PORTLAND—Every week, Cheverus’ football team gets better.
And with the days drawing shorter, the nights getting colder and the games growing in importance, that’s bad news for the rest of the state.
Saturday afternoon at Boulos Stadium, five weeks after a devastating 57-point loss at defending Class A champion Thornton Academy, the host Stags continued their climb back up the standings with a solid 48-minute effort against dangerous Scarborough.
Cheverus set the tone on its second play, a 43-yard touchdown dash from senior Justin Johnston, to go on top to stay. While the Red Storm bounced back on a 26-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jack Hughes to sophomore Reece Lagerquist, they missed the extra point and in the second quarter, the Stags opened it up.
First, Johnston scored on an 8-yard pass from senior quarterback Isaac Dunn, then freshman Tre Fletcher broke free for a 58-yard TD run to make it 20-6 at halftime.
On the first offensive play of the second half, Cheverus got another long touchdown run, this one 67 yards from senior Dan Baker for a 26-6 advantage. In the fourth period, Dunn scored on a 3-yard run and after Hughes and Lagerquist hooked up again, for 40 yards, junior Rylan Benedict scored on a 3-yard run to bring the curtain down on the Stags’ impressive 41-13 victory.
Cheverus mustered 371 yards of offense, played turnover- and penalty-free and improved to 5-2 on the season, dropping Scarborough to 4-3 in the process.
“We prepared well this week,” said Stags coach John Wolfgram. “We were disciplined today. (Scarborough’s) a diverse football team with a lot of athletes. We gave up yardage, which you’re going to do against a good team, but we made a lot of plays at key junctures.”
Both teams have showed steady improvement this year, with the Stags making huge strides in recent weeks.
Scarborough couldn’t dig out of a 20-point hole in its opener, falling at home to Portland, 47-26. The Red Storm then rallied for a palpitating 27-26 win at Bonny Eagle, rolled at Massabesic, 54-14, outscored visiting Sanford (37-15), then lost at defending Class A champion Thornton Academy (48-7) and beat visiting South Portland (40-7).
Cheverus pulled away in the second half of its opener to down visiting Oxford Hills, 42-14, then was humbled at Thornton Academy, 57-0. The Stags got back on track with a 68-16 home drubbing of Lewiston, then dominated visiting Edward Little, 44-7, before dropping an agonizing 16-14 decision at Portland. Cheverus rebounded last week with a 34-14 win at Bangor.
The teams have met sporadically over the years (see sidebar, below), although not since 2011. Two of the five meetings came in the playoffs, and the Stags held a 4-1 edge entering play Saturday where the Red Storm were hoping to beat Cheverus for the first time since Sept. 24, 2004 (34-13 in Scarborough), but instead, on a breezy afternoon, the Stags took another positive step.
Cheverus won the opening coin toss, but chose to defer possession to the second half.
Scarborough started at its 20 after Stags senior Frankie Curran booted the kickoff into the end zone for a touchback and promptly went three-and-out, as sophomore Owen Garrard ran for six yards before a bad snap led to a loss of eight and on third-and-12, Hughes threw incomplete under pressure from Curran.
After a punt, the hosts started at the Red Storm 43 and two plays and 44 seconds later, had the lead.
After Benedict was held to no gain on first down, Johnston got the ball for the first time, ran up the gut and didn’t stop until he crossed the goal line.
“I have to give it up to my line,” Johnston said. “It was a collective team effort. It was great blocking and I just saw open grass. It was good to set the tempo.”
Sophomore Jack Casale’s extra point made it 7-0 Cheverus with 9:48 to play in the opening stanza.
Scarborough got up off the deck and answered with an 11-play, 81-yard drive, which ate up 5:25 and featured more running than most expected.
