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PORTLAND—The loss was surprising enough.
The decisiveness of it was staggering.
And as a result, what we thought we knew about Eastern Class A football has disappeared into the ether.
Just like the long regular season winning streak of the Cheverus Stags.
Saturday at Boulos Stadium, on a scalding 82 degree afternoon better suited for late August than late September, the visiting Windham Eagles proved emphatically that not only are they for real, they might just have what it takes to take home a Gold Ball this autumn.
Cheverus entered the contest having not lost a regular season contest since 2009 and having not dropped one at home since 2008 and when senior standout Joe Fitzpatrick scored from 10 yards out in the first period for a 7-0 lead, it appeared the Stags were on their way to yet another triumph.
Then, everything changed.
Windham benefited from a fluky deflection which was advanced by a lineman and a pass interference penalty on the hosts to drive for the tying score, a 5-yard scamper from its stellar running back, junior Dylan Koza.
When Eagles sophomore quarterback Desmond Leslie scored from a yard out to put the visitors on top at halftime, 14-7, many on hand thought that the Stags would rally, but instead, Windham was even better in the second half.
Twice in the third period, the Eagles faced fourth down in Cheverus territory, went for it and not only did they pick up the first down, but Leslie was able to fire for touchdown passes which stretched Windham’s lead to 28-7.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Koza burst into the end zone from 41 yards out to end all doubt and the Eagles went on to one of their biggest ever regular season victories, 35-7.
Windham improved to 4-0, asserted itself as the team to beat in Eastern A, ended the Stags’ regular season win streak at 36 games, their regular season home win streak at 20 and dropped Cheverus to 3-1 in the process.
“I thought Windham played very well,” said Stags coach John Wolfgram. “They’re good. They’re very balanced. They have few weaknesses. They came to play. No question. They were executing on all cylinders and they used their resources well.”
Cheverus was expected to be tested in the opener when Portland paid a visit in a rematch of last year’s thrilling Western A Final, but the Stags won going away, 41-3. Cheverus then romped at Lewiston (50-0) and at Oxford Hills (38-0).
Windham was expected to be improved this fall and hasn’t disappointed, handling host Deering (53-12), visiting Edward Little (45-7) and visiting Lewiston (61-22).
Entering play Saturday, the teams had met 10 times (see sidebar, below), with Cheverus taking seven of them, including each of the past four. Last fall, the Stags romped at Windham (57-0).
This time around, even with history against them, the Eagles liked their chances to beat Cheverus for the first time since the rainy and muddy 2009 Western A Final (7-6) and would go on to do so in stunningly easy fashion.
The tone for this one was set immediately when the Stags got the ball. While Fitzpatrick managed to pick up one first down, Windham held and forced a punt.
The Eagles went three-and-out on their first possession, as key defensive plays from Cheverus junior Justin Johnston and senior Zach Handley held them in check.
The Stags began their next possession at Windham’s 47 and six plays later, had the lead.
An 11-yard run from senior Liam LaFountain got things started. Fitzpatrick broke free for 13 yard, Johnston picked up 10 and with 5:10 to play in the opening stanza, Fitzpatrick broke through the line and reached the end zone from 10 yards out to break the ice. Senior Patrick Mourmouras’ extra point gave Cheverus a 7-0 lead and it appeared the Stags were well on their way to yet another triumph.
Instead, that proved to be Cheverus’ highwater mark.
An illegal motion penalty and a bad exchange stymied the Eagles on their next possession and they had to punt again.
The Stags took over at Windham’s 43 and looked to double the lead, but a holding penalty backed them up. Cheverus soon faced fourth-and-2 from the Eagles’ 35, but Fitzpatrick was stuffed by Windham senior Hunter Bowen (not the last time we’ll hear from him) for no gain, giving the Eagles the ball on downs at their 35 with 44 seconds to play in the first period.
Wolfgram said after the game that he wished he had that decision back, that he should have punted.
Regardless, Windham’s offense soon found life and would embark on the first of five consecutive scoring drives.
Leslie first showed his throwing acumen when he hit junior Mitchell Eskilson for 28 yards and a first down at Stags’ 37.
On the first play of the second quarter, Koza ran for five yards and on the next, Leslie’s pass was deflected by Cheverus senior Zordan Holman, but the ball dropped into the arms of Bowen, who rumbled nine yards to set up a third-and-1. Koza gained six to move the chains.
After a hold backed Windham up, the visitors got a break when the Stags were called for pass interference, moving the ball to the 16.
Four plays later, Koza capped the march with a 5-yard run. Senior Josh Dugas added the extra point and with 7:06 to play in the half, the game was tied, 7-7.
The drive took 5 minutes, 48 seconds and produced the first touchdown Cheverus had allowed all season.
And there was more to come.
The Stags picked up a first down on their next drive, but it was short-circuited by a holding penalty and ultimately Cheverus had to punt, which led to disaster for the Stags when Windham junior Eric Webb returned it 44 yards to the Cheverus 25.
It would take nine plays and 3:41 for the Eagles to find paydirt, but they would to go ahead for good.
