PORTLAND—On Friday, Cheverus senior standout Joe Fitzpatrick celebrated his 18th birthday.
Saturday, Fitzpatrick ran like the man he’s become.
Three weeks after the Stags suffered a four-touchdown loss on their home field and one week after an inspirational double-overtime victory at Thornton Academy, Cheverus had a chance to return to the top of the Eastern Class A Crabtree Points standings, but the Bangor Rams weren’t about to make anything easy at Boulos Stadium.
The Rams took advantage of a Stags’ special teams mistake to grab a 7-0 lead, but in the span of three plays, Cheverus bounced back and drew even on a 17-yard Fitzpatrick scamper.
Late in the first quarter, the Stags went on top for good, as junior quarterback Isaac Dunn threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to senior Liam LaFountain.
When Dunn hooked up with senior Zordan Holman for a 16-yard TD strike to give Cheverus a 21-7 halftime lead, the hosts appeared to be in good shape, but Bangor wasn’t about to go quietly.
In the third period, the Rams embarked on an epic 17-play drive that chewed up almost nine minutes and resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run from junior Dane Johnson to make it 21-14.
Then, with the Stags looking to counter, Fitzpatrick fumbled the ball away.
Cheverus wasn’t about to let Bangor score again, however, and after a strong defensive stand, the Stags got the ball back and Fitzpatrick got a chance to redeem himself, which he did with runs of 23- and 33-yards, setting up a clinching 1-yard dive from junior Justin Johnston and Cheverus went on to a 28-14 victory.
The Stags got a 186 yards on 24 carries from Fitzpatrick, improved to 6-1, took over the top spot in Eastern A and dropped the Rams to 5-2.
“They had us on the ropes, but we’re all about grit,” said Cheverus coach John Wolfgram. “That’s the way you play football. We hung tough and made the plays. We stood up physically today.”
Cheverus has gone from looking like the overwhelming favorite, to a perceived afterthought back to favorite in a short span this fall.
After having no trouble with visiting rival Portland in its opener, 41-3, the Stags romped at Lewiston (50-0) and at Oxford Hills (38-0) before falling from the unbeaten ranks with a 35-7 home loss to Windham. Cheverus got back on track with a 41-7 victory at Edward Little, then, in an all-time classic, rallied to beat seemingly invincible host Thornton Academy, 48-41, in a double-overtime epic last Saturday.
“That was a huge win,” Fitzpatrick said. “That matured us a lot. We had to play more than 48 minutes. It really strengthened us mentally and physically.”
Bangor rolled at Edward Little in the opener, 48-6, then handled visiting Scarborough (46-13) and host Deering (26-7), before rallying from a 21-0 deficit to shock host Portland in overtime, 28-27. After falling from the unbeaten ranks with a 6-0 home loss to Windham, the Rams got back on track last weekend with a 41-0 home victory over Lewiston.
The teams have played sporadically over the years. In 2013, Cheverus went to Bangor and prevailed, 49-7.
Saturday, the Stags did it again in a much closer contest.
Cheverus won the opening coin toss, but deferred possession to the second half, giving the Rams first crack on offense.
Bangor got a first down run from Johnson, who entered the contest with a five yard edge on Fitzpatrick as Eastern A’s leading rusher, but a holding penalty pushed the Rams backwards and they soon had to punt.
The Stags took over at their 47, but after Fitzpatrick gained three yards and Johnston picked up one, Dunn was sacked by Bangor senior Kareem Stokes, forcing a punt.
It never happened, as Fitzpatrick fielded a low snap, but his knee was on the ground, ending the play and giving the Rams possession at the Cheverus 30.
“We had a low snap, but it was my fault,” said Fitzpatrick. “I work in practice to bend at the knee, but I wasn’t thinking and I grabbed it with my knee on the ground.”
It would take seven plays, but Bangor would find the end zone.
