PORTLAND—For the third year in a row, the Cheverus football team will play for the regional title.
The Stags, who oh by the way, are the defending Class A state champion, passed yet another playoff test Saturday afternoon at Boulos Stadium, eliminating rival Deering, 45-0, in the Western A semifinals.
Cheverus put forth a textbook team effort to break the Rams’ will. The Stags got it done on the ground behind juniors Donald Goodrich and Brent Green, through the air when needed and most of all on defense, forcing five turnovers and returning two interceptions for touchdowns, breaking open a close game with 17 points in the second period and 21 more in the fourth as they improved to 10-0 with their 22nd win in a row, ending Deering’s year at 6-4.
Cheverus advances to meet No. 2 Thornton Academy in next Saturday’s Western Class A Final.
“It was a good overall effort,’ said Stags coach John Wolfgram. “I thought we did a nice job playing the full four quarters.”
Cheverus and Deering have played football for decades, but the schools hadn’t met in the postseason until last fall and was it ever worth the wait.
In an epic regional final, the Rams went up, 6-0, only to see the Stags score 29 straight points to seemingly put it away. Deering then rose off the canvas and went on a 28-0 run of its own to go up, 34-29. Showing the heart of the champion it would become the following week, Cheverus bounced back to go on top, then held on for dear life and held its breath as a last second Rams’ field goal try barely missed and the Stags advanced, 35-34.
Cheverus went on to dominate Bangor, 46-8, in the state final.
This fall, both teams have had their moments, but the Stags have stolen most of the headlines.
The defending champs won their first six games this fall by a composite 271-47 margin. The Stags only held a 17-14 halftime lead in the opener against visiting South Portland before erupting for 42 second half points en route to a 59-21 triumph. Cheverus then blanked host Gorham (35-0), rolled at Bonny Eagle (42-18), dominated visiting Sanford from start to finish in a 41-8 win, blanked Scarborough in a playoff rematch, 38-0 and pitched a 56-0 home shutout against Biddeford.
Then, things got interesting.
At unheralded Portland, the Stags fell behind 7-0 early and found themselves tied at 7-7 at halftime before going on to a 21-7 victory. In the finale, Cheverus went to struggling Deering, but again had a tussle. The teams were scoreless at halftime before a pair of long TD runs in the third period gave the Stags a 14-0 win. That triumph proved costly, however, when senior standout Spencer Cooke (the hero of last year’s state game win) suffered an injured leg which will likely keep him sidelined for the remainder of the postseason.
Cheverus wound up first in Western A and had no trouble with No. 8 Scarborough in last week’s quarterfinal, 35-7.
As for Deering, its first season under new coach Jon Gallant began ideally with four straight victories: 41-8 over visiting Noble, 28-20, at Windham, 32-20 at Kennebunk and 28-7 over visiting Portland.The Rams then hit a rough stretch as they couldn’t hold a 14-0 lead and lost to Thornton Academy, 28-21 and after holding off host Scarborough, 14-7, fell at Bonny Eagle (41-7) and at home to Cheverus (14-0).
Deering’s slide left it fifth in the region and sent it back to Bonny Eagle for the quarterfinals, a game that most felt would end in a Rams’ loss, but Deering trailed 21-7, but rallied for a memorable 35-28 overtime win to advance.
Saturday, Cheverus left no doubt that it was at the very least, the best team in the city of Portland.
The Stags won the opening coin toss, but as he so often does, Wolfgram deferred possession to the second half.
The Rams gained an initial first down when senior quarterback Matt Flaherty found sophomore Chhorda Chorn for five yards on third-and-2, but on third-and-5 from the 26, the visitors got their first inkling that it wasn’t to be their day.
Flaherty couldn’t handle the low snap, but in a nice athletic move, he managed to pick up the ball and pass to junior James Doyle, who was open over the middle. Problem was, Doyle couldn’t handle the ball and it squirted out of his hands right into senior Cam Olson’s at the Deering 41.
Championship teams rarely miss opportunities and the Stags quickly cashed it in.
On third-and-5 from the 36, Olson found Green for a seven-yard reception, moving the chains. After Green ran for nine yards, he took the next carry up the gut for 19 to the 1-yard line and on the next snap, Green, fittingly, capped the six-play, 41-yard, 3 minute, 7 second drive with a 1-yard dive. Senior Louie DiStasio’s extra point gave Cheverus a 7-0 lead midway through the opening period.