Runs of eight- and two-yards by Koza moved the chains. A four-yard Koza run on fourth-and-1 set up a first-and-goal at the 2. After Koza gained one yard, then was stuffed for no gain, Windham coach Matt Perkins called timeout.
Only 23 seconds remained and if the Eagles failed to score on a running play, time could have run out, but Leslie kept the ball and got across the goal line with 17.4 seconds showing. Dugas’ extra point gave Windham a 14-7 halftime advantage.
There was still a long way to go and the Eagles didn’t have to look far to find a similar situation.
“At halftime, we talked about having to finish,” Perkins said. “It was eerie. Back in (the 2010 Western A quarterfinals), we were up, 14-7, at halftime and we had the ball and we didn’t score and they ended up winning. Today, we finished.”
Indeed, the Eagles got the ball to start the second half and drove 82 yards in eight plays, chewing up 3:08 to get a little separation.
A five-yard Koza run moved the chains. Leslie then aired one out down the right sideline for Webb, good for 34 yards to the Cheverus 35. The next three plays only gained two yards, however, setting up a fourth-and-8 from the 33, but Leslie found Webb again for big yardage, this time all the way to the goal line for a stunning 33-yard touchdown pass. Dugas’ extra point made it 21-7 Eagles with 8:45 remaining in the third period.
The Stags looked to answer and moved into Windham territory when Fitzpatrick had his best run of the game, 26 yards, but two plays later, Fizpatrick was dumped for a four-yard loss by sophomore Kyle Houser and on fourth-and-3 from the 29, Cheverus junior quarterback Isaac Dunn threw a pass that was slightly high and went through the hands of Johnston to give the ball back to the Eagles.
This time, Windham moved 70 yards in five plays to fully seize control.
On first down, Leslie hit Eskilson for 42 yards. After a holding penalty backed the Eagles up, Leslie threw short to senior Tanner Laberge, who made a nice move before picking up 12 yards. A run of five yards by Koza set up fourth-and-2 from the 20 and Leslie, after corralling a low snap, threw a bullet over the middle to senior Zach Davis for a backbreaking 20-yard score.
“Those passes were very big for our team,” Koza said. “It was a hell of job by our quarterback and receivers.”
“We haven’t seen a passing attack like that,” Wolfgram said. “It’s hard to replicate that in practice. (Leslie) was spot-on. We’ll have to button that up.”
Dugas’ PAT made it 28-7 Windham with 2:02 to go in quarter number three.
The now desperate Stags got a first down on their next possession, when Dunn hit Johnston for 16 yards and earned a first down at the Eagles’ 33 when Fitzpatrick gained 10 yards, but on the final play of the third period, a bad snap over Dunn’s head was recovered by Windham at the Eagles’ 46.
It didn’t take long for Windham to end the competitive phase of the contest.
After Koza had successive runs of 13 yards, Houser was thrown for a one-yard loss by Holman and a fumbled exchange backed the Eagles up 12 yards, setting up a third-and-23 from the Stags’ 41.
Koza got the handoff, broke several tackles, then outran the pursuit to the end zone for a 41-yard TD. Dugas’ extra point made it 35-7 with 10:09 to go.
Cheverus’ next drive ended at the Windham 40. The Eagles then ran more than five minutes off the clock (not scoring for the first time in six drives) and when the Stags got the ball back, only 1:04 remained.
Windham quickly slammed the door from there, then celebrated en masse its first ever win at Cheverus.
“We just went out there and played them like they were anyone else,” Koza said. “We just went out there and played our game. This says we’ll come out and fight no matter who you are. We pounded it down. Our line got blocks down the field. We just followed our blocks all day.”
“We talked about maturity all week, that we’d get good moments and bad moments and it would be about how we handled them,” Perkins said. “We had to play within ourselves and do our job. We told the kids, ‘Don’t try to be a hero. That will get you in trouble against a team like Cheverus, trying to do too much.’ The guys did everything we asked them to do.
“We had confidence we could move the ball. This week, we lectured them on how we were going to win. That we were good enough.vOur 11 guys got the job done. We feel great about our offensive line. Everybody is about each other. There are no individuals. We had a couple slipped tackles, but I think we finished the (defensive) game plan.”
Koza finished with a whopping 169 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. Leslie completed 8-of-11 passes, good for 185 yards and two scores. Webb had two catches for 67 yards and a TD. Davis caught two balls, good for 27 yards and a score. Eskilson had two receptions for 70 yards.
Windham did commit 10 penalties for 70 yards, but enjoyed a 331-215 edge in yardage.
For Cheverus, Fitzpatrick was held under 100 yards for the first time in a long time, winding up with 94 yards and a TD on 17 rushes. Johnston had almost as many attempts, gaining 68 yards on 13 rushes.
“The way their defense was set up, they tried to take away Joe,” Wolfgram said. “They gave us some things with J.J. They did a nice job up front taking away Joe. We had to go to some second and third level plays and we didn’t execute quite as well as they did.”
Dunn finished 6-of-12 