After a 10-yard pass from junior quarterback Jeff Lewis to Johnson moved the chains on fourth-and-9, senior Langston Hamer-Nagle and Johnson both had three yard rushes, setting the stage for senior Nick Graham to take a third-and-4 handoff, find some room to his left and outrun the pursuit to the left pylon for the game’s first touchdown.
Junior Brennan Corliss added the extra point and with 3:26 to play in the first period, the Rams had a 7-0 lead.
“We didn’t let that bother us,” Fitzpatrick said.
Indeed, three plays later, the hosts were even.
Cheverus started at its 36 and Fitzpatrick ran for 10 yards on first down. After Bangor jumped offsides, Dunn hit junior Kenny Drelich for 32 yards to the Rams’ 17 and on the next snap, Fitzpatrick got the handoff and broke free for a touchdown. Senior Patrick Mourmouras added the point-after and with 2:35 to go in the first period, the game was tied, 7-7.
Bangor quickly went three-and-out, as a sack from senior Zach Handley on third-and-4 forced a punt.
The Stags then got a break when senior Jake Fournier’s boot only traveled seven yards, giving the hosts the ball at the Rams’ 32.
It took just one play to go on top to stay.
Dunn dropped back, hit LaFountain and with 27.8 seconds remaining in the quarter, the senior broke the plane for the touchdown. Mourmouras added the PAT for a 14-7 advantage.
As the first quarter gave way to the second, Bangor again shot itself in the foot with a false start penalty and when Fitzpatrick sacked Lewis for a 10-yard loss, the visitors again had to punt.
Cheverus got a 16-yard return from Johnston and began at the Rams’ 49. They wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the optimal field position, however.
After Fitzpatrick ran for a first down, the drive stalled and on third-and-9, Dunn completed just a two-yard pass to Johnston and even though the ball was on the Bangor 34, Wolfgram elected to punt.
It turned out to be a smart move, as Fitzpatrick pinned the Rams at their 7. Three runs only gained nine yards and Bangor again had to punt.
With 5:11 to go before halftime, the Stags started at the Rams’ 39 and this time, they would finish the drive.
Runs of five-yards by Fitzpatrick and five more by Johnston moved the chains. Fitzpatrick then gained 12 to put the ball at the 17. Fitzpatrick was thrown for a five-yard loss on the next snap, however, and when Fitzpatrick gained six on second down, it set up third-and-9 from the 16.
Cheverus went back to the air, as Holman broke into the right flat and although he was blanketed by Johnson, Dunn’s throw was high and allowed the 6-foot-6 standout to go up and snare it for the touchdown.
“Whenever Isaac is calm, he does what he does well,” Fitzpatrick said. “He stayed calm and focused. Zordan’s Zordan. Just throw it up there and let him get it.”
“That was a big-time throw and a big-time catch,” Wolfgram said.
Mourmouras’ extra point with 2:08 left in the half gave the Stags a 21-7 lead.
Cheverus held again, but had neither the field position or the time to drive for more and was content to take a two-touchdown lead to the break.
In the first 24 minutes, the Stags enjoyed a 140-33 advantage in yardage, due largely to Fitzpatrick’s 76 yards and a TD on 11 rushes.
He’d be even busier and even more productive in the second half.
Cheverus’ hope of opening things up with a scoring drive to begin the third quarter was dashed as a chop block penalty on first down sent it backwards. The Stags went three-and-out and had to punt.
With 9:18 remaining in the period, Bangor took over at its 29.
The Rams would keep the ball for almost the remainder of the stanza.
In a classic ball-control drive, Bangor twice avoided disaster when it put the ball on the ground yet maintained possession and the Rams also made key plays when they had to.
On the second play, Johnson broke tackles and ran for 14 yards. Two plays later, Johnson ran for 17, but fumbled, only to get the ball back at the Cheverus 32. The next two snaps only gained four yards, but on third-and-6 from the 28, Lewis scrambled for six, then was stripped of the ball, only to have it go out of bounds to retain possession right at the first down marker.
