They understood what a championship would mean. For themselves and for the 7,600 residents of Caribou.
“We had a bunch of weight on our shoulders. A 50-year drought is huge,” is how junior Parker Deprey put it.
The Caribou High boys’ basketball team threw off that weight and ended a 50-year title drought since the 1969 championship won on Mike Thurston’s “Shot Heard Round the State,” perhaps the most iconic moment in Maine high school basketball history.
Thousands of fans made the 300-mile trip from Caribou to Portland to support the Vikings during their double-overtime 49-47 victory over Cape Elizabeth in the Class B state championship game. Among those in attendance at a packed Cross Insurance Arena were Aroostook County royalty. Thurston had traveled from his home in Moultonborough, New Hampshire. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who had been a sophomore at Caribou High in 1969, rearranged her schedule to be in the crowd.
Because of the backstory and their double-overtime win in the title game, the Vikings are our choice as the Varsity Maine Boys’ Team of the Year.
And, just like 50 years previously, a debated call that went in Caribou’s favor played a role in setting the stage for a Caribou victory.
Certainly the most significant moment of the 1969 Class LL championship win against Westbrook was Thurston’s buzzer-beater from beyond half court at the now demolished Bangor Auditorium. But the tie was created by a three-point play from Mike Kelley with 10 seconds left after what even Caribou faithful acknowledge was a phantom foul call.
Who knows what would have happened this year if Cape’s 6-foot-9 center Andrew Hartel had not fouled out on a disputed offensive foul call well away from the basket with 3:17 to play in the second overtime and the score tied, 47-47? Hartel had scored 18 points with 15 rebounds. And Caribou was struggling to find its own offense. The only points of the second overtime were two Caribou free throws in six attempts at the line.
But the sluggish finish did not detract from the Vikings’ victory and the joyous post-game celebration. For almost the entire 40 minutes, the championship game was hotly contested, with seven ties and seven lead changes. Deprey had nearly created his own Thurston-esque moment at the end of regulation when he stole the ball (seconds after Cape had stolen an inbounds pass), dribbled across halfcourt and got off a 30-foot shot that looked good until it hit the back rim and bounced out.
“I dropped to my knees because it felt so good, I could have sworn it was going in,” Deprey said.
Relying almost exclusively on its starting five of sophomore Sawyer Deprey, juniors Alex Bouchard, leading scorer Deprey, and Isaac Marker and senior Austin Findlen, Caribou would have to work through its own nerves and another eight minutes of non-stop tension.
“This is like a story for us,” said Caribou Coach Kyle Corrigan, a 2008 graduate of Caribou. “You look back at that Mike Thurston shot, and they said 50 years from now they’d be marking that spot on the floor. It’s been 50 years, and the boys got it done.”