It was the proverbial bad night.
But in many ways, Porltland’s 38-6 loss to the Windham Eagles Friday night was worse than that. The Bulldogs were hoping to make their arrival as a Western Class A contender official with a signature win over a top-ranked team.
Instead, things started bad for Portland, got worse, then downright scary. Not only did the Bulldogs fumble and stumble against the Eagles, the top-ranked team in the Crabtree standings, their four-game win streak came to a halt and junior tailback Imadhi Zagon was lost to injury.
In a pivotal late-season meeting, the Bulldogs started the game without junior fullback Will Walsh, lost for an undetermined amount of time with a severe ankle sprain, or a fractured bone in his lower left leg, depending on who you ask. The absence of Walsh, a top fullback, allowed the Eagles to concentrate on Zagon, the Cheverus transfer who has routinely piled up yardage on tough runs between the tackles.
That was the bad part to start, but things got worse. Windham scored one touchdown early in the first quarter and then exploded for 21 unanswered points in a six-minute span after the Bulldogs punted trailing 7-0 after their first possession of the second quarter.
Behind an impressive night by senior tailback Jack Mallis, who finished with 174 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 20 carries, the Eagles built a commanding 31-0 halftime lead en route to a dominating victory.
Now for the scary part: Zagon, either running the wildcat offense, at tailback, catching passes or returning kicks, represents the central player in the Bulldogs offensive blue print. And while the Eagles superb defensive play limited Zagon to 91 yards on 16 rushes, the larger issue for Portland is that he was injured on his third carry of the second half and never returned.
For Portland, the hope is that Zagon will be fine in time for next week and that coach Mike Bailey thought it best to play it safe. Looking ahead, it seems like a good decision, since the Bulldogs’ annual “Battle of the Bridge” game against South Portland (4-3) this year is more like a first-round playoff game for a pair of teams with identical records.
“The big thing for us was the turnovers and penalties,” said Bailey. “We hurt ourselves. We can’t fumble and do things like that in a big game like this. We just didn’t perform. We’ve got to regroup, learn from the experience. It’s a game. Just like we won four in a row, we lost one. But our objective is to get to the playoffs. That goal is still alive.”
The Eagles drove 81 yards in seven plays to take a 14-0 lead with 7:30 remaining in the second quarter. The big play was a 15-yard pass from Windham senior quarterback Jackson Taylor to a diving Tucker Miller down to the Portland 24. Taylor, a top quarterback, wasn’t particularly spectacular, dodging a pair of certain touchdown-drive stalling interceptions and finishing with 131 yards on 8-for-14 passing.
Mallis did the rest of the work, carrying three times for the score, a 3-yard power run on third-and-goal.
Portland, determined to keep it close, regrouped on its next possession, covering 34 yards on five plays, including a gorgeous hookup from quarterback Gordon Parker to a leaping Zagon for 14 yards and a fresh set of downs at midfield.
Playing largely with Parker under center in this game, the senior dropped back on the next play and rushed a throw directly into the gut of Windham safety Cody Laberge. The backup Windham quarterback would later throw a score in mop-up duty, but his 60-yard interception return for a touchdown extinguished any chance the Bulldogs may have had of upsetting Windham (6-1) and perhaps leaping to the top of the Crabtree Standings.
Now leading 21-0, Windham forced and recovered a Zagon fumble on the Bulldogs’ very next possession, and on first down Mallis ran around one defender and right by another for a 46-yard touchdown and a 28-0 Windham lead with 3:12 remaining in the second quarter.
Portland was forced into another three-and-out after a holding penalty set them back 10 yards, one of several often painful penalties that hurt the cause, and kicked away with just over two minutes left in the half.
Windham had used up all its first half timeouts, but Mallis broke another long run of 30-plus yards to lead a seven-play drive to the 3 before the Eagles settled for a Matt Coffee field goal and a 31-0 lead at intermission.
Mallis gashed the Bulldogs for 143 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone. He also had two catches for 51 yards in the game on Windham’s bubble-screen play.
“Mallis is a great player,” said Bailey. “Like I said, we didn’t perform. They controlled the line of scrimmage. We made mistakes that put us in the hole early. The little things became big things. It’s tough to recover.”
Led by senior captain Joe Zukowski, senior Jake Alexander, captain Nolan Hellen and hard-hitting senior safety Ted Volger, the Bulldogs defense didn’t play as poorly as the scoreboard made it look. Despite Portland’s defensive propensity for drawing ill-timed penalties for personal fouls, the Eagles surely woke up sore on Saturday morning. Windham had plenty of short fields to work with, as well as an interception for a touchdown and a fumble recovery that led to a score.
Portland avoided a shutout and put together an impressive drive, scoring after 14 plays, 11 of them without Zagon after he went down with seven minutes left in the third. Portland scored on a quick-slant from Parker to Alexander to make it 31-6 with 3:13 left in the third.
Without Zagon and Walsh on the field, Parker went to the air and hit senior Jon Brown for a first down, and then connected with junior fullback Caleb Kenney twice for a pair of first downs, including a 9-yard catch inside the Windham 15.
Windham was flagged for roughing the passer on Kenney’s catch, setting up first-and-goal for the Bulldogs at the Windham 8. On second down from the 5, Alexander made it look easy, beating his man to the inside and catching the ball untouched in the end zone.
Windham scored again late in the game for a 38-6 lead with 8:21 left in the fourth quarter.
Portland hopes to return to form Friday night when they host the Red Riots at 7 p.m.
Portland stole a 10-7 win in overtime a year ago at Martin Memorial Field. Ryan Curit rushed for over 150 yards and three touchdowns in South Portland’s win the prior year in Portland.
The Bulldogs still likely need a victory to secure their first playoff berth since 2006.