Playoff football: Raiders score with 23 seconds left to rally past Phoenix

RAIDERS 36 PHOENIX 29 First Downs: FA 15, SM 12 Penalties: FA 7-51, SM 5-41 Turnovers: FA 2, SM 3 Rushing: FA 37-134, SM 37-204 FA Rushing: Jared Chisari 3-20, Cody Gullikson 11-47, Ryan Gullikson 23-67 Spruce Rushing: Austin Henault 1-57, James Ouellette 6-19, Dillon Webster 11-88, Andrew Darling 11-33, Caulin Parker 8-7 Passing: FA 22-34-306, SM 6-18-134 FA Receiving: Cody Gullikson 3-16, Scott Parker 1-5, Caleb Eklund 2-17, Oscar Saunders 3-73, Nick L’Heureux-Carland 7-142, Cobey Johnson 6-53 Spruce Receiving: Austin Henault 1-37, Dillon Webster 2-46, Brett Frey 1-21, James Ouellette 1-6, Andrew Darling 1-23 Total Offense: FA 440, SM 338 FA Tackles (solo, assist, total): Alex Ehrensberger 4-1-5, Caleb Eklund 1-4-5, Cody Gullikson 5-5-10, Scott Parker 2-1-3, Jared Chisari 3-2-5, Isaac Wakefield 3-2-5, Ryan Gullikson 5-2-7, Gage Fowler 2-4-6, Oscar Saunders 1-1-2, Baha Demir 2-0-2, Nathan Knapp 0-1-1, Cam Mailman 0-1-1, Kevin Ventura 0-2-2, Jahmi Seeley-Brown 0-1-1, Reese Knneissler 0-1-1, Cobey Johnson 1-0-1 Game Scoring First Quarter 8:25 SM, Andrew Darling 8 yard run, Darling PAT run, SM 8-0 5:06 SM, Caulin Parker 37 yard TD pass to  Austin Henault, PAT run no good, SM 14-0 Second Quarter 4:48 FA, Ryan Gullikson 1 yard run, PAT run no good, SM 14, FA 6 Third Quarter 8:40 FA, Cody Gullikson 10 yard run, PAT run no good, SM 14, FA 12 2:27 FA, R. Gullikson 41-yard TD pass to Nick L’Heureux-Carland, R. Gullikson PAT run, FA 20, SM 14 Fourth Quarter 10:35 SM, Dillon Webster 6 yard TD run, Devan Pomery PAT kick, SM 21, FA 20 8:47 FA, R. Gullikson 26-yard TD pass to L’Heureux-Carland, R. Gullikson PAT pass to Cobey Johnson, FA 28, SM 21 4:37 SM, Webster 3 yard TD run, Parker PAT run, SM 29, FA 28 23.3 FA, R. Gullikson 1 yard run, R. Gullikson PAT pass to C. Gullikson, FA 36, SM 29

RAIDERS 36
PHOENIX 29
First Downs: FA 15, SM 12
Penalties: FA 7-51, SM 5-41
Turnovers: FA 2, SM 3
Rushing: FA 37-134, SM 37-204
FA Rushing: Jared Chisari 3-20, Cody Gullikson 11-47, Ryan Gullikson 23-67
Spruce Rushing: Austin Henault 1-57, James Ouellette 6-19, Dillon Webster 11-88, Andrew Darling 11-33, Caulin Parker 8-7
Passing: FA 22-34-306, SM 6-18-134
FA Receiving: Cody Gullikson 3-16, Scott Parker 1-5, Caleb Eklund 2-17, Oscar Saunders 3-73, Nick L’Heureux-Carland 7-142, Cobey Johnson 6-53
Spruce Receiving: Austin Henault 1-37, Dillon Webster 2-46, Brett Frey 1-21, James Ouellette 1-6, Andrew Darling 1-23
Total Offense: FA 440, SM 338
FA Tackles (solo, assist, total): Alex Ehrensberger 4-1-5, Caleb Eklund 1-4-5, Cody Gullikson 5-5-10, Scott Parker 2-1-3, Jared Chisari 3-2-5, Isaac Wakefield 3-2-5, Ryan Gullikson 5-2-7, Gage Fowler 2-4-6, Oscar Saunders 1-1-2, Baha Demir 2-0-2, Nathan Knapp 0-1-1, Cam Mailman 0-1-1, Kevin Ventura 0-2-2, Jahmi Seeley-Brown 0-1-1, Reese Kneissler 0-1-1, Cobey Johnson 1-0-1
Game Scoring
First Quarter
8:25 SM, Andrew Darling 8 yard run, Darling PAT run, SM 8-0
5:06 SM, Caulin Parker 37 yard TD pass to Austin Henault, PAT run no good, SM 14-0
Second Quarter
4:48 FA, Ryan Gullikson 1 yard run, PAT run no good, SM 14, FA 6
Third Quarter
8:40 FA, Cody Gullikson 10 yard run, PAT run no good, SM 14, FA 12
2:27 FA, R. Gullikson 41-yard TD pass to Nick L’Heureux-Carland, R. Gullikson PAT run, FA 20, SM 14
Fourth Quarter
10:35 SM, Dillon Webster 6 yard TD run, Devan Pomery PAT kick, SM 21, FA 20
8:47 FA, R. Gullikson 26-yard TD pass to L’Heureux-Carland, R. Gullikson PAT pass to Cobey Johnson, FA 28, SM 21
4:37 SM, Webster 3 yard TD run, Parker PAT run, SM 29, FA 28
23.3 FA, R. Gullikson 1 yard run, R. Gullikson PAT pass to C. Gullikson, FA 36, SM 29

