Cheverus sophomore Gavin Callahan, left, and senior Max Coffin celebrate Coffin’s touchdown in the third quarter of the Stags’ 31-21 home win over rival Portland Friday afternoon.
Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.
More photos below.
P- 0 8 6 7- 21
C- 16 0 15 0- 31
C- Morrone fumble recovery in end zone (Harris kick)
C- Safety, tackled Portland quarterback in end zone
C- Lindstedt 1 run (Harris kick)
P- Pasquali 5 pass from Knop (Pasquali pass from Knop)
P- Pasquali 82 kickoff return (pass failed)
C- Coffin 66 pass from Conant (Harris kick)
C- Tompkins 85 run (Morrone pass from Conant)
P- Pasquali 30 pass from Knop (Leavitt kick)
PORTLAND—Cheverus’ football team came of age Friday afternoon at Boulos Stadium and for the Stags, it came just in the nick of time.
Cheverus, after a frustrating 1-3 start to the 2017 season, hosted rival Portland in a contest played under sunny skies due to Yom Kippur, and the Stags appeared en route to an easy win after a 16-point first quarter.
Cheverus went ahead to stay when junior Vic Morrone fell on a fumble in the end zone and the Stags added a safety, followed by a 1-yard touchdown run from junior Teigan Lindstedt.
Cheverus has gotten off to fast starts before this season, however, and once again, the Stags couldn’t maintain it as the winless Bulldogs, in desperate need of a spark, got one just before halftime when sophomore quarterback Sam Knop found senior Vinnie Pasquali for a 5-yard touchdown throw, followed by a two-point conversion pass between the tandem to cut the deficit in half heading to the break.
Then, Pasquali electrified those on hand when he returned the second half kickoff 82 yards to paydirt and just like that, Portland, even though it failed to pull even on the two-point conversion, had all the momentum.
With its season and mental well-being hanging by a thread, Cheverus turned to its defense to rise up and protect the lead before senior Max Coffin extended it on a highlight-reel 66-yard touchdown reception off a screen pass.
Then, on the first play of the third quarter, sophomore Sean Tompkins broke free for an 85-yard TD run and when the Stags added the two-point conversion, they took a 31-14 advantage to the final stanza.
There, while Knop hit Pasquali for a 30-yard score, Cheverus, behind Coffin, managed to run out the final 7 minutes, 19 seconds and went on to a 31-21 victory.
The Stags never trailed as they improved to 2-3, dropped the Bulldogs to 0-5 and beat their rival for the first time in three years in the process.
“We badly needed a win,” said Cheverus coach Mike Vance. “We played four quarters of mature football for the first time this year. That’s been a theme for six weeks now. It’s important going forward. We try to make fewer mistakes that our opponents and take advantage of those that are presented and I think the kids were able to do that today.”
The last time Cheverus and Portland met when both teams had sub-.500 records was in 2007, but that was the case Friday.
Portland started with a 20-14 home loss to Oxford Hills. After a 24-16 setback at Edward Little, the host Bulldogs were no match for visiting Bonny Eagle in a state final rematch, 68-14. Last week’s loss was the most painful and frustrating of all, as a late field goal which would have won the game was ruled no good in controversial fashion and Portland lost at home to Windham, 9-7, to drop to 0-4.
Cheverus, meanwhile, started with a 24-0 clunker at Windham, then bounced back in a big way with a 42-0 home blanking of Bangor. The Stags then let an early lead slip away in a 26-20 home loss to Edward Little before being shut out last week at Thornton Academy, 38-0.
Entering play Friday, the series, which dates to 1924, stood in Portland’s favor (47-35, with five ties). Last year, the Bulldogs rallied to win, 35-27, behind 222 yards and four touchdowns from Dylan Bolduc.
This time around, Portland hoped to make it three in a row in the series, but Cheverus prevailed for the first time since Sept. 6, 2014 (41-3 at home).
The temperature was a pleasant 64 degrees and the wind was negligible at kickoff, which Coffin returned 13 yards to the Stags’ 25. The Bulldogs made a defensive statement early, as sophomore Jonah Green tackled Lindstedt for a one-yard loss on first down and after the hosts were given a first down due to pass interference, three Coffin carries only picked up eight yards (junior Nathan Kapongo came up big for the visitors on third down) and Cheverus had to punt.
