For the first time since 2000, the South Portland football team has won a playoff game.
The Red Riots, ranked third in Western Class A, hosted No. 6 Sanford in the quarterfinals Saturday afternoon and after a slow start pulled away for a 33-13 victory.
South Portland held off the Redskins, 42-34, in a shootout Sept. 16 and won the last playoff encounter, 34-0, in the 1999 regional final.
After a scoreless opening quarter, Red Riots quarterback Michael Salvatore found classmate Logan Gaddar for a TD pass and a 6-0 lead. After a long scoring run by Sanford, South Portland went back on top to stay, 12-7, on a short TD run from senior Joey DiBiase. Another Salvatore-to-Gaddar scoring pass and a couple more DiBiase TD runs pushed the lead to 33-7 and a late Redskins’ touchdown accounted for the 33-13 final score.
“The kids played well,” said South Portland coach Steve Stinson. “We chipped aaway. The defense really helped our confidence and allowed our offense to get some points on the board in the second half.”
The Red Riots (7-2) go to No. 2 Thornton Academy (8-1) for the semifinals Saturday at 1 p.m. South Portland edged the visiting Golden Trojans, 20-16, Sept. 9. The teams last met in the playoffs in the 1994 semifinals (a 28-20 Red Riots’ triumph).
“The game in week two seems like 10 years ago,” said Stinson. “There’s been so much learning and growing the last eight weeks for both teams. We’re focusing on playing at an oustanding team Saturday. The formula is simple this time of year. Turnovers will play a big factor. Penalties and physicality will play a big factor. The team that handles it the best will probably have a trip to the Western Maine championship. The senior class has a will to keep playing. They’re ready to go. It’s a mature group. So many people in this city have stepped up. It takes a village. It’s been great.”
If victorious, South Portland will either go to top-ranked Cheverus (9-0) or host No. 5 Deering (6-3) in the regional final next weekend.
Elsewhere in the region, Scarborough wasn’t as fortunate. The eighth-ranked Red Storm, the last team in the postseason party, went one-and-one with a 35-7 loss to unbeaten, top ranked, defending Class A champion Cheverus to end up 3-6.
Scarborough (which lost, 38-0, at Cheverus Oct. 1 and also 21-14, in last year’s semifinals) fell behind when the Stags returned the opening kickoff for a TD and was down 21-0 at halftime. Trailing 28-0 in the fourth quarter, the Red Storm finally got on the board when sophomore quarterback Ben Greenberg found senior Conor McCann for a scoring pass, but Cheverus added one more TD to put it away.
“The opening kickoff gave Cheverus immediate momentum,” said Red Storm coach Lance Johnson. “I thought Cheverus controlled the line of scrimmage defensively in the first half. We could not get much going offensively. In the second half, we settled down up front and had three good drives. I was proud off our players. I thought they played hard for 48 minutes and never gave up.
“Our season was certainly not what we expected it to be. We overcame a lot of adversity during the season, and had many players step up and fill in for injured players. I was happy for our seniors that we were able to step up and beat Gorham to get in the playoffs. We have now been a playoff team two years in a row.
“Next year we have Dillon Russo, Merrick Madden, Greg Viola and Ben Greenberg coming back. We also have some other good running backs and receivers in our junior and sophomore classes. The offensive line will be a work in progress. We have players with good ability that will need to work in the weight room to get ready to play. Our program is moving in the right direction. We have great community support and the players work hard in the offseason.”
In Western B, No. 3 Cape Elizabeth held off No. 6 Greely in a physical battle, 21-9, in its quarterfinal. The teams hadn’t met previously this year or in past postseasons.
A pair of TD runs from senior Andrew Lavallee put the Capers ahead 14-3 at halftime. After the Rangers battled back to 14-9, Lavallee iced it with a fourth period score and Cape Elizabeth went on to the win.
“I love the way our guys have competed in every single game,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Aaron Filieo. “We’re very pleased with how the guys come out, work hard and compete.”
The Capers improved to 7-2 and move on to Friday night’s semifinal at second-ranked, defending Class B state champion Mountain Valley (8-1).
On Oct. 21, in the regular season finale, Cape Elizabeth lost at home to the Falcons, 20-14. The teams have met in four of the past five postseasons, with Mountain Valley winning on three occasions. In the most recent meeting, the 2009 Western B Final, the Capers prevailed, 23-13.
“We’re excited to go to Rumford and get another shot at Mountain Valley,” said Filieo. “We turned the ball over twice in the first game, on the opening drive and again going in, inside the 5-yard line. We also gave up an easy TD with 20 seconds left in the half. That’s unacceptable. We need to eliminate mistakes and we hopefully will stay healthy for the whole 48 minutes. We believe we can be there in the end.”
Cape Elizabeth senior Andrew Lavallee corrals Greely senior Mike Leeman during the teams’ Western Class B quarterfinal last weekend. The Capers advanced with a 21-9 victory.
Cape Elizabeth senior Derek Roberts falls forward for a gain during Saturday’s win. The Capers face a trip to Rumford for the semifinals Friday night.