The Rams drove again on their next series thanks to a marvelous individual effort from senior Renaldo Lowry. On third-and-11 from the Deering 34, Flaherty launched a floater down the middle of the field and despite being blanketed by Olson and junior Liam Fitzpatrick, Lowry, while falling backwards, hauled the ball in for a 37 yard gain to the Stags’ 29.
Deering wouldn’t take advantage, however.
After senior Trey Thomes rushed for four yards and Lowry lost one on a sweep to the left, Flaherty threw incomplete. Then, on fourth down, Flaherty’s pass was tipped at the line by Goodrich before falling incomplete, giving Cheverus the ball back on downs.
The Stags went three-and-out and had to punt, but their defense rose up again, forcing the Rams to kick the ball right back.
Late in the first, Cheverus began a 10-play, 4 minute, 22 second drive at its 28. After Olson picked up a first down on an 11-yard scramble, the quarterback ran for 10 more and a first down at midfield on the first play of the second stanza.
Goodrich then broke free for 19 yards to the Deering 31 and Olson found Green for 15 more to the 16. The Stags then sputtered and on fourth-and-8 from the 14, in came DiStasio and his 31-yard field goal attempt barely made it over the crossbar for a 10-0 lead with 9:03 to play before halftime.
Then, the Rams gave the ball right back.
On third-and-9 from the 33, Goodrich pressured Flaherty, whose pass was high and intercepted again by Olson.
The Stags started at the Deering 48 and five plays later extended their lead. A 12-yard pass from Olson to junior Ryan Casale moved the chains and Casale did the rest as he caught a long pass from Olson down the right side, which was hung up in the wind. Casale managed to get behind a defender, made the catch and fell into the end zone.
“It was pretty fun,” Casale said. “I’ve caught a few passes, but that was my first deep one this year. Cam threw me a nice ball. I just went up and got it. The line played great all day. Thanks to them.”
“Ryan’s really improved,” Wolfgram said. “He made a couple big catches. He’s really coming along.”
DiStasio’s extra point extended the lead to 17-0 with 6:16 left in the half.
Lowry then appeared to give the visitors a spark as he returned the kickoff down the right sideline 63 yards to the Cheverus 32. Only a nice individual effort from the kicker, DiStasio, prevented him from scoring.
“Earlier in the year, the same situation happened against Scarborough and I missed him, so I wanted to cut the angle off and catch up with him and hopefully he wouldn’t burn me,” said DiStasio. “I caught up.”
DiStasio wasn’t finished. After a seven-yard run by Flaherty, Flaherty threw deep for Lowry, but DiStasio knocked the ball away. Then, on third-and-3, DiStasio made an interception at the 21 and the Stags had dodged a bullet.
The hosts then drove 79 yards in eight plays to essentially salt the win away.
Senior Colie Walsh got things started with an 18-yard scamper. After Olson moved the ball into Rams’ territory with a five-yard run, Goodrich took off for 12 to the 37. An 11-yard Goodrich run two plays later set the stage for the dynamic junior to put the finishing touches on the drive as Goodrich ran down the left sideline, faked a defender, then completed the 26-yard run.
“The captains stepped up and gave us some motivation,” Green said. “We know Spencer’s out. We need some new guys to step up. We showed good character. We took turns with Donald, Cam and I running the ball to give them some different looks. The line blocked well. We were able to make some good cuts and score.”
“Donald’s doing well,” said Wolfgram. “I thought we had good balance in our offense in terms of Brent Green and even Colie Walsh, Cam a little bit running the ball and Cam throwing the ball. He made really good decisions in the first half and was very accurate with his throws.”
DiStasio’s extra point put Cheverus ahead, 24-0, with 3:15 remaining in the half.
In the first 24 minutes, the Stags outgained Deering, 233 yards to 91 (177-12 in the second quarter alone) and forced three turnovers, but after last year’s thrills, Cheverus knew the game was far from complete.
“(Deering’s) a very explosive team so it was absolutely not over,” said Wolfgram. “We’ve been there before. We remembered what happened last year.”
Any hopes of a Rams’ comeback died with the first possession of the second half as Goodrich took the opening kickoff and ran it back 82 yards to the Deering 2. Three plays later, Green bulled in from the 1 and DiStasio’s extra point pushed the lead to 31-0 just 80 seconds into the third period.
Then, the Stags defense took centerstage.
On third-and-8 from the Rams’ 35, Flaherty attempted a pass that Green intercepted and ran back 39 yards to paydirt. DiStasio converted the extra point for a 38-0 advantage.