After junior Drew LeClair was held to no gain on first down, sophomore Connor Kelly ran for eight yards and Hughes kept the ball on third down and picked up five yards to move the chains. After Hughes ran for 10 more, LeClair gained five and Hughes rushed for another 10 and a first down at the Stags’ 43. Kelly and Hughes then gained one yard apiece, but on third-and-8, Hughes completed his first pass, a nine-yard slant to senior Griffin Madden for a first down at the 32. After Hughes kept the ball for six yards, he hit Lagerquist on a fade down the left side for a 26-yard touchdown. Junior Emmett Peoples’ extra point was short-circuited by a bad snap, but with 4:17 to go in the opening frame, the Red Storm had pulled within a point, 7-6.
After Cheverus went three-and-out (Johnston ran for no gain, Fletcher lost two yards and Johnston caught a screen pass for only four yards), Scarborough got the ball back at its 3 with a chance to drive and take the lead, but after Garrard ran for 16 yards, then picked up one, Hughes was intercepted by senior Kenny Drelich at midfield.
With under a minute to go in the first quarter, the Stags began a scoring drive which started with runs of seven and four yards by Johnston.
On the first play of the second period, Johnston ran for four more, then broke free appearing paydirt-bound again until junior Anthony Simoneau brought him down by the ankles at the Scarborough 9. After Johnston picked up a yard, Dunn hit him for an 8-yard TD. With 10:05 to play before halftime, Casale missed the PAT wide right, but Cheverus, thanks to a six-play, 50-yard, 2:53 drive, had a 13-6 lead.
The Red Storm started their next drive at their 18, but a bad snap backed then up eight yards, Hughes threw incomplete and after a 40-yard Kelly scamper was called back by a holding penalty, Hughes threw incomplete and Scarborough had to punt again.
The Stags started at their 37 with 8:42 to play in the half and two plays and 49 seconds, were in the end zone again.
After Johnston ran for five yards, Fletcher did the honors, slipping three tackles, then racing down the right sideline, before breaking one more tackle en route to an electrifying 58-yard touchdown. Casale’s extra point made it 20-6.
The Red Storm roared right back and did everything but score.
Starting at its 34, Scarborough got runs of eight and 24 yards from Garrard to reach the Cheverus 34. LeClair gained 11 yards, then picked up 10 more to the 13. After Garrard gained four yards to set up first-and-goal at the 9, the Stags stiffened, allowing Garrard just one yard, stopping Hughes at the 3 after a gain of five and on third down, Hughes tried to hit LeClair in the left flat, but Dunn jumped the route and intercepted the pass in the end zone for a touchback.
“I saw (LeClair) on the goal line and I knew he’s one of their top receivers, so when he cut out, no one ever cuts unless they’re throwing to you, so I tried to jump the route and make a play,” said Dunn.
The Red Storm moved 63 yards, but had nothing to show for it.
“It’s been the story for us when we play good teams, we make too many mistakes,” lamented Scarborough coach Lance Johnson. “We have to find a way in a hurry to change that.”
Cheverus couldn’t take advantage of the turnover, gaining just six yards on two Johnston runs and two more on a Fletcher carry, forcing a punt.
With 2:49 to play in the half, after a Dunn punt which traveled just 12 yards, the Red Storm took over at the Stags’ 40.
Scarborough moved the chains on a 10-yard Hughes run, but after Hughes hit Kelly for four yards, the visitors took a false start penalty followed by a holding penalty, then after Hughes hit Kelly for two yards and senior Jake Gardner for 13 more, Hughes threw incomplete, giving Cheverus the ball back on downs.
The Stags ran three times and that ran out the clock on the first half.
In the first 24 minutes, Cheverus only held a 177-157 edge in yardage, but two forced turnovers were the difference.
The Stags needed two plays to score their first touchdown in the first half. They required only one in the second half.
On first-and-10 from the 33, Baker got the ball cane on a sweep right, he managed to turn the corner and then beat the pursuit for a 67-yard TD. Casale’s PAT was no good, wide right, but just 20 seconds into the third period, the score was 26-6.