Portland, decimated by injuries and playing without senior standouts Griffin Foley and Terion Moss, as well as junior lineman Ben Levine and senior kicker Quinn Clarke, started its first drive at its 27, but after Knop and junior Nico Leavitt hooked up for one yard, Pasquali ran for six yards and Knop threw incomplete, necessitating a punt.
The Stags then marched to the shadow of the Bulldogs’ goal line, but couldn’t finish.
Starting at its 36, Cheverus got a first down, as after senior quarterback Perrin Conant threw incomplete, Coffin ran for four yards and on third down, Conant hit Tompkins for nine. After Coffin moved the chains with a 10-yard run to the Portland 41, Lindstedt danced along the sidelines for 23 more. An 11-yard burst by Coffin set up first-and-goal at the 7. After Coffin picked up two yards, a facemask penalty on the Bulldogs set up first-and-goal at the 2, but Portland’s defense stiffened, as Kapongo threw Coffin for a two-yard loss, Coffin ran for one yard, Coffin picked up two to the 1 and on four down, Conant threw incomplete, giving the Bulldogs the ball back on downs.
But not for long.
On its first play from its 1, disaster struck for Portland, as a fumbled exchange put the ball on the ground in the end zone and Morrone pounced on it for a touchdown with 2:05 to play in the opening stanza. Junior place-kicker Cam Harris added the extra point and the Stags had a 7-0 lead.
Things got no better for the Bulldogs on their next series, which started at their 31. On first down, junior Zach Elowitch was held to no gain and fumbled. Portland junior Chris Vincent fell on the loose ball, but the play lost 14 yards. Then, the center snap went way over Knop’s head and rolled into the end zone. Knop fell on it, but was touched for a two-point safety and with 59.9 seconds on the clock, Cheverus was up, 9-0.
The Bulldogs then had to free kick to the Stags and Tompkins returned it 32 yards to the Portland 33. After Conant dropped a pass into the arms of Morrone, who was behind the defense and wasn’t brought down until he gained 32 yards, Lindstedt scored on a 1-yard plunge with 20 seconds to go in the quarter and Harris’ PAT made it 16 points in 1:45 and extended the lead to 16-0.
The Bulldogs could have rolled over, but instead, eventually fought back and made things interesting.
On the final play of the opening period, Knop ran for 15 yards (Cheverus still held a 118 to negative-8 advantage in first quarter yards) to the Portland 47. The first play of the second period saw Elowitch gain four yards, but Knop was thrown for a seven-yard loss on a sack by senior Bobby Holzhacker and after the hosts jumped offsides, Stags senior Zeb Leavitt knocked down a Knop pass forcing a punt.
Cheverus had a chance to open up an even bigger lead when it got the ball at its 22, but a holding penalty set it back and after Lindstedt ran for two yards and Coffin did the same, Coffin ran for eight yards on third-and-17, necessitating a punt.
With 7:11 to go before halftime, after a short punt, the Bulldogs took over at the Stags’ 46 and in a drive that chewed up 12 plays and 5:21, got back in the game.
Knop ran for five- and three-yards, then threw incomplete, but on fourth-and-2, Elowitch gained five yards to move the chains to the 33. After Knop ran for four yards, he hit junior Ben Stasium with a pass that lost two yards. On third-and-8, Knop ran for four yards, then on fourth down, Pasquali got the ball on a jet sweep and ran for five and a first down at the 22. After Knop was held to no gain by Cheverus senior Connor Galardo, Knop hit Pasquali for 14 yards and a first-and-goal at the 8. Pasquali ran for three yards, then with 1:50 on the first half clock, Knop threw to Pasquali near the right front pylon and Pasquali dove and cradled the ball with his right hand for the visitors’ first touchdown. On the two-point conversion, Knop found Pasquali again and just like that, Portland was back within eight, 16-8.
When the Stags went three-and-out, as three Coffin runs gained nine yards, the Bulldogs got the ball back at their 30, but only 4.3 seconds remained, and Knop took a knee to send the game to halftime.
In the first half, Cheverus had a 128-37 edge in yardage and got 57 yards on 15 carries from Coffin. Knop ran for 31 yards and passed for 18 more.
Portland then started the third quarter off with a bang, as Pasquali, who told a reporter at halftime to stick around and enjoy the comeback, took the kickoff at his 18, weaved up the left sideline, stopped, started, eluded a couple defenders, then blew past the pursuit, not stopping until he crossed the goal line to complete a breathtaking 82-yard scoring return which needed 20 seconds to complete.
