PORTLAND—A few names and faces have changed, but the defending Class A state champion Cheverus football team is as formidable as ever.
The Stags found themselves in a slugfest Saturday afternoon at Boulos Stadium in their opener against a plucky squad from South Portland and only clung to a 17-14 advantage at halftime.
Then, in the second half, everything changed, as Cheverus erupted for 42 points and pulled away for a 59-21 victory behind 349 combined rushing yards and six touchdowns from senior Spencer Cooke and junior Brent Green.
The game changed after the first possession of the second half when the Stags had to punt, but a Red Riots’ fumble opened the floodgates and Cheverus went on to its 13th consecutive victory.
“Not much changed in the second half,” said Stags’ coach John Wolfgram. “We started to crack them in the running game. We got some momentum and once that came, we worked with the momentum. We had some quick hitters and executed pretty well.”
Cheverus’ 2010 accomplishments have been well documented. The Stags won all 12 games, many in dramatic fashion, including all three regional playoff contests, and capped their run with a 46-8 romp over Bangor in the state final, the program’s first Class A crown in a quarter-century.
While Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Peter Gwilym, standout fullback Evan Jendrasko and lineman extraordinaire Zach Dulac led the list of those departed, Cheverus has plenty of talent in reserve and entered 2011 as one of the favorites to win the region.
South Portland is coming off a 5-4 campaign which saw its first trip to the playoffs since 2002 (the Red Riots were blanked by Bonny Eagle in the quarterfinals, 32-0). South Portland isn’t being mentioned as a top contender, but has enough athletes to compete.
Two years ago, the Red Riots came to Cheverus and sprung an upset and for 24 minutes Saturday, it appeared as if history might repeat itself, before the Stags unleashed their full fury.
The hosts won the opening coin toss but elected to defer possession to the second half. South Portland’s initial drive saw it go backwards 10 yards before being forced to punt.
Cheverus took over at the Red Riots’ 40 and drove for the game’s first score, although it would be a field goal and not a touchdown.
On third-and-8 from the 38, Cooke picked up four yards, setting up a fourth dow where senior quarterback Cam Olson found senior Louie DiStasio for 25 yards and a first down at the 9. Three plays only netted two yards, however, and DiStasio had to come on for a 24-yard field goal, which he nailed for a 3-0 advantage.
The visitors then delivered a body punch.
Facing third-and-13 from their own 34, the Red Riots demonstrated how explosive they can be when senior quarterback Jordan Muller dropped back and floated a pass down the left sideline for senior Logan Gaddar, who had gotten a step on the defender. Gaddar came down with the ball, found himself running free and took the ball to paydirt to complete a stunning 66-yard score. Sophomore kicker Joey DiBiase (not to be confused with senior running back Joey DiBiase) booted the extra point and South Portland was up, 7-3.
The Stags would answer on a 12-play, 73-yard drive that ate up 6 minutes, 4 seconds, spanning the rest of the first period and the first part of the second. A 26-yard pass from Olson to junior Ryan Casale moved the chains. Green then made his presence, felt, gaining 12 yards. On third-and-8, Olson scrambled for nine to keep the drive alive. A six-yard Cooke run set up a third-and-1 at the South Portland 17 as the first quarter ended (with Cheverus holding a 109-53 advantage in yardage).
Three plays into the second quarter, the hosts took the lead for good when Olson threw to first-year Stags’ junior Donald Goodrich, who made a nice grab of the ball which was behind him, then roared into the end zone for a 14-yard score. DiStasio’s extra point made it 10-7 Cheverus with 10:44 to go in the first half.
After the ensuing South Portland drive was short-circuited by a penalty and ultimately resulted in a punt, the Stags marched toward another score.
This time, Cheverus went 60 yards in six plays. A pretty diving grab by DiStasio, good for 23 yards, got things started. Green then did the rest, rushing for 9-, 6-, then 16-yards to the end zone. DiStasio’s extra point gave the Stags a 17-7 lead with 6:14 to go before halftime.
After the Red Riots went three-and-out again, DiBiase’s punt was blocked and recovered at the South Portland 24. The hosts had a chance to take a commanding lead, but Green fumbled and Red Riots’ senior Max Porter recovered.
Reeling, but still alive, South Portland then embarked on its finest drive, marching 80 yards in 12 plays to get right back in the ballgame.
