SANFORD—Late in the third period of Friday evening’s regular season opener, the two-time defending Class A state champion Cheverus football team found itself at a crossroads.
Despite dominating play for much of the first half, the Stags’ defense had just allowed an eight-minute Sanford scoring drive which cut Cheverus’ lead to 13-6.
How would this edition, with many new faces in new places, respond?
The answer was resounding.
A 46-yard touchdown scamper from senior Donald Goodrich provided a little breathing room and the Stags’ defense forced a turnover leading to another TD which opened things up. Cheverus scored twice more in the fourth quarter and went on a 43-6 victory which was nowhere near as lopsided as it appeared.
Cheverus’ three-headed offensive monster of Goodrich, senior Brent Green and new senior quarterback Liam Fitzpatrick gained over 300 yards rushing as the Stags began their quest for the first three-peat in Class A history with their 25th consecutive triumph and along the way suggested that they’re going to be a major factor once again between now and November.
“We have a character group of kids,” said Cheverus coach John Wolfgram. “In a football game, you have to answer. We answered them with a nice drive. I thought we played hard for 48 minutes. Certainly not perfect, but hard for 48 minutes. I thought we were physical, played disciplined and with hard conviction for 48 minutes. If those things happen, I think you have a chance to be successful over the long haul.”
Cheverus has been the state’s flagship program the past two seasons and won its second straight Class A Gold Ball (and third overall) with a decisive 49-7 triumph over Lawrence in the 2011 state final.
Several key cogs departed the program, however, but the Stags don’t look back. They make the most of what they have and entered the 2012 campaign rightfully full of pride and confidence.
Sanford was a playoff team in 2011 and behind bruising senior captain runner Alex Shain, believes it can compete with anybody. The newly nicknamed Spartans didn’t have much luck at Cheverus last season, falling, 41-8.
This year’s meeting wound up with a similar score, but the story was different.
The Stags moved the ball well in the first half, but were frustrated on several drives.
The tone was set immediately as Cheverus marched from its 31 deep into Sanford territory behind four rushes for 33 yards by Goodrich. On second-and-3 from the Spartans’ 29, Fitzpatrick broke free for an 18-yard run, but was caught from behind and fumbled and Sanford senior captain Jake Dexter recovered, ending the threat.
The Stags’ defense forced a three-and-out, giving the ball back to the offense, which this time, drove to the Spartans’ 11 before two Goodrich rushes lost two yards, Fitzpatrick threw incomplete and on fourth-and-12, Fitzpatrick was sacked by Sanford junior Nick Veino, giving the ball back to the hosts on downs.
Again, Cheverus’ defense stood tall, forcing a three-and-out and with 2:26 to play in the opening stanza, the Stags took over in great field position, a the Spartans’ 25 after a 23-yard punt return from Fitzpatrick.
On the second play of a four-play drive, Goodrich raced 18 yards to the 5. After Goodrich carried to the 1, Green capped the march with a 1-yard dive and Cheverus was ahead to stay. Sophomore Patrick Mourmouras added the extra point and with 48.7 seconds left in quarter number one, the Stags had a 7-0 lead.
On the final play of the first quarter, Sanford got its initial first down as senior captain and quarterback Cody Mooney gained 12 yards, but the drive stalled and the hosts had to punt again.
This time, the Stags took over at their 26 and shot themselves in the foot again as Green, after gaining four yards, fumbled and Spartans junior Josh Schroder came up with the loose ball at the Cheverus 30.
“We work hard on ball security, but fumbles happen,” Wolfgram said. “That definitely affected momentum of the game.”
Sanford was in a great position to tie the score, but Mooney threw incomplete on first down, lost two yards on a second down rush (he fumbled on the play, but Schroder recovered to save possession), junior Slade Watson rushed for a yard and on fourth-and-14, the Spartans elected to punt, which went into the end zone for a touchback.
Having dodged a bullet, the Stags responded, driving 80 yards on 14 plays, chewing up over six minutes to reach paydirt again.
A 20-yard scamper by Goodrich got it started. After a 23-yard run by Fitzpatrcik was negated by a holding penalty, a six-yard run from senior Jackson McMann, combined with a penalty by the defense put the ball in Sanford territory. The three runners took turns moving the ball closer (junior Will Hilton even got in on the fun, rushing for five yards). A hold backed the Stags up, but Fitzpatrick found senior Mike Flaherty for 12-yards and on the next play, with 3:11 to go before halftime, Fitzpatrick found room to his left and scampered six yards to the end zone. Mourmouras missed the extra point, but Cheverus had a 13-0 lead.
“I was a little nervous at first, but after the first snap, those nerves went away” said Fitzpatrick, who played wide receiver last year. “We had some hiccups, fumbles and penalties, but I talked to the guys and calmed them down. We started getting on a roll and scored. I’ve had that experience in hockey, being the leader. It’s different with football, but we settled in. The first couple drives were really frustrating.”
Sanford gained a first down on its next possession, but had to punt and the Stags took their advantage to the locker room.
Then, at the start of the second half, the hosts responded, making things very interesting.
Starting at their 31, the Spartans ate up nearly eight minutes and took 17 plays to march the field.
Schroder did most of the damage, gaining 31 yards on eight carries. Shain picked up a clutch fourth down and Mooney ran four times for nine yards before Shain ran it in from three yards out with 3:58 to go in the quarter. Sanford’s two-point conversion failed, but the hosts seemingly had momentum, having pulled within 13-6.
