Ever since they opened the 2013 season back on Sept. 6, consensus among high school football watchers held that Cheverus and Portland would meet again in November.
Saturday afternoon, that’s exactly what will happen.
And a trip to the Class A state final will be on the line.
Last weekend, in the Eastern A semifinals, Portland, the No. 2 seed, had no trouble with third-ranked Windham in a 55-7 romp and top-ranked Cheverus was equally impressive, blanking No. 4 Bangor, 37-0.
The Bulldogs, who went 7-1 in the regular season, were confronted by a Windham squad that tried to take the air of the ball, running the play clock down to zero before snapping it, but Portland forced five turnovers and took advantage of a short field on several occasions.
A punt return from Ronald Hargrove got the Bulldogs on the board and a pair of TD runs from standout Justin Zukowski made it 20-0 after one period. Zukowski had two more scoring runs to push the lead to 34-0 at halftime. Jayvon Pitts-Young got involved in the fun with a TD run and Zukowski (119 yards rushing) had one more TD to make it 48-0 after three quarters. After Windham got on the board, Joe Esposito accounted for the final score with a touchdown run.
“In hindsight, it was pretty easy for us,” said Portland coach Jim Hartman. “Zukowski had a great game with them focused on him all night. Jayvon had a great game. Our defense played really well. The line blocked well. Special teams was great.”
The Bulldogs dropped that aforementioned season opener, 35-25, to visiting Cheverus and was ousted by the Stags in last year’s semifinals, 35-7, but Portland (which won the only other prior playoff meeting, 21-12, in the 2003 quarterfinals) really likes its chances this time around.
“The kids are really, really excited,” Hartman said. “More so than I’ve seen them. They’re usually emotionless, but they were bouncing around. They realize they can do it. We have great athletes and great coaches. We just have to play our football, no mistakes. We have to take advantage of their mistakes. We’ll have to go right at them. The first game was closer than the score indicated. We’re not as intimidated as last year.”
The Stags, meanwhile, made it 43 wins in 44 games. Cheverus went 8-0 in the regular season and showed no ill effects after a bye.
A 28-yard touchdown run from standout Joe Fitzpatrick and a 37-yard Fitzpatrick TD run put the Stags on top, 14-0, after one quarter. Cheverus added a safety to take a 16-0 lead at halftime.
Touchdown runs of 53- and 33-yards by Fitzpatrick in the third period ended all doubt and a Fitzpatrick 34-yard scamper in the fourth accounted for the 37-0 final score as the Stags improved to 9-0.
Cheverus, which lost to Thornton Academy, 20-13, in last year’s regional final (its lone blemish since the start of the 2010 season), last lost to Portland Sept. 25, 2009 (28-0 at home).
The Bulldogs hold a 45-31-5 all-time advantage in the series.
The Cheverus-Portland winner will face either Bonny Eagle (8-1) or Thornton Academy (7-2) in the Class A state final Saturday, Nov. 23 at a time to be announced at Fitzpatrick Stadium.