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — With 4:29 left on the clock and down a point, the Raiders had Spruce Mountain right where they wanted them.

Over the past two seasons, Fryeburg Academy Coach David Turner has seen his football team produce some dramatic wins in the closing minutes.

Cardiac Kids

Last Minute Wonders

Fantastic Finishers

Call the Raiders what you want, they just believe in each other and believe that they can make big plays in the game’s biggest moment.

Saturday was no different.

After trailing 14-0 in the first quarter and admittedly not playing up to their “standard” in the first half, Fryeburg Academy rallied from three deficits to beat the fifth-ranked Phoenix in a thriller, 36-29, to advance to the semifinals of the Class C South playoffs.

Senior quarterback Ryan Gullikson followed strong lead blocks by his front line to break the plane of the goal line from a half-yard out with 23.3 seconds left.

Gullikson, who had been bottled up running the football by a disciplined Phoenix defense led by linebacker James Ouellette, who made seven tackles. But, there were no tricks, but plenty of treats on the winning drive.

Starting at the FA-36, the Raiders had plenty of time to mount their comeback — 4:29. Gullikson converted on two critical passing situations, finding sophomore Cobey Johnson for 16 yards on a third down play, and later zipping a quick slant pass to senior wideout Nick L’Heureux-Carland for 11 yards on fourth down.

A completion to Johnson for 10 yards put the Raiders inside the red zone. Gullikson found some running room for seven yards, and the Phoenix were flagged for a facemask, placing the ball at the 1½ yard line with 37.8 seconds left.

After a Gullikson run inched the ball closer to the goal line, the senior quarterback had enough surge behind fellow seniors Matt Boucher and Baha Demir to break the plane of the goal line — touchdown!

After a bit of a rollercoaster afternoon, FA running back Cody Gullikson made an acrobatic catch in the left back corner of the end zone to add the two-point conversion.

In a game of multiple lead changes, Coach Turner tried to settle his players down, knowing enough time remained for the Phoenix to make one last ditch scoring effort.

“People wanted me to call timeouts on the last drive, but I wanted to leave as little time as possible because this is high school football and anything can happen,” Coach Turner said. “They were able to get into our territory on one play but, fortunately, we were able to stop them.”

Indeed, Spruce Mountain put Turner and FA fans on the edge when Phoenix quarterback Caulin Parker connected with speedy Andrew Darling for a 23-yard catch to the FA 31. With 21.5 seconds left, Parker looked for running back Dillon Webster, but the ball was deflected.

Eight seconds.

31 yards to paydirt.

Parker looked down the field, and fired to the right.

Wrong zip code. That was Ryan Gullikson’s neighborhood. Gullikson intercepted the ball, and the crowd erupted.

For the first time, the Raiders had both hosted and won a playoff game.

And in the spirit of Halloween, the Raiders proved to be the Ghost of Football Past. Three years ago, Fryeburg beat Spruce Mountain on the final day of the regular season to knock the Phoenix out of the playoffs.