Instead, the Spartans had reached their high water mark.
Facing the first of what figures to be many character tests this fall, Cheverus passed with flying colors.
Hilton appeared to set his team up with a 22-yard kickoff return to the Sanford 48, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty pushed the Stags back to their 36.
Fitzpatrick rushed for 14 yards, Green gained five, then Goodrich hit a big hole, blew past the defense and outran the pursuit for a 46-yard score. Fitzpatrick threw to Flaherty for the two-point conversion and with 2:58 left in the third, Cheverus was back in command, up, 21-6.
“It showed a lot of character,” Goodrich said. “Nobody got down. We came out and wanted to answer.”
Any remaining upset hopes Sanford harbored were dashed on the first play of its next series when a fumbled lateral was snared by Goodrich at the Spartans’ 14.
It took four plays, but the Stags got back in the end zone as one third-and-4 from the 8, Fitzpatrick found Flaherty in the end zone, in a replica of the two-point conversion on the previous score. Mourmouras added the point-after and it was 28-6 Cheverus heading for the fourth period.
There, the Stags put the finishing touches on the victory.
After forcing a punt, they drove 58 yards on six plays, going up 35-6 when Green scored on a 9-yard scamper up the gut with 8:08 left.
After another Sanford punt, Wolfgram removed his starters, but the reserves put on a show of their own, driving 88 yards on nine plays and scoring when sophomore Jack Zinn rushed in from 6-yards out. Zinn added the two-point conversion to account for the final score and Cheverus left town with a 43-6 triumph.
“(Sanford’s) a tough place to play” Wolfgram said. “They’ve got a lot of seniors on the team and arguably one of the best players in the state. We were very concerned about the game.”
Goodrich led everyone in production by gaining 172 yards on 18 carries, scoring the one pivotal TD in the process. He also made his presence felt on defense with a fumble recovery.
As usual, Goodrich deflected praise.
“It was just good blocking all day,” Goodrich said. “We work every day on the blocking. Coach Wolfgram and (assistant) Coach (Mike) Vance work every day on our blocking. They do a great job. The guys know their reads and they do well for me.”
Green wound up gaining 69 yards (and scored twice) on a dozen attempts. Fitzpatrick gained 78 yards (and had a TD) on eight rushes.
“Liam can run really well,” Goodrich said. “I like to see him run and let me take a break in the backfield.”
“We have good players in the backfield,” said Fitzpatrick. “We have athletes. At any time, we can break a big one. Any play can be a home run. A lot of depth and versatility helps out.”
Fitzpatrick completed 2-of-4 pass attempts (both to Flaherty), good for 20 yards and a score. McMann gained 22 yards on four attempts, Hilton had one rush for five yards. Off the bench, Joe Fizpatrick had 45 yards on five rushes, sophomore Jacob Schott had 14 yards on one attempt, junior Cody O’Brien 11 on one rush and Zinn six for a TD on one attempt.
For Sanford, Shain was held to 47 yards on 14 rushes (he had 43 yards on 12 carries last season). Shain did score once. Most expected him to handle the ball more often, but the Spartans featured a more balanced attack.
“We heard all about Alex Shain,” said Goodrich. “We didn’t let him get a seam. We couldn’t let him get to the second level with his speed. We were expecting him to get 70 percent of their carries, but that trap worked well for them. We had to stop it. We had our own gameplan and we stuck to it. We prepared well. We had to step up on the defensive line and we did.”
“I thought (Shain) handled it enough” Wolfgram said. “Early in the game, we worked hard on denying him creases. If he got a crease, he’d take it to the house. His most success was on the counter in that trips formation, which we hadn’t seen before. That was just pure speed from him.”
Schroder was effective, also rushing 14 times and gaining 57 yards. Mooney rushed 10 times for 28 yards and was 1-of-6 passing for three yards (junior John Morgan made the reception). Watson rushed twice and lost three yards. Sophomore Jake Leonard had zero yards on one carry. Defensively, Dexter had a fumble recovery, as did Schroder (who also recovered a fumble on offense) and Veino had a sack.
While Sanford goes to Deering in Week Two, Cheverus plays its home opener Saturday, Sept. 8 against Portland, which opened with an impressive 45-14 home victory over Massabesic. Last year, the Bulldogs played the Stags tougher than anyone, leading 7-0 early and being tied at halftime before falling, 21-7.
One of Cheverus’ recent mantras is “Protect the Hill.” It will look to do that and extend its win streak to 26, but must play better.
“We had a lot of penalties (tonight),” Goodrich said. “We have to work on our discipline.”
“We’re just like any other year,” said Fitzpatrick. “We’re not dwelling on the past or looking toward the future. We focus on one game at a time, one play at a time. It should be a good game. Portland’s a good team. It’ll be a good challenge for us. I’m looking forward to it.”
C- 7 6 15 15- 43
S- 0 0 6 0- 6
C- Green 1 run (Mourmouras kick)
C- Fitzpatrick 6 run (kick failed)
S- Shain 3 run (pass failed)
C- Goodrich 46 run (Flaherty pass from Fitzpatrick)
C- Flaherty 8 pass from Fitzpatrick (Mourmouras kick)
C- Green 9 run (Mourmouras kick)
C- Zinn 6 run (Zinn run)