“Vinnie is a great athlete,” said Portland coach Jim Hartman. “That was a great play.”
The Bulldogs had a chance to draw even on the two-point conversion, but Knop’s pass was knocked down by Stags junior Akera Oryem to keep the score, 16-14.
Cheverus tried to regain momentum when it got the ball back and after Coffin ran twice for a total of four yards, Conant hit Tompkins for 14 yards on a slant for a first down at midfield. Portland junior Cameron Connolly then knocked down a Conant pass, Leavitt held Coffin to no gain and on third-and-10, sophomore Gavin Callahan only picked up eight, forcing the hosts to punt.
With 8:27 remaining in the third, the Bulldogs took over at their 19, but their hopes of driving for a go-ahead score were quickly dashed, as after Elowitch gained six yards, Knop threw incomplete, then Knop was brought down for a three-yard loss by Stags senior Nate Dunn, forcing a punt.
Cheverus couldn’t take advantage, going three-and-out, as Lindstedt ran for five yards, Coffin gained two and Conant threw incomplete, as Stasium broke up the throw.
With 5:25 on the third quarter clock, Portland started from its 18 and on first down, Pasquali ran for a dozen yards on a jet sweep, but Lindstedt threw Knop for a three-yard loss and two Knop incomplete passes forced a punt.
With 4:12 left in the frame, the Stags got the ball back at their 34 and two plays and 21 seconds later, they reasserted control.
After Conant threw incomplete, he threw a screen in the left flat to Coffin, who did the rest, racing through the defense en route to a 66-yard touchdown with 3:51 on the clock.
“We’ve struggled coming out from halftime, but we conquered adversity,” Coffin said. “That was a great play call. We kept pounding the ball to the right, then had the screen to the left.”
“The kids executed on that play,” said Vance. “It was big. We thought it was there based on where they were playing and it worked out for us.”
Hartman could only shake his head.
“We don’t normally give up screens, but we had new kids out there,” Hartman said. “Our two corners were out. We’re as good as anyone if we could just stay healthy. We only had two seniors out there. You can’t play top football with just two seniors.”
Harris added the extra point to make it a two-possession game once again, 23-14.
After Stasium nearly duplicated Pasquali’s heroics on the ensuing kickoff, cutting and breaking tackles for 40 yards to the Cheverus 39, Elowitch ran for five yards, Knop kept the ball for two and Elowitch picked up six for a first down at the 26, but after gaining one yard, Knop threw incomplete (as Tompkins broke up a sure touchdown pass to Pasquali at the last second), threw incomplete under pressure from Tompkins, then on fourth-and-9, Elowitch was thrown for a one-yard loss, giving the Stags the ball back at their 13, after they were flagged for a personal foul.
That penalty was a mere nuisance, as two plays later, Cheverus was in the end zone again courtesy a big play.
Coffin gained two yards on first down, then Tompkins had his lone carry of the day, taking an end around, finding daylight, then leaving the Portland defense in his wake en route to a backbreaking 85-yard score as the clock hit zero on the period.
The Stags went for two and Conant hit Morrone to extend the lead to 31-14.
The Bulldogs couldn’t answer, as Knop lost two yards, then was held to no gain by Lindstedt before throwing incomplete.
With 10:08 to go, Cheverus started at its 35, but after Coffin ran for six yards and the Stags were backed up for holding, a fumbled exchange led to a recovery by Kapongo at the Stags’ 30.
Portland took advantage, needing just three plays and 62 seconds to close the gap.
After Pasquali was thrown for a two-yard loss and Knop picked up two, Knop hit Pasquali on a post pattern and Pasquali ran into the end zone for a 30-yard TD with 7:27 remaining. Leavitt’s PAT cut the deficit to 31-21.
The Bulldogs never got a chance to get closer, however, as Cheverus ran out the rest of the clock.
The Stags started at their 40 with 7:19 to go and after Lindstedt ran for nine yards, Coffin moved the chains with a five-yard burst to the Portland 46. Lindstedt then ran for eight yards and Coffin picked up four for a first down at the 34. After Lindstedt gained two yards, Coffin got free for 15 and a first down at the 17. After Lindstedt was held to no gain, Coffin ran for four yards, Conant kept the ball for three and fourth-and-3, Coffin gained four, going over 100 yards for the game in the process. All that was left was for Conant to twice take a knee and Cheverus was able to celebrate its 31-21 triumph.