“We didn’t get a lot of breaks today,” Wolfgram said. “Sometimes the ball rolls your way and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Three plays later, facing a fourth-and-3 from the 15, Graham dragged several tacklers for three yards, barely gaining the first down at the 12. After Cheverus senior Fritz Gemmer knocked down a pass, Lewis scrambled for two yards and Johnson picked up three, setting up a fourth-and-5 from the 7. A false start penalty backed Bangor up five more yards, but the Rams would get another break.
Lewis dropped back and lofted a pass toward senior Joe Johnson on the left sideline. Cheverus junior Dan Baker played the ball perfectly and tipped the pass, but it hung in the air and Johnson managed to grab it and stay inbounds at the 1.
Many on hand thought Johnson didn’t stay inbounds or keep possession, but regardless, the catch stood, setting up first-and-goal.
Dane Johnson got the call and bulled in to complete a 17-play, 71-yard, 8 minute, 31 second march. Corliss’ extra point pulled Bangor within 21-14 with 47.9 seconds to go in the third.
The Stags tried to shake it off and on the final play of the quarter, Fitzpatrick ran for 10 yards and a first down, but three plays into the fourth period, Fitzpatrick ran for 10 only to fumble at the end of the play and the Rams recovered at their 32.
With just under 11 minutes remaining, Bangor appeared to be in a great spot to march again for a tying (or perhaps even a go-ahead) score, but Cheverus’ defense came up huge.
The visitors did pick up one first down when Lewis hit a sliding Graham for 10 yards on third-and-5, but the next three plays only gained four yards and the Rams had to punt.
The Stags got the ball back at their 23 with 7:49 remaining and it was clear that Fitzpatrick sought redemption.
After LaFountain moved the chains with a 13-yard scamper, Fitzpatrick broke free for 23 yards to the Bangor 34. On the next snap, Fitzpatrick burst through the line for 33 more and only a Johnson tackle from behind saved a touchdown. Regardless, Cheverus had the ball at the Rams’ 1 and after Fitzpatrick did the heavy lifting, Johnston got the glory, scoring on the short TD run to lengthen the lead.
Mourmouras’ PAT with 5:06 to go, made it 28-14 Stags.
“Anytime (a fumble) happens, I’m killing myself on the sidelines,” Fitzpatrick said. “I knew I had to make up for it somehow. The next drive is always a big drive for me and I was running angry.”
“Joe was on a mission,” Wolfgram said. “Knock on wood, he’s usually secure with the ball. That fumble hurt us, but it happens. He responded well. He had some great runs.”
With the hour growing late, the Rams couldn’t answer, as Lewis threw incomplete three straight times (Drelich batted down the pass on third down) and they had to punt.
The Stags got the ball at the Bangor 49 with 4:42 to play and hoped to run out the clock, but despite gaining one first down, on a four-yard rush from Fitzpatrick, featuring great second effort, Cheverus did turn the ball over on downs at the Rams’ 33.
The bad news for Bangor was that only 1:24 remained.
The Stags’ defense then brought the curtain down, as Holman sacked Lewis for a 13-yard loss and after an incomplete pass, senior Matt Drouin sacked Lewis to end it.
“We had a mindset going into the game that we wanted to secure a certain spot in the playoffs and we did that,” said Fitzpatrick.
“We knew we had to pull it out with our heart and seal it,” Handley said.
Fitzpatrick is now the Eastern Class A rushing leader after his 186 yards and one TD on 24 carries.
While Fitzpatrick had the gaudy stats, he gave credit to the offensive line.
“Our line did well,” Fitzpatrick said. “(Bangor) has size and good kids out there, but our line has a lot of grit. They’re mean kids. Nice outside the field, but on the field, they’re mean.”
“These (linemen) are all brothers to me,” said Handley, who had a great game-long battle with Hamer-Nagle and had the welts to prove it. “It’s the best team I’ve ever played for. We lost some size the last few years. We’ve lost some starters. We had a lot of obstacles to overcome. I was the backup guard, but with (senior captain Matt) O’Leary out, I’m the starting guard. I have to stay in good shape. You still have to get great blocks against a team like (Bangor). You have to block them, or even Joe will go down.”