On the first play of the next Deering possession, after another Lowry return set the visitors up at the Cheverus 29, DiStasio got in on the act, picking off a pass at the 17 and racing 83 yards untouched for another score. DiStasio kicked the extra point and the Stags were up, 45-0, with 8:52 still to go in the third.
“We were opportunistic on defense,” said Wolfgram. “Guys got in the passing lanes. At least one was deflected.”
That would be it for scoring. The deepest Rams’ penetration was midfield and Cheverus went to its reserves early in the fourth quarter before bringing the curtain down on the 45-0 triumph.
“We stayed plugged in 48 minutes,” Wolfgram said. “It’s human nature to get way ahead and have a letdown, but we did a good job keeping our focus.”
The Stags ended up gaining 340 yards and only surrendered 136.
“Our defense played tough,” said Casale. “We’re underrated. We’ve played tough all year. It’s about time we got some recognition.”
“It’s a good group of kids,” Wolfgram said. “It’s an intelligent group, a competitive group, a proud group.”
Individually, Goodrich had 89 yards and a TD on 16 carries. Green rushed for two scores and 62 yards on 15 attempts. Walsh had four carries for 26 yards. Olson threw just seven times, completing four, for 68 yards and a score. He also ran six times for 31 yards. Casale had two catches for 46 yards and a TD. Green caught two passes for 22.
Deering saw Thomes rush 13 times for 38 yards. Flaherty had five rushes for 20 yards. Through the air, he was 9-of-23 for 104 yards, but threw five interceptions. Lowry caught five balls for 73 yards.
“We just made mistakes,” said Gallant, who was visibly distraught after the game. “You make mistakes against a good team and bad things happen.”
Deering still has one game left, versus Portland in the team’s annual non-countable battle on Thanksiving Day.
“Hopefully we’ll get a bad taste out of mouths,” Gallant said.
As for Cheverus, it will take its 22-game win streak (which includes six in a row in the postseason) into the regional final next weekend against 9-1 Thornton Academy, which held off No. 3 South Portland in a semifinal round thriller, 20-15, stopping the Red Riots a yard short of the goal line on the final play of the game.
It’s still possible that Cooke could be available for that game, or possibly the state final.
“We don’t know,” Wolfgram said. “We’ll have to see. It’s a week-to-week situation.”
Regardless, this team will be very, very tough to stop.
“We’re a team,” Casale said. “We’re not one player. We’ll play tough anyways. Even if we don’t get him back we’ll play tough.”
The Stags and Golden Trojans didn’t play this year. They did meet in the playoffs two years ago in the semifinals where visiting Cheverus went on to a stunning 36-7 victory. The teams also met in the 1991 quarterfinals (a 36-6 Thornton Academy triumph) and the 1996 quarterfinals (28-19 Cheverus).
The regional final should be a much better test than the semifinal.
“Preparation starts now,” said DiStasio. “We’re thinking about the next team. We have a few wins behind us already and we’re just looking forward to the next game.”
“It’s obviously one of our goals, to get to the final,” said Wolfgram. “We’ve worked hard to get there. We know our opponent will be a very good team. We need a good week of preparation. We’ll certainly have our work cut for us.”
Next week’s winner will face either Lawrence (10-0) or Bangor (8-2) in the Class A state final, Saturday, Nov. 19 at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Deering senior receiver Renaldo Lowry falls backwards to make a gorgeous catch over Cheverus junior Liam Fitzpatrick (14) and senior Cam Olson during the first quarter of Saturday’s game.
Cheverus junior Brent Green bulls in from a yard out to score the game’s first touchdown in the first period.
Cheverus junior Ryan Casale dives into the end zone to complete a 34-yard scoring pass from senior Cam Olson to give the Stags a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.
Deering sophomore Chhorda Chorn tries to break free from Cheverus defenders junior Brent Green (left) and senior Louie DiStasio after a first period catch.
Cheverus junior Donald Goodrich races past Deering senior Matt Flaherty for an 82-yard gain on the second half kickoff during Saturday’s Western Class A semifinal. This one was all Stags as the defending champions eliminated the Rams, 45-0.
More photos below.
D- 0 0 0 0- 0
C- 7 17 21 0- 45
C- Green 1 run (DiStasio kick)
C- DiStasio 31 FG
C- Casale 34 pass from Olson (DiStasio kick)
C- Goodrich 26 run (DiStasio kick)
C- Green 1 run (DiStasio kick)
C- Green 34 interception return (DiStasio kick)
C- DiStasio 71 interception return (DiStasio kick)