Ryan Friend of Maine Central Institute (left) throws on the run during a 2018 game against Foxcroft Academy. The junior quarterback has been a dual threat as a passer and as a runner, sparking the Huskies to the No. 2 seed in the Class C North playoffs. Credit: Stuart Hestrom | Piscataquis Observer

Ryan Friend started his high school football quarterbacking career more in the tradition of a game manager back in 2017.

But what worked for Tom Brady in his early years with the New England Patriots served Friend as a freshman at Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield when he helped the Huskies to that year’s Class C state championship.

Now Friend is a junior, and his role in leading the MCI offense has evolved to where the third-year starter is now one of the region’s most accurate passers — and his team’s leading rusher — as the second-seeded Huskies (6-2) head into Friday’s Class C North playoffs.

MCI hosts No. 7 Old Town (5-3) in a 7 p.m. quarterfinal at Alumni Field.

“We try not to be complacent,” Friend said of his team’s approach. “We struggled with that a little bit at the start of the year but every week is a new week and anybody can beat us. We know that, so we’ve just got to come to practice and get some good work done every day.”

After completing 8 of 13 passes for 101 yards as MCI defeated Hermon 21-0 last Friday, Friend has connected this fall on 63 percent (78 of 133) of his passes for 1,395 yards with 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions.

He also has rushed 57 times for 517 yards and five touchdowns, including all three scores against Hermon.

Add to that his status as one of the Huskies’ top tacklers in the defensive backfield, and Friend is an impact player on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

“He’s all about what you look for in a high school football player and a high school student-athlete,” MCI head coach Tom Bertrand said. “He’s humble, he’s a leader. He loves the game. He’s a student of the game. He’s selfless. He just does a lot of those intangible things that you want as a coach.

And because of his versatility, effectiveness and toughness, Friend plays perhaps more than his coach would like.

“Him running the football and playing defense are not things we cherish because him being in charge of the offense is huge for us. But you get a kid like that, and it’s pretty hard to keep him off the field,” Bertrand said.

Friend’s rushing frequency is tied in part to injuries the Huskies have suffered this fall. Perhaps as impressive as rushing for 96 yards and three scores on just 10 carries against Hermon was his ability to avoid the hard-charging Hawks’ defensive front.

He was sacked once early in the game but used his legs to turn several other potential losses into gains or bought the time needed to find top receivers Nason Berthelette, Will Russell and Dominic Wilson.

“He’s elusive, and he has a will to make things happen,” Bertrand said. “It’s immeasurable when you have a kid that just has that will.”

The coach’s hope is to get healthy, allowing MCI to better distribute the offensive load among its other weapons.

“Once we’ve done that our offense hopefully will start clicking like our defense is right now.”

MCI features offensive balance and has amassed 3,176 yards of total offense — 1,754 on the ground and 1,422 through the air.

“[Friend] gives us that, but we just take a look at what we’ve got week to week and what the defense is going to give us,” Bertrand said.

“It’s not intentional balance, it’s taking what teams give us and trying to execute. He helps enable us to do that.”

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...