kids were excited to be there and we prepared very well," Hersom said. "I think we had a great mindset going into the game. Actually, we got the ball first, and we moved the ball, (got) four or five first downs in a row. We were feeling pretty good about what we were doing.

"We had some turnovers, and it kind of got away from us."

Capone said the Lewiston game took a lot out of the players.

"You never want to say it, but, unfortunately, you know that that game at Walton was kind of our Super Bowl," Capone said. "It was challenging to ramp it back up. Just going to two overtimes, I think just about everybody gave almost everything they (had)."

Edward Little has yet to return to the state title game in the 20 years since 2002. Lewiston's last appearance was its 1987 championship season.