Windham junior Griffin Hebert breaks up a pass intended for Cheverus sophomore Jack Casale during the Eagles’ surprisingly easy 28-0 victory in Friday’s Class A North semifinal.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
C- 0 0 0 0- 0
W- 0 14 7 7- 28
W- Houser 4 run (Innis kick)
W- Leslie 8 run (Innis kick)
W- Houser 5 run (Innis kick)
W- Hoffses 3 run (Innis kick)
WINDHAM—Two weeks ago, Cheverus’ football team went to Windham and felt it should have come away with a victory.
Friday evening, the Stags had no such regrets as the Eagles dominated from start to finish in the Class A North semifinals.
Windham, the second seed, left points on the board in the first quarter with fumbles on the brink of the goal line, but in the second period, the Eagles got touchdown runs from junior Kyle Houser and junior quarterback Desmond Leslie to take a 14-0 lead to the break.
Cheverus, which managed only 45 yards of offense in the first half, never could respond and a third quarter TD run from Houser and a fourth period touchdown scamper from junior Cam Hoffses allowed Windham to slam the door on a surprisingly decisive 28-0 victory.
The Eagles improved to 7-2, held the Stags to a mere 63 yards of offense in ending their season at 6-4, and advanced to set up a compelling showdown at top-ranked Portland (9-0) in the regional final Friday at 7 p.m., at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
“They were bigger, stronger and they were more physical,” said Cheverus coach John Wolfgram. “They were just better. We were overmatched physically. They had everybody back from last year. They’re a very good football team.”
In a short time, Windham has turned into Cheverus’ biggest nemesis.
A year ago, the Eagles came to Boulos Stadium and ended the Stags’ 36-game regular season win streak and their regular season win streak at 20 with a stunningly decisive 35-7 triumph. Windham returned for the Eastern A Final and rallied from a 14-3 fourth quarterfinal deficit to shock Cheverus, 21-20, in overtime, in a game that was clinched by a blocked extra point.
On Oct. 16, the Stags went to Windham and did enough to win except for the fact they fumbled four times in the second half and ran into the punter for a game-sealing penalty and lost, 19-15.
The Eagles were the regional favorite entering the season, but were decimated by injuries. Regardless, Windham managed to win six of eight games, losing only at Portland and Bonny Eagle. The Eagles wound up second in Class A North and earned a bye into the semifinals.
Cheverus, meanwhile, also lost at Thornton Academy and Portland and finished third in the region.
Last Saturday, the Stags had no problem with No. 6 Lewiston in the quarterfinals, pitching a 42-0 shutout to advance.
Friday night, Cheverus found itself on the wrong end of a shutout score, losing in the semifinals for the first time in 14 years, as Windham made a powerful statement.
The game began with the mercury reading an almost unbelievable 66 degrees (the temperature only dropped to 63 by game’s end) with a south-southwest wind of 11 miles-per-hour.
The Eagles won the opening coin toss and deferred possession to the second half.
Windham’s defense then quickly set the tone.
The Stags started at their 20 after a touchback and senior Dan Baker gained five yards on the first play from scrimmage, but after senior Justin Johnston picked up three, senior quarterback Isaac Dunn threw incomplete, forcing a punt.
The Eagles started at their 13 and promptly marched down the field.
After senior Griffin Jacobson gained 13 yards to get things started, Hoffses made his presence felt with runs of nine and three yards to put the ball at the 38. Jacobson gained seven yards and Leslie picked up four for a first down at the 49, then Hoffses broke free down the right sideline for what appeared to be the game’s first score.
That’s until Cheverus freshman Tre Fletcher ran him down and just before Hoffses crossed the goal line, Fletcher punched the ball loose and it went out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback.
The Stags weren’t able to do anything with their gift, however, as Dunn lost a yard, Fletcher only gained one, then Dunn threw incomplete, forcing another punt.
This time, Windham started at its 45 and again, the Eagles marched for what appeared to be the game’s first score, only to stymie themselves.
After Jacobson and Hoffses were both held to no gain, Leslie picked up a dozen yards on third-and-10. Hoffses was held to no gain and Houser ran for five yards, then four, setting up fourth-and-1, but Leslie, thanks to a nice second effort, gained two on a keeper to move the chains. After Hoffses gained 14 yards to the Cheverus 18, the Stags jumped offsides, Jacobson gained four yards and Houser picked up three to set up a first-and-goal from the 6. When Houser ran for four yards, a touchdown appeared imminent, but Leslie dropped the ensuing snap, couldn’t pick it up and Cheverus junior Bobby Slattery pounced on the loose ball at the 8 to keep the game 0-0.
The Stags had their best offensive play of the first half on the first snap of their ensuing drive, when Fletcher ran for 14 yards, but on the final play of the first quarter (in which Windham had a 133-22 edge in yardage), Fletcher was held to no gain.
