(Ed. Note: For the complete Cheverus-Sanford and Deering-Thornton Academy game stories, with box scores, please visit theforecaster.net)
It was an eventful first weekend for city football teams, even though only one game was played in Portland.
The one host squad, the Portland Bulldogs, may have had the most impressive debut, pulling away from Massabesic in the second half for a 45-14 triumph.
Portland, in its first season without longtime coach Mike Bailey since the 1980s and its first under Jim Hartman, which led Yarmouth to back -to-back Class C state championships, entered the season full of optimism and it proved to be warranted.
After a scoreless first period, the Bulldogs got touchdown runs from sophomore Ryan Ruhlin and junior Jayvon Pitts-Young, but the Mustangs scored on two big plays to make it a 14-14 contest at halftime.
Then, Portland took the lead behind a Pitts-Young TD run. That set the stage for a 24-point fourth quarter, highlighted by three touchdowns from junior Justin Zukowski and a long TD run by junior Abe Marr.
The Bulldogs had almost 500 yards of offense and Pitts-Young, Zukowki and senior Nick Volger all gained over 100 yards.
“It was good for the kids to get some confidence in what we do and our systems,” said Hartman. “We came out sluggish and made mistakes with fumbles, punt coverage. You can’t get away with that against good teams. We stopped making mistakes in the second half and had good balance on offense. It was a good start for the offense. The defense was exceptional. They’re further ahead than I thought.”
Cheverus, the two-time defending Class A state champions, made it 25 successive wins with a 43-6 victory at Sanford. Like Portland, the Stags saved their best for last.
Cheverus could have had a commanding lead at halftime, but two fumbles and a loss of downs deep in Sanford territory held the Stags at bay. A 1-yard TD run by senior Brent Green broke the ice in the first quarter and sophomore Patrick Mourmouras added the extra point for a 7-0 lead. In the second period, senior quarterback Liam Fitzpatrick scored on a 6-yard run. Mourmouras’ point-after was no good and it was 13-0 Cheverus at the break.
The newly nicknamed Spartans drove the field to start the second half, chewing up almost eight minutes before senior Alex Shain (who was held to just 47 yards on 14 carries) scored on a 3-yard run.
The Stags were tested for the first time and rose to the occasion.
Senior Donald Goodrich broke free for a 46-yard TD scamper and after a Sanford fumble, Fitzpatrick found senior Mike Flaherty for an 8-yard TD pass and after three periods, Cheverus was up, 28-6.
A 9-yard TD run from Green and a 6-yard TD scamper from sophomore Jack Zinn accounted for the final score.
“(Answering Sanford’s touchdown) showed a lot of character,” said Goodrich, who had 172 yards and a TD on 18 carries. “Nobody got down. We came out and wanted to answer.”
“We have good players in the backfield,” said Fitzpatrick, who had 78 yards and a score on the ground and also threw for a touchdown. “We have athletes. At any time, we can break a big one. Any play can be a home run. A lot of depth and versatility helps out.”
“We have a character group of kids,” added Cheverus coach John Wolfgram. “In a football game, you have to answer. We answered them with a nice drive. I thought we played hard for 48 minutes. Certainly not perfect, but hard for 48 minutes. I thought we were physical, played disciplined and with hard conviction for 48 minutes. If those things happen, I think you have a chance to be successful over the long haul.”
The Stags come home Saturday for an intriguing showdown with Portland. The Bulldogs played Cheverus closer than anyone last season, leading 7-0 early and being tied at the half before the Stags went on to a 21-7 victory.
One of Cheverus’ recent mantras is “Protect the Hill.” It will look to do that and extend its win streak to 26, but must play better.
“We had a lot of penalties (tonight),” Goodrich said. “We have to work on our discipline.”
“We’re just like any other year,” said Fitzpatrick. “We’re not dwelling on the past or looking toward the future. We focus on one game at a time, one play at a time. It should be a good game. Portland’s a good team. It’ll be a good challenge for us. I’m looking forward to it.”
The game will feature a state first: Two coaches riding 25-game win streaks.
“It’s pretty cool to be on the same field with (John),” said Hartman. “He’s a good man. He runs a sound team. They play the game the right way. Our kids won’t back down. They’re not intimidated. If we can avoid mistakes, we’ll be fine. We have to learn how to win. That’s the process we’re in right now.”
Only Deering failed to get in the win column in its first try, suffering an Opening Day loss for the first time since 2005, 44-14, at powerhouse Thornton Academy.
The Rams knew they’d have their hands full with a Golden Trojans squad picked by many to dethrone Cheverus this year.
Deering only managed three yards of offense in the first quarter and fell behind, 10-0. Thornton Academy junior standout Andrew Libby returned a punt 57-yards for a score and it was 17-0 Golden Trojans at the half.
The Rams got some momentum in the third period when an interception and long return by senior Kenny Sweet set the stage for a 2-yard TD pass from junior Mike Marzilli to senior James Doyle, but Libby broke free for a 65-yard scoring run. The hosts added two more touchdowns before Marzilli answered with a 1-yard TD run. Thornton Academy got a late touchdown to account for the final score.
“We never gave up,” said Deering coach Jon Gallant. “We had stretches where we were really good, but we didn’t capitalize and finish. Against a good team, you can’t do that. It’s a matter of taking this and learning and using what happened today to fuel us next week.”
The offense was paced by senior Dominic Lauture (12 rushes for 95 yards) and Sweet (eight rushes for 91 yards). Marzilli gained 15 yards on nine attempts and scored a touchdown. Through the air, Marzilli finished 5-of-11 for 40 yards with an interception and a touchdown.
“It took us awhile,” said Gallant. “Our line wasn’t ready. After the first quarter, they came out and really started to take it personally to work harder and give the backs a chance. We have a lot of guys out here that this was the first game that counts. (Thornton’s) one of the top teams for a reason.”
Friday, Deering will play its home opener against 0-1 Sanford. The Rams and Spartans didn’t meet last year.
“It will be the first time in three weeks we’ll be on our home field,” said Gallant. “We hardly get to practice on it. We look forward to any time we can play a game, home or away. We’ll let it all go on Friday night. We have ability if we work hard. “
Portland junior Jayvon Pitts-Young leaves the Massabesic defense in his wake during a touchdown run in Friday night’s 45-14 season opening victory for the Bulldogs.
Portland junior Justin Zukowski turns the corner and picks up yardage. The Bulldogs were very impressive in their debut.