“You can’t get better than this. We’ve been talking about being still able to practice in the dark, at least for another week,” Coach Turner said after seniors Matt Boucher and Ryan Gullikson gave him a post-game celebratory water dunking. “We’re playing potentially the best team in Class C South.”

The Raiders will face top-ranked, undefeated Yarmouth Friday at 7 p.m. The Clippers defeated the Raiders 48-12 in late September in Fryeburg. Coach Turner knows his club will likely need a perfect effort to upset the speedy Clippers (Yarmouth beat Mountain Valley 50-15 in their quarterfinal game).

“I learned that they have very few weaknesses and we’re going to have to play our best,” Coach Turner said. “We need to play well across the board to hang with them. You never know.”

Coach Turner did know that whoever had the ball last Saturday would likely win the closely-fought battle waged between the Raiders (6-3) and Phoenix (4-5).

Slow start

Maybe the Raiders needed to raid the candy bowl or maybe a little overconfidence had trickled into their mindset.

“You know, you’re fourth and they’re fifth, so we should win,” Gullikson said. “Obviously, we didn’t come out and play the way we know we can play.”

Spruce Mountain couldn’t have asked for a better start.

The Phoenix cashed in on a Cody Gullikson fumble on the game’s first play as Brad Fournier stripped the ball from Gullikson, who was giving a strong second effort to add to the seven yards he had gained. The ball popped free and Thomas Young recovered.

“I’m always trying to play that perfect game and know how it feels to make a mistake and fumbling the ball. Cody tries really hard. He plays like a tank. When we wrestle, he beats me, which is a bummer. On the fumble, he was trying to gain more yards, which I love,” said Ryan, who gave his younger brother a few words of encouragement after the turnover.

Cody shook the miscue and played a solid defensive game, leading the Raider defense with 10 tackles.

But, Spruce jumped out to an 8-0 lead when Darling raced eight yards on an option play, beating two FA defenders to the right corner. Darling added the two-point conversion.

Spruce increased the lead to 14-0 when sophomore quarter Caulin Parker lofted a deep ball down the left sideline, which Austin Henault grabbed for a 37-yard TD despite tight coverage from FA defensive back Scott Parker. Gage Fowler and Caleb Eklund stopped Parker on the two-point try.

“It took us some time to adapt to the speed of what they were trying to do offensively. In the beginning, we didn’t do a very good job on the option. We didn’t do a very good job containing the sweep. We didn’t get off blocks. It seemed like we were a step behind early on,” Coach Turner said. “I don’t think it was nerves. We had a good week, and I thought we were comfortable with what we were facing. We figured if we could play the way we were capable of, we would be okay in the second half.”

Fryeburg made a strong bid to cut the deficit in half with a 15-play drive that took just over five minutes off the clock to close out the first quarter. A 13-yard completion to Cobey Johnson, which another 15 yards was tacked on due to a facemask penalty placed the ball at the SM-21.

Gullikson hooked up with Caleb Eklund for a seven-yard completion to the SM-1. FA had three cracks to gain a yard, but were turned away by a hard-hitting Phoenix line. Webster dropped Gullikson for a two-yard loss, and on fourth down, Gullikson looked Johnson’s way on a quick slant, but was sacked.

Darling bobbed and weaved through the Raider defense and popped free for a 57-yard run to change field position. But, FA regrouped and stopped the Phoenix drive as Fowler stuffed Webster for an eight-yard loss and Gullikson tripped up Darling for a 5-yard loss.

Lady Luck was on the Raiders’ side when a wide-open Brett Frey saw a deep pass down the middle tip off his fingertips.

She continued to side with the Raiders when a long ball by Gullikson deflected off Eklund and bounced into the hands of Oscar Saunders, who managed to haul the pass in after it grazed his shoulder pads. The funky play went for 61 yards. A late hit penalty moved the ball to the SM-7. On fourth down, Gullikson bulled ahead from a yard out as Fryeburg finally got on the scoreboard.

“Down 14-6, we didn’t feel we played well at all in the first half. They missed on some plays (deep), but we missed some, too. On their second touchdown, we had a player there, but the ball was tipped up and they made a play. We knew we had to weather the first six minutes,” Coach Turner said. “Coach Polkey (of Spruce Mountain) had those guys ready for us. They played smart. They kept Ryan (Gullikson) contained and did a nice job of not allowing him to have his way in the running game.”

Gullikson agreed.