Scarborough then threatened on a 28-yard Garrard scamper to the Cheverus 19, but Benedict threw Garrard for a four-yard loss and Hughes threw three straight incomplete passes to end the threat.
The Stags went three-and-out and the Red Storm got the ball back at their 34, but again shot themselves in the foot.
After Simoneau picked up a first down with an 11-yard scamper, another holding penalty set up a first-and-21 and after Hughes hit Gardner for six yards, Curran sacked Hughes for a six-yard loss and although Simoneau gained nine yards back on a screen pass, Scarborough had to punt.
Cheverus picked up one first down on its next drive, but had to punt and the Stags’ defense forced another three-and-out.
With under a minute to play in the quarter, Cheverus started at the Red Storm 41 and quickly drove for another score.
On the penultimate play of the frame, Fletcher broke free and appeared to score, but he was ruled to have stepped out of bounds at the 4. Fletcher than gained two more. On the first play of the fourth period, Fletcher lost a yard, but Dunn finished the drive with a 3-yard run on a sweep left. With 11:21 to play, the Stags went for two and Benedict scored on a rush for a 34-6 advantage.
Cheverus’ drive needed just four plays and 82 seconds to traverse 41 yards.
Scarborough continued to fight hard and drove for its final score, moving 84 yards in 10 plays in 4:10.
After LeClair ran for 14 yards, Hughes split two defenders and found Madden for a dozen yards to the 49. After a Benedict sack set up third-and-16, Hughes ran for 17 to move the chains. After Garrard was held to no gain and Curran made like J.J. Watt and soared to swat away a pass, Hughes threw to Lagerquist at the 20 and Lagerquist broke a tackle and outran the pursuit to complete a 40-yard TD with 7:03 left. Peoples kicked the extra point to cut the deficit to 34-13.
The Stags promptly answered, starting at their 48 after Drelich fell on the kickoff and marching 52 yards on six plays in 2:38.
A four-yard Johnston run and a 15-yard facemask penalty put the ball at the Scarborough 33. Johnston then ran for four yards, scampered for 14 and picked up 12 for a first-and-goal at the 4. Johnston picked up another yard, then Benedict capped the march with a 3-yard TD run. With 4:23 left, Casale’s extra point made it 41-13.
Scarborough’s final drive saw three LeClair runs gain nine yards, then on fourth-and-1, Hughes was stopped just shy of the sticks, turning the ball over on downs.
After Johnston rushed twice for eight yards, Benedict picked up the first down with a four-yard rush and Dunn took a knee, making Cheverus’ 41-13 triumph official.
“Our offense really came on,” Dunn said. “We ran our vertical offense and got big gains. The line’s playing really well. We were good on defense, I thought throughout the game. We got better against the run. We had to adjust to their power. We had to deal with two different fronts and I think the line did a good job preparing for that.”
“It’s one of the youngest teams we’ve had, but those guys are stepping up and we’re getting better and better,” Johnston said.
“We had good balance today,” Wolfgram added. “I thought we controlled the ball pretty well.”
Johnston gained 158 yards on 22 carries, scoring once. He also caught two passes for 12 yards and a TD. For his efforts, Johnston received the Charles White Award, given to the top Cheverus player in the home finale.
Fletcher gained 102 yards on nine carries and scored once.
Benedict had three rushes for 7 yards and a TD.
Baker only touched the ball twice, but had 70 yards and a touchdown.
Dunn finished with 9 yards and one TD on three carries and completed both of his pass attempts for 12 yards and another score, but that only began to tell his story. He also punted very effectively and played terrific in the secondary.
“Isaac is really learning about concentration for 48 minutes,” Wolfgram said. “It’s a growth process. He played really well on both sides of the ball and he kicked well.”
Scarborough is known for its passing attack, but Hughes only put the ball up 21 times, completing nine for 121 yards. He threw a pair of touchdowns and was intercepted twice.
“They’re a big spread team, but we were ready for the run too,” Johnston said. “They could make plays in the run game, but we came up big.