“It feels really nice to win,” Coffin said. “We heard about Moss and Griffin being out, but we still didn’t think it would be an easy win. We kept the same game plan and kept our intensity up. Getting momentum early in the game was crucial and it set us up. We wanted to pound the ball down their throat over and over again. It was the same two plays. It was fun, but tiring. It’s what we needed to do to win.”
“It’s been a rough season up until now,” said Dunn. “We haven’t played four quarters of mature football, but this was our best performance yet. Stuff happens in games. We call it sudden change. There are ups and downs and whoever handles it maturely will win and that’s what we did. That’s our job on defense, we go on the field whenever we need to. We heard a lot about how particular players were injured, but we didn’t focus on that. We just focused on playing our game.”
“We’re learning how to play four quarters,” Vance added. “We’re a running team. We wanted to control the end of the game that way.”
Following the game, the Bob Duffy Award, for Cheverus’ top player in this rivalry game, went to Dunn.
“I’m looking at some of these names (on the trophy) and it’s a lot to live up to,” Dunn said. “I’m just grateful to follow in their footsteps. It means a lot.”
“Nate is a leader through his grit and he’s a leader of our defense,” Vance said. “I thought it was great that he was selected.”
The Stags finished with 360 yards of offense. They only turned the ball over once and were flagged four times for 38 yards.
Coffin led the way with 103 yards on 26 carries. He also had one reception for a 66 yard touchdown.
Conant went 4-of-8 for 121 yards and one score.
Lindstedt had 44 yards and a TD on eight rushes.
Tompkins only ran once, but it was good for an 85-yard touchdown. He caught two passes for 23 yards.
Morrone had one reception for 32 yards.
For Portland, Pasquali caught three passes for 49 yards and two TDs, ran twice for 24 yards, returned a kickoff for a touchdown and was given the Jack Duffy Award as the Bulldogs’ top player in the Portland-Cheverus game.
Knop completed 5-of-13 passes for 48 yards and two scores. He ran 13 times for 28 yards.
“I thought Knop played an exceptionally good game, getting thrown into a tough situation,” Hartman said. “We had to prep him in one day. He did a good job running and threw the ball well. We’re in good shape at quarterback in the future.”
Elowitch gained 25 yards on seven carries.
The Bulldogs, who had 81 yards, were only flagged three times for 27 yards and had one turnover.
“We did come back,” Hartman said. “We have tough kids, good football players. We moved the ball up the field, but we had a handful of tough plays.”
Each team has three games left and wins are becoming paramount to keep pace in a very deep and balanced Class A North.
Portland, which would be the only team from the region not to qualify for the playoffs if the postseason started today, will try again to get in the win column Friday when it visits 0-5 Bangor.
“If we play this way against Bangor, I think we can pull it out,” Hartman said. “Hopefully we can win a couple and get in the playoffs. We wouldn’t be afraid of anyone.”
Cheverus, now fifth in Class A North, travels to 3-2 Lewiston for a game rife with Heal Points implications.
“Having this win makes us happy,” Coffin said. “We’ll come in tomorrow with great attitudes and we’ll want to work hard.”
“We’ve given up a lot of home runs, easy plays because of mistakes,” Dunn said. “We need to shape up on those big plays. We have things to improve on, but we’re definitely on the rise.”
“We have to continue to grow,” Vance added. “It’ll be a tough one next week, so we’ll enjoy this one then get back to the drawing board.”
Cheverus junior Colt Dumont knocks down a pass intended for Portland junior Ben Stasium.
Portland senior Vinnie Pasquali returns the second half kickoff 82 yards for a dazzling touchdown.
Cheverus junior Vic Morrone and Portland junior Cameron Connolly fight for the ball.
Cheverus junior Akera Oryem knocks the ball away from Portland senior Vinnie Pasquali.
Portland junior Ben Stasium tries to elude a Cheverus tackler.
Portland senior Vinnie Pasquali, left, and Cheverus senior Nate Dunn show off their hardware after winning Duffy Awards following the game.
Portland 35 Cheverus 27 (game played @ Deering)
Cheverus 26 @ Portland 7
@ Cheverus 35 Portland 0
@ Portland 27 Cheverus 14
Portland 40 @ Cheverus 7
Portland 42 @ Cheverus 7