“(Bangor has a lot of size), but our whole offensive line played well,” Wolfgram added. “From (senior) Frankie (Curran) to Zach to (junior Drek Dumond) to (senior) Nick Noyes to (senior) Dan O’Brion. They all came up big.”
Johnston finished with 25 yards on five carries and one reception for 2 yards.
Dunn completed 4-of-5 passes for 82 yards and two scores. LaFountain had one TD catch for 32 yards (and rushed twice for 16 yards), while Holman’s scoring reception went for 16. Drelich also had a catch for 32 yards.
Cheverus had 248 yards of offense and committed just two penalties for 19 yards.
For Bangor, Dane Johnson was held to 84 yards and a TD on 22 carries.
Hamer-Nagle had 14 yards on six carries. Lewis rushed for 13 yards on four tries and completed 4-of-13 passes for 38 yards. Joe Johnson had one reception for 11 yards. Dane Johnson caught one pass for 10, as did Graham, and junior Mason Hartley had a catch for 7.
The Rams finished with just 102 yards of offense and committed six penalties for 37 yards.
“Cheverus is a good football team, the best in the state, I think,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett. “We couldn’t shut them out, but we played four quarters and came back and had a chance.”
Bangor (now third in the Eastern Class A Crabtree Points standings) closes at home against Oxford Hills next weekend. The Rams believe they’ll make noise in the postseason.
“We’re close,” Hackett said. “We’re coming. We have to reload and stay healthy and play offense. We’re confident we can play with the top teams.”
Cheverus (now first in Eastern A) puts a bow on its regular season Saturday when it hosts Deering. The Stags will either be the first or second seed in the playoffs and will get a bye into the semifinals.
“Our mission is to have a good game next week against Deering,” Fitzpatrick said. “They’re tough too.”
“I feel like we’re going into playoffs strong,” said Handley. “We’ll match up well against any opponent, but we still have work to do. It will be a fun postseason.”
“We’re coming along,” Wolfgram added. “We have a chance to get a high seed. that’s what we’re looking for. That gives you the best chance for success and we’d like the week off. A bye week is nice.”
Cheverus junior Isaac Dunn lofts a pass. Two of Dunn’s throws Saturday went for touchdowns.
Cheverus senior Joe Fitzpatrick (27) and junior Justin Johnston celebrate Fitzpatrick’s first quarter touchdown run.
Cheverus senior Zach Handley crushes Bangor junior quarterback Jeff Lewis.
Cheverus senior standout Joe Fitzpatrick looks for running room. Fitzpatrick finished with 186 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
Cheverus junior Justin Johnston breaks a tackle attempt of Bangor senior Jordan Ayer.
Cheverus senior Liam LaFountain returns a kickoff.
Cheverus senior placekicker Patrick Mourmouras drills one of his four extra points.
Cheverus senior Dan O’Brion pressures Bangor junior quarterback Jeff Lewis.
Despite the best effort of Cheverus junior Dan Baker, Bangor senior Joe Johnson makes a circus catch along the sidelines late in the third period. Johnson stepped out at the 1, but the Rams scored on the next play.
Cheverus senior Zordan Holman is tripped up by Bangor junior Dane Johnson, but still manages to haul in a touchdown pass during the second period of the Stags’ 28-14 home win over the Rams Saturday.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
B- 7 0 7 0- 14
C- 14 7 0 7- 28
B- Graham 13 run (Corliss kick)
C- Fitzpatrick 17 run (Mourmouras kick)
C- LaFountain 32 pass from Dunn (Mourmouras kick)
C- Holman 16 pass from Dunn (Mourmouras kick)
B- Johnson 1 run (Corliss kick)
C- Johnston 1 run (Mourmouras kick)