“I was surprised they didn’t throw more,” Wolfgram said. “We were expecting like 60 percent passes. We had to adjust on the fly.”
Lagerquist caught two passes for 66 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Madden had two receptions for 21 yards, Gardner had two catches for 19 and Kelly had two receptions for 6. Simoneau had one catch for 9.
Hughes ran for 72 yards on 10 carries. Garrard had 84 on 12 attempts. LeClair picked up 58 yards on 11 rushes.
The Red Storm committed two turnovers and were penalized five times for 49 yards.
“I was hoping the kids would come out and play well and that didn’t happen today,” Johnson said. “We ran the ball well. We wanted to throw off the run. We moved the ball, we just made too many mistakes. Nobody has covered our outside receivers the way they did today.”
Scarborough (now third behind Thornton Academy and Bonny Eagle in the Class A South Crabtree Points standings) has a pivotal home showdown in its finale next weekend against 5-2 Deering. The Red Storm are hoping to wind up second in the region to earn a quarterfinal round bye and avoid the defending champions until the regional final.
“We still have the most difficult schedule with our crossovers against Portland and Cheverus, so Crabtree Points-wise, we’re in good shape,” Johnson said. “If we beat Deering, as long as Bonny Eagle loses, we could still be the No. 2 seed. Deering’s improved a lot, so we have to play better next week.”
Cheverus (third in Class A North) goes to 6-1 Windham Friday for a game which will likely determine who goes into the playoffs second behind Portland and gets a quarterfinal round bye as a result. The Stags remember all too well that the Eagles beat them twice a year ago, including an agonizing overtime victory in the Western A Final.
“I think (all the top teams) pretty even,” Johnston said. “We’re looking forward to Friday night.”
“Coach Wolfgram makes teams grow throughout the season,” said Dunn. “We don’t start at square one and go to a state championship. TA, most of their guys had gone to a state championship, so they were much further ahead at the start of the season. (That loss) was tough and embarrassing, but we had to put it in perspective.
“We’re growing. The young guys have done better throughout the season. We have another good test next week. We’re playing to come back here. We’ve had Windham circled on the schedule. We want to get homefield advantage more than we want to win a grudge match.”
“We’re trying to get better each week,” Wolfgram added. “We have smart, high character kids. The most important games are ahead of us, so we’re just trying to get better.”
Cheverus senior Justin Johnston leaves Scarborough’s defense in his wake during a 43-yard touchdown run to open the scoring Saturday. Johnston finished with 158 yards rushing, scored twice and led the Stags to a 41-13 victory.
Mike Strout photos.
Scarborough senior Griffin Madden tries in vain to catch a pass as Cheverus senior Isaac Dunn defends.
Cheverus senior Dan Baker tries to elude the tackle attempt of Scarborough junior Peter Mazzaro on a kickoff return.
Scarborough junior Drew LeClair gets wrestled to the ground.
Scarborough sophomore Connor Kelley stiff-arms Cheverus freshman Tre Fletcher.
Scarborough senior quarterback Jack Hughes heaves a pass.
Cheverus senior quarterback Isaac Dunn scrambles for yardage.
Cheverus sophomore Jack Casale boots an extra point after one of the Stags’ six touchdowns.
@ Cheverus 38 Scarborough 0
Western A quarterfinals
@ Cheverus 35 Scarborough 7
Western A semifinals
@ Cheverus 21 Scarborough 14
@ Scarborough 34 Cheverus 13
@ Cheverus 28 Scarborough 0
S- 6 0 0 7- 13
C- 7 13 6 15- 41
C- Johnston 43 run (Casale kick)
S- Lagerquist 26 pass from Hughes (kick failed)
C- Johnston 8 pass from Dunn (kick failed)
C- Fletcher 58 run (Casale kick)
C- Baker 67 run (kick failed)
C- Dunn 3 run (Benedict rush)
S- Lagerquist 40 pass from Hughes (Peoples kick)
C- Benedict 3 run (Casale kick)