The first play of the second period saw Baker run for a yard, but Dunn tried a quick pass to the flat, which was intercepted by Eagles sophomore Tanner Bernier, who returned the ball to the Cheverus 23.
This time, Windham finished the drive.
It took five plays and 2 minutes, 21 seconds, but the Eagles marched for the game’s first score behind a five-yard run from Jacobson, a seven-yard scamper from senior Mitchell Eskilson, runs of four- and three-yards by Hoffses and a 4-yard TD burst from Houser with 8:42 to go in the first half.
Senior Robert Innis added the extra point and Windham was on top to stay, 7-0.
Cheverus hoped to answer, but after Fletcher ran for two yards, Jacobson threw him for a three-yard loss and a screen pass from Dunn to Fletcher on third-and-11 only gained eight yards, forcing another punt.
The Eagles started at their 18 with 6:51 to go before halftime and nearly gave the ball away again as Jacobson fumbled on second-and-10, but freshman Blake Houser smartly snared the loose ball out of the air and ran for five yards for a first down at the 30. After Hoffses was held to no gain, he ran for six yards, but Leslie threw incomplete, forcing a punt.
The Stags got the ball in good field position, at their 44, but Bernier tackled Fletcher for no gain, Dunn just missed senior Owen Gorman with a deep pass and Dunn threw incomplete again to force Cheverus the punt the ball away once more.
Windham started its next series at its 33 with 3:03 showing and in a drive which traversed 67 yards in 10 plays and ate up 2:44, the hosts gained some breathing room.
Runs of seven yards by Jacobson and three by Leslie moved the chains. Leslie hit Eskilson for six yards and after the Stags jumped offsides, the Eagles had a first down at the Cheverus 46. Jacobson ran for nine, then Leslie hit Eskilson for eight more and a first down at the 29. Jacobson then ran for three yards, followed by an eight-yard burst for a first down at the 18. After Leslie threw incomplete, he hit senior Kyle Kilfoil for 10 yards, setting up third-and-inches at the 8 with time winding down. Leslie then kept the ball, ran up the gut and after breaking one tackle, lunged into the end zone for the touchdown.
Innis’ PAT with just 19.9 seconds to go, put the hosts ahead, 14-0.
As time wound down in the half, Johnston ran for 10 yards, then, after a Dunn incompletion, Johnston gained five more, but the horn sounded and Windham took its two-touchdown lead to the break.
In the first half, the Eagles had 241 yards of offense to just 45 for the Stags. Only the two fumbles kept Windham from putting the game away.
Cheverus hoped for a spark in the second half and appeared to get a huge break when Eskilson fielded the kickoff and slipped and was marked down at the 1.
In the first meeting, a similar situation led to a Stags’ safety, but such dramatics weren’t in store this time.
After Kyle Houser was held to no gain, Leslie ran for three yards. Cheverus had a chance to force a three-and-out and get the ball back in great field position, but on third-and-7, Houser broke through the left side of the line and didn’t stop until he was brought down at the 37 after a gain of 33 yards.
Runs of five and four yards by Jacobson were followed by Leslie being brought down by Cheverus junior Jared Brooks for no gain and the Eagles had to punt, but they flipped field position when Jacobson’s boot pinned the Stags at their 16.
Cheverus’ offensive struggles continued, as junior Rylan Benedict gained five yards, Johnston picked up one and Kilfoil knocked down a Dunn pass, forcing another punt.
With 7:10 to play in quarter number three, Windham started at the Stags’ 43 and five plays and 2:18 later had an even more robust lead.
After Jacobson ran for three yards, he broke free for 31 to set up a first-and-goal from the 9. Johnston threw Houser for a two-yard loss, but Houser ran for six yards, then capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown burst with 4:52 to play in the period. Innis’ PAT extended the lead to a commanding 21-0.
Cheverus started its next drive with a promising 16-yard Dunn-to-Fletcher pass, but after Dunn hit sophomore Max Coffin for four yards on the next play, a holding penalty backed the Stags up and Dunn threw two incomplete passes to force a punt.
The Eagles went three-and-out, as they were backed up by a holding penalty before Hoffses was held to no gain, Houser ran for four yards and Jacobson picked up five.
As the quarter wound down, Cheverus began at its 33 and after Dunn scampered for three yards, a long Dunn pass to senior Kenny Drelich was caught out of bounds and Jacobson sacked Dunn to force another punt.
Early in the fourth period, Windham again went three-and-out, as Houser and Hoffses both had two yard gains and Leslie threw incomplete.