On third-and-9 from the 21, Muller found senior Dan Medici for 11. Three plays later, on third-and-10, Muller hooked up with Gaddar for 38 to the Cheverus 30. As time wound down, Muller found Medici for 11 yards to the 1 and with 5.8 seconds remaining, DiBiase bulled in to his left for the 1-yard score. The other Joey DiBiase banged home the extra point and improbably, despite being outgained 188 yards to 132, the Red Riots were within 17-14 at the break.
In the first 24 minutes, Muller completed 8-of-13 passes for 166 yards and a TD (Gaddar had five catches for 137 yards and score, while Medici had three receptions for 29 yards).
While most on hand were stunned by the developments, Wolfgram was not.
“I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “(The Red Riots) have 18 seniors. Steve (Stinson) does a nice job coaching them. They’re a good football team. We knew that coming in. We didn’t take anything for granted. We played well in the first half, but they came back and made a couple plays. We had a fumble that hurt us and they had that long pass. To their credit, they played well.”
South Portland had to feel good after holding the explosive Cooke to just 20 yards on seven carries. Green had 51 and a TD on seven attempts, while junior Parker Doyon paced the Stags’ defense with four tackles and a sack.
The second half began with an opportunity for the Red Riots to take the lead, but a critical mistake opened the door and Cheverus soon buried its foe.
The Stags had the first possession of the second half, but after gaining one first down, had to punt. Olson kicked away from his 44 and South Portland senior Teddy Lefay looked to make a fair catch at the Red Riots’ 10. He wasn’t able to hold on, however, and Cheverus senior Liam Fitzpatrick pounced on the loose ball at the 7.
“The kick game is huge,” said Wolfgram. “We did a nice job covering, recovered a punt, blocked a punt. We work hard on special teams and try to execute on special teams.”
That turned then tide for good.
On the first play, Cooke took a handoff and barreled into the end zone from seven yards out. DiStasio’s extra point made it 24-14.
South Portland quickly went three-and-out on its next series and the Stags marched 73 yards on eight plays to gain a little breathing room as all the damage was done on the ground.
Green had successive rushes of 15-, 13- and 3-yards. After Cooke ran twice for 14 yards, Green rushed for 2 and Cooke broke loose for 20 before an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved the ball back to the Red Riots’ 21.
That only delayed the inevitable.
With 5:37 to go in the third, Green broke free for a 21-yard TD run and DiStasio’s extra point made it a 31-14 contest.
“We had some great blocks and I made a couple good reads so I could spring some runs,” Green said. “We made a couple good adjustments at the half. The captains stepped up and made a good speech and got us all going, put fire in our eyes. Coach said play 48 minutes and keep it going. We went out there and played hard in the second half.”
“We dropped the punt and that was a big play and they punched it in and got another and they pulled away,” Stinson lamented.
The next South Portland drive ended when Cooke made a dazzling interception at midfield. Green, Cooke and Olson then rushed for 30 yards on seven carries before the third quarter gave way to the fourth.
There, Cheverus kept scoring touchdowns.
Two plays into the final stanza, Green roared up the gut, met no resistance and completed a 15-yard scoring run. DiStasio’s extra point with 11:48 to go put the Stags up, 38-14.
After another Red Riots’ three-and-out, the Stags marched 42 yards in three plays for another TD as Green ran for three before Cooke broke free for 22, then 17 for the touchdown. With 9:39 left, DiStasio’s extra point gave the hosts a commanding 45-14 advantage.
Undaunted, South Portland answered as a 36-yard Muller-to-Medici pass set the stage for a 6-yard DiBiase scoring run. The other DiBiase added the point-after with 6:53 to go and the Red Riots were back to within 45-21.
It took all of three plays for Cheverus to score again as Cooke took a handoff at his 30, found daylight, then broke a tackle and somehow kept his balance before completing an impressive 70-yard scoring jaunt. DiStasio’s kick gave the hosts a 52-21 lead.
After another South Portland punt, the Stags went to their reserves as Fitzpatrick took over under center. He would cap a final scoring drive with a 32-yard TD run. When DiStasio kicked his eighth extra point with 2:27 remaining, the curtain came down on the Stags’ 59-21 domination.
The new era has begun with a bang.