“They were quick, especially #30 (Ouellette). Wherever I went, he seemed to be right there. He can play. We knew we could play with them, but in the first half, it seemed like we were all on different pages. I overthrew Nick (L’Heureux-Carland) three times, which was just stupid,” he said. “I know we can’t miss on plays like that against Yarmouth next week. I need to be better.”

Both teams “finished” better in the second resulting in a wild scoring flurry over the final 24 minutes.

Spruce threatened when Webster took a counter play and crashed ahead for 40 yards before FA lineman Isaac Wakefield made a stop. At the FA-14, Parker tried to fire a strike over the middle but the pass was picked off by Saunders.

The turnover perked up the Raiders. Cody Gullikson broke a screen pass for 24 yards, and L’Heureux-Carland made a nifty over-the-shoulder catch down the sideline, good for 43 yards. Three plays later, Cody Gullikson scored from 10 yards out behind blocks from Fowler and Demir.

FA caught a big break with 3:23 left in the third quarter when a punt bounced off a Phoenix returnman’s chest and Wakefield pounced on the loose ball at the SM-43. On third down, Gullikson was able to avoid a strong Spruce pass rush and found L’Heureux-Carland, who had started his route on the right and crossed the field to make a catch on the left, breaking loose for a 41-yard TD — FA’s first lead of the game.

“I just look for blue (the color of the Raider jersey),” said Gullikson on his ability to find a receiver despite being chased by opposing defenses. “They (Spruce) did some different things up front in the first half, which I don’t think we were quite ready for. The linebacker was coming free a few times. In the second half, we did a better job. I don’t think I was even touched.”

Coach Turner said Gullikson’s escapability extended plays several times, including the long passes to his senior wide receiver, L’Heureux-Carland, who had 11 catches for 142 yards.

“I thought Ryan was going to take off, but I started to yell, ‘Hey, hey, I’m open’ and Ryan made a great throw,” L’Heureux-Carland said.

Up 20-14, the Raiders made a mistake early in the fourth as Ouellette blocked a FA punt, giving the Phoenix the ball at the FA-12. Webster scored from six yards out, and Devan Pomery booted the extra point for a 21-20 Spruce lead with 10:35 left.

Fryeburg stormed right back as Gullikson lofted a deep ball down the right sideline for L’Heureux-Carland, who had a couple of steps on the Phoenix secondary for a 26-yard TD.

“I first thought that he had overthrown me, but I just kept running and managed to catch up with it,” L’Heureux-Carland said.

Gullikson completed the two-point pass to Johnson to put FA up 28-21.

Fryeburg had a chance to possibly ice the game when Saunders appeared to record his second interception on a deep ball down the middle. But, FA was flagged for a roughing the passer call, giving the ball back to Spruce. The Phoenix made good on the second chance, marching 59-yards with Webster scoring from three yards out. The key play — other than the FA penalty — was a 42-yard strike to Webster, who shook off two tackle attempts before Wakefield and Gullikson knocked him down.

FA was whistled for interference on the two-point try, and Parker then scored from a yard out for the PAT run, putting Spruce up 29-28.

As they do before every game, Matt Boucher and Ryan Gullikson talked about their last game at the Academy.

“I said in 3½ hours we are either going to leave here really happy or really bummed out,” Gullikson said. “At the four-minute mark, we realized the game was coming down to that final drive. After some easy games at the end of the season, it was nice to have a real challenge. This is what we love about football. Most of our guys are back from last year, which we had several come-from-behind wins. We knew we could do it.”

And, their final stands were memorable ones.

First came The Drive.

Then came The Stop. While most people put Ryan Gullikson at the top of the list of top quarterbacks in the league, he also has developed into a big stopper on defense — something he takes a lot of pride in.

“I love playing defense. It’s predictable. I play it, and I watch it on TV all the time. I pick up on little things people do, and figure out what they’re going to try to do. That’s what I like, the mind games,” he said.

Gullikson was in perfect position to make the game-ending interception, which sends the Raiders on to their next mission — a date at Yarmouth.

Mission impossible?

Hardly.

“Everybody on this team has grown and is better than the last time we played Yarmouth,” Gullikson said. “We will be up for the challenge.”

They met the challenge Saturday, and left the field full of smiles after winning their first home playoff game.

“Anytime you win, you’re pumped. But, when you win in front of your friends and community, it is so much cooler,” Gullikson said.

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