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(Ed. Note: For the complete version of the Cheverus-Portland game story, with additional photos and a box score, please visit theforecaster.net)
When it comes to the city of Portland, just like the rest of the state of Maine, the Cheverus football team stands alone.
Saturday afternoon at Boulos Stadium, the Stags’ home opener resulted in a shockingly easy 42-0 victory over resurgent Portland, their 26th in a row.
The Bulldogs had opened the Jim Hartman Era with a 45-14 home win over Massabesic, while Cheverus was rolling at Sanford, 43-6, in Week 1. Both Hartman (who won two straight Class C state championships at Yarmouth before replacing Mike Bailey this season) and Stags coach John Wolfgram were riding 25-game win streaks, so something had to give.
That something proved to be mistake-prone Portland (which entered the game leading the all-time series, which dates to 1924, 45-30-5).
The hosts grabbed a 7-0 lead just 110 seconds into the game after a shanked punt gave them great field position. Senior Brent Green did the honors with a 20-yard run.
“Coach emphasizes special teams,” said senior Jackson McMann, whose pressure forced the shanked punt. “We work on it a lot during practices. It’s big in the game. I think I made him nervous and he rushed the punt. I didn’t touch it. He punted it straight up. I got up and everyone was going crazy around me. You have to come out with energy and we did. We were more energized than them.”
Cheverus next took advantage of an untimely Portland penalty to take a 14-0 advantage after one quarter as senior quarterback Liam Fitzpatrick found sophomore Zordan Holman for a 20-yard TD strike.
“You just can’t make mistakes,” Hartman lamented. “It was overzealousness. Penalties killed us.”
After recovering a fumble, Cheverus tacked on another score (a 30-yard TD pass from Fitzpatrick to junior Noah Stebbins) to seize control.
“(The secondary) had been biting on my run, so I gave an inside fake and was wide open,” said Stebbins. “I just had to catch it.”
A 94-yard drive late in the first half ended all doubt (senior Donald Goodrich capped it with a 15-yard run).
In the third quarter, the Stags scored twice more, as Goodrich (6-yard run) and Green (2-yard run) put the finishing touches on the runaway win.
“They played us tough the last couple years so I thought it would be close, but we came out and played well,” Stebbins said. “It was definitely good to set the tone. That first quarter really helped us. We played as a team. Everyone did their part for the win. It feels good to beat Portland.”
“I was expecting them to come out hard and give us a tough game, but we came out tougher and were energized,” McMann said. “They’re a good team though. It feels amazing.”
“Portland’s a good team,” said Wolfgram. “They’ll win some football games. I felt we took it to them early and that helped.”
Offensively, the Stags were paced by Goodrich’s 158 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Green scored twice and gained 66 yards on a dozen attempts. Fitzpatrick rushed three times for 11 yards and completed 3-of-4 passes for 75 yards and a pair of scores. Stebbins had two receptions for 55 yards and a TD and Holman caught one pass for a 20-yard score.
“Every position we have depth,” said McMann. “Everyone knows about our running backs, but we can give the ball to anyone.”
Defensively, the Stags got two interceptions from Fitzpatrick. McMann recovered a fumble.
“I thought we played with good maturity and executed really well in all phases,” Wolfgram said.
For Portland, junior Jayvon Pitts-Young gained 51 yards on 10 attempts, classmate Justin Zukowski rushed for 50 yards on 10 tries, senior Nick Volger was held to 9 yards on nine rushes and sophomore Ryan Ruhlin was 0-for-4 passing with a pair of interceptions. He gained 2 yards on two rushes.
The Bulldogs were held to just 118 yards of offense.
“We’re a growing program,” Hartman said. “It’s a process. Cheverus had mental toughness. The polish of a champion. They’re a lot more physical than I thought, but that wasn’t something we couldn’t handle. They don’t make mistakes. If they did, we couldn’t capitalize. They didn’t do anything fancy. We knew what was coming. We thought we’d come in and play. We thought we were ready, but we don’t understand what it is to be ready. I think it’s a great learning game for us. Hopefully, we’ll learn. I think we’ll learn and show some character.”
Cheverus takes its 26-game win streak to Martin Memorial Field to face the South Portland Red Riots (0-2) Friday night. The Red Riots of the late 1990s (then coached by Wolfgram) hold the state record for successive wins, with 31. South Portland would love nothing more than to end the Stags’ run. Last year, host Cheverus pulled away in the second half to dominate the Red Riots, 59-21.
“We certainly have work to do,” Wolfgram said. “We still have a long way to go.”
Portland, meanwhile, hopes to get back in the win column when it hosts Gorham (0-2) Friday. The Bulldogs edged the visiting Rams, 12-8, last season.
“I hope it’s not a trap game,” Hartman said. “The guys should be emotional. I have to do a better job preparing these guys.”
Deering, which lost at Thornton Academy, 44-14, to start the season, hosted Sanford Friday night, hoping to even its record. Instead, the Rams couldn’t muster much offense and had no answer for Spartans senior Alex Shain, who rushed for over 200 yards and three TDs.
Sanford led 3-0 at halftime and 10-0 after three periods. After the Spartans went up 17-0 in the third, Deering finally got on the board on a TD run by quarterback Mike Marzilli, but Shain broke one final scoring run and the Rams fell to 0-2.
Deering is at Massabesic (1-1) Friday.
Cheverus sophomore Zordan Holman breaks the tackle of Portland senior Nick Volger en route to a touchdown reception in the first period of the Stags’ 42-0 triumph Saturday.
Portland junior Justin Zukowski barrels forward for yardage.