“We’re not even thinking about last year,” said Green. “It’s a new year, a new quest for gold. We’re taking it one game at a time and preparing for each team.”
“There are new names and new kids,” said Wolfgram. “We’re trying to be efficient, workmanlike and have some fun.”
The Stags certainly had fun on offense as they held a 527-242 edge in yardage (including a 339-110 bulge in the second half).
Cooke, despite his slow start, wound up with a game-high 199 yards and three scores on 21 carries. His presence helped open the door for Cheverus’ newest star, Green, who wound up with 150 yards and three TDs on 19 attempts.
“I think (South Portland keying on Cooke) helped,” Green said. “They were really watching him and it opened up for me, then toward the end of the game it swapped and he got some open runs.”
“Brent’s a good athlete,” said Wolfgram. “This is his first real year with the varsity. He’s stepping in learning the system and understanding what he can do. He’s a good kid. He had a nice game.”
“Our plan was to give (Cheverus) looks to take away what Cooke likes to do best,” said Stinson. “That made them activate the fullback game and he responded well on the trap and dive. You can only take away so many things.”
Olson didn’t have to throw much and only did so twice in the second half. He wound up 5-of-10 for 93 yards and one TD. DiStasio had three receptions for 53 yards, Casale one for 26 and Goodrich one for 14 and a score.
The Red Riots had their best success through the air. Muller wound up 10-of-22 for 204 yards, a touchdown and an interception. DiBiase was in negative yardage rushing much of the game, but finished with 44 yards and a TD on 16 attempts.
Ultimately, the final score wasn’t reflective of how well South Portland played, especially in the first half. The Red Riots bussed home knowing they had some things to build upon.
“We’ve got some kids who can make plays,” Stinson said. “We’re in a process this year. We have to make sure we stay together. This team has the potential to get better every week and take advantage of our opportunities. Logan was a good matchup out there. Medici did a lot going both ways. We had good looks in the pass game. We would have liked to run more early. We weren’t able to establish it.
“Physically, I don’t feel coming out of this loss that we couldn’t stand up to them. Three or four years ago, we couldn’t even stand up to a good team. We just made too many fundamental mistakes. We’ll have something to practice on Monday. We have Thornton coming to town. We’re seeing a good level of talent and that can only make us better.”
Indeed, South Portland plays host to Thornton Academy Friday night. The Golden Trojans enjoyed an impressive 20-6 home win over highly touted Bonny Eagle Saturday afternoon.
As for the defending champs, Cheverus plays its first road game Friday, at 1-0 Gorham.
Cheverus junior Brent Green shakes off a tackle and picks up a block on his way to the end zone for one his three touchdowns. Green wound up with 150 yards on the ground.
Cheverus senior Cam Olson is dragged down by South Portland senior Max Porter. Olson did a stellar job directing the high-powered Stags’ offense in his first start after replacing Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Peter Gwilym.
Cheverus junior Donald Goodrich prepares for contact with South Portland senior Logan Gaddar as he runs in for his team’s first touchdown in the second quarter.
South Portland senior Jordan Muller breaks free from a defender and throws a pass downfield. Muller was effective throwing the ball when he had time.
Cheverus senior Spencer Cooke works to hold off a defender as he heads toward the sideline. Cooke, last year’s state game hero, was held to just 20 first half yards, but wound up with 199 and three TDs.
South Portland senior Dan Medici hauls in a reception despite being blanketed by Cheverus senior Spencer Cooke during the teams’ mutual opener Saturday afternoon. The Stags pulled away in the second half to open their title defense with a 59-21 triumph.
More photos below.
SP- 7 7 0 7- 21
C- 3 14 14 28- 59
C- DiStasio 24 FG
SP- Gaddar 66 pass from Mullar (DiBiase kick)
C- Goodrich 14 pass from Olson (DiStasio kick)
C- Green 16 run (DiStasio kick)
SP- DiBiase 1 run (DiBiase kick)
C- Cooke 7 run (DiStasio kick)
C- Cooke 21 run (DiStasio kick)
C- Green 15 run (DiStasio kick)
C- Cooke 17 run (DiStasio kick)
SP- DiBiase 6 run (DiBiase kick)
C- Cooke 70 run (DiStasio kick)
C- Fitzpatrick 32 run (DiStasio kick)