With 9:24 to play, the Stags started at their 40 and drove into Eagles’ territory, as Benedict had runs of five and 13 yards, but after Coffin caught a pass and slipped for a one-yard loss, Dunn threw incomplete, a fumbled exchange led to a five-yard loss and Dunn threw incomplete again to give Windham the ball at their 48 with 6:31 remaining.
Six plays and 2:03 later, the Eagles produced the coup-de-grace.
After Eskilson ran for eight yards, Jacobson picked up nine to move the chains. Hoffses then ran for three and a 15-yard personal foul facemask penalty was tacked on to set up first-and-10 from the Cheverus 17. After Hoffses ran for a yard, he burst free for 13 to put the ball at the 3. On the next snap, Hoffses scored from 3-yards out and Innis’ extra point made the score 28-0 with 4:26 left.
The Stags got the ball one final time and gained a first down on a Windham facemask penalty, but a false start backed Cheverus up, Dunn threw incomplete, Dunn was sacked for a 13-yard loss by sophomore Justin Labrecque and that forced a punt.
With 2:04 to play, the Eagles started at their 43 and after two Hoffses runs gained six yards, Leslie took a knee and that took care of business.
At 9:07 p.m., the Stags’ season ended with a 28-0 loss at the hands of a very talented and determined Windham squad.
“The first time around, we had some things go our way, but they had a couple weeks to look at us and they prepared very well,” said Wolfgram. “We were undersized in some spots and they took it right at us. It wasn’t smoke-and-mirrors. It was blood and guts football. Credit to them. They understood us very well. We have some high character kids, but we just weren’t good enough tonight.”
Cheverus’ top offensive producer was Benedict, who had 29 yards on five carries.
Fletcher gained 14 yards on six carries and caught two passes for 24 yards.
Dunn wound up 4 of 17 passing for 27 yards and an interception. He carried twice for 2 yards.
Coffin had two catches for 3 yards.
Johnson bowed out with 14 yards on three rushes, while Baker had 6 yards on two attempts in his final game.
The Stags were penalized five times for 45 yards.
Cheverus wasn’t its usual highly-touted self this fall and was humbled at Thornton Academy in week two, but improved steadily as the season progressed.
“The kids came together,” Wolfgram said. “Overall, we had a very good season. We were third in our division, but we weren’t good enough to get to the next level. The seniors won a lot of games. It’s not a real big senior class, but our captains and Issac did a great job leading the team.”
Windham’s offense produced 392 yards of offense. The Eagles overcame the two early fumbles and four penalties for 54 yards.
Jacobson rushed for 120 yards on 16 carries. Hoffses had 117 yards and a TD on 18 attempts. Houser scored twice and had 68 yards on 11 rushes.
Leslie gained 31 yards and scored a TD on eight carries and completed 3 of 6 passes for 24 yards. Eskilson had two receptions for 14 yards and Kilfoil had one catch for 10.
“I felt like we were really locked in,” said Eagles coach Matt Perkins. “We made some changes from last time and I felt we were on top of everything. We mixed in some coverages and had some wrinkles. The kids did a really good job. The line was confident with what they’d see. We had a three-headed monster. Our big boys coming downhill with that line is tough to compete with. We should have had two more on the board. That was just ball security. They did a great job knocking it out. We have to do a better job not letting that happen.”
Windham hopes Friday’s regional final is the first of two weekends it will make the trip to Fitzpatrick Stadium (which is also the site of the state final Nov. 21).
The Eagles suffered a tough 10-3 loss at Portland Sept. 18. Windham is 1-2 all-time against the Bulldogs in the playoffs, eking out a 21-17 win in last year’s semifinals and losing in the 2012 quarterfinals (35-21) and the 2013 quarterfinals (55-7).
“We can’t wait,” Perkins said. “We have to take care of the ball and do the little things. We have to play up to their emotion. They play a high level and we’ll have to match them.”
The Windham-Portland survivor will play either defending champion Thornton Academy (8-1), Scarborough (5-4) or Bonny Eagle (7-3) in the state championship game.
The Eagles upset the visiting Golden Trojans, 24-14, Sept. 25 and lost at the Scots, 33-13, Oct. 9. They didn’t play the Red Storm this fall.
Cheverus junior Bobby Slattery recovers a fumble in the first half.
Cheverus senior Dan Baker carries the ball.
Cheverus senior quarterback Isaac Dunn throws a pass as junior Joe Jalbert blocks Windham senior Griffin Jacobson.
Cheverus freshman Tre Fletcher has his forward progress slowed.
Cheverus senior Justin Johnston strips the ball from Windham senior Griffin Jacobson (the Eagles recovered on the play).
2014 Eastern A Final
Windham 21 @ Cheverus 20 (OT)
2010 Western A quarterfinals
@ Cheverus 34 Windham 27
2009 Western A Final
@ Windham 7 Cheverus 6