(Ed. Note: For the complete Portland-South Portland game story, with additional photos and a detailed box score, please visit theforecaster.net)
Football’s regular season has come a close and you can make an argument that the two finest teams in the state reside a few miles apart in the city of Portland.
Cheverus, the 2010 and 2011 Class A state champion, capped an absolutely dominating campaign with its eighth win without a loss and its 42nd victory in 43 games, 56-12, at Deering, which ended the Rams’ season at 1-7.
Portland, meanwhile, ended the season on a seven-game win streak after beating visiting rival South Portland with surprising ease, 38-14, in the latest incarnation of the “Battle of the Bridge.”
Not many people expected Cheverus to be so far ahead of the pack this fall, but Friday’s rivalry win at Deering extended the Stags’ scoring discrepancy to 421 points to 81 against.
This one was over quickly, as Cheverus roared to a 49-0 halftime lead and never looked back. In the first half alone, Joe Fitzpatrick had four scores (including an interception return for a TD), Liam LaFountain two, including a blocked punt return for a score, and Cody O’Brien one. The teams agreed to running time in the second half and the Stags put the finishing touches on their 56-12 victory. The Rams’ touchdowns came from Mike Marzilli and Max Chabot.
While Deering’s challenging campaign, which included a midseason coaching change, came to an end (other than the Rams’ annual Thanksgiving Day game versus Portland), Cheverus will be the top seed for the Eastern A playoffs and after having this weekend off, will host either Bangor or Lewiston in the semifinals Nov. 9. The Stags crushed the Blue Devils, 67-8, back on Sept. 14 and romped at the Rams, 49-7, Oct. 19.
After waiting three long years to beat rival South Portland, dealing with a 25-minute power outage was a piece of cake for the Portland football team Friday night at Fitzpatrick Stadium. When the Bulldogs were forced to kick the ball away on its first possession, it appeared South Portland might just carry play again, but as junior Jordan Talbot lined up to punt, the lights at Fitzpatrick Stadium went out and the game entered the realm of the surreal.
“We went back to the locker room,” said Bulldogs senior standout Justin Zukowski. “It was complete silence. We were focused, talked about some stuff. We came out and we were ready to go.”
After a long delay (apparently, the city had improperly set the timer on the lights), play resumed and the Red Riots drove deep into Bulldogs’ territory, seeking the first score, but Portland forced a fumble which it recovered at its 1 and late in the first period, the hosts drove 99 yards to take the lead for good, as Zukowski bulled in from 10 yards out to break the ice.
The Bulldogs added a second TD, on a 2-yard Talbot run, in the second period, but South Portland was on the brink of getting back in the game when it again drove into Portland territory.
Then, Red Riots senior quarterback Duncan Preston was intercepted by Bulldogs senior Ronald Hargrove and Hargrove returned the interception deep into South Portland’s end of the field, setting up a 27-yard field goal from sophomore John Williams, which put Portland on top, 17-0, at halftime.
Preston led a TD drive to start the second half, but the Bulldogs answered, embarking on their second long drive of night to push the lead back to 17, as Zukowski scored on a 22-yard scamper. Talbot then showed his throwing acumen in the final stanza, sandwiching TD passes of 27-yards to senior Jayvon Pitts-Young and 15-yards to junior Ryan Ruhlin (who made a tremendous one-handed catch) around a Preston touchdown strike and Portland went on to a surprisingly easy 38-14 triumph.
The Bulldogs got 261 yards and two TDs on 33 carries from Zukowski, improved to 7-1 with a best-in-eight-years seven game win streak and locked up the No. 2 seed and first round bye for the upcoming playoffs.
“It feels great,” Zukowski said. “We’ve worked hard to beat them. It wasn’t enough until this year. We made big plays at the right time. I have to give it to the line. They play well. They show what to do in practice.”
“It was a great experience,’ said Hargrove, who is new to the school this year. “It’s a great group of brothers. I could tell this meant a lot to them. We knew South Portland was a good team. We knew we’d have to be on our Ps and Qs to get a ‘W.'”
“I’m really proud,” added Portland coach Jim Hartman. “That (first) long drive was a statement. The kids were a little confused and had no heart at the beginning, but the lights going out was a gift from God. We went inside and had a long talk. We’re really focused on the Gold Ball, not this game so much. We ‘re just trying to get better.”
The Bulldogs will have a bye next weekend before hosting a semifinal Nov. 9 against Windham or Edward Little.
“Our team has a great audacity when it comes to winning,” Hargrove said. “We want to come out, give our all and hope to come out on top on the scoreboard.”
“We’re ready for a bye week,” Zukowski said. “We have our minds on the Gold Ball. We have since the first day. We have to keep working hard in practice and fix the little mistakes.”
Portland senior Justin Zukowski leaves the South Portland defense in his wake en route to a 261-yard performance in Friday’s 38-14 Bulldogs’ win in the “Battle of the Bridge.”
Deering sophomore Dan Marzilli is wrapped up by Cheverus sophomore Justin Johnston during the Stags’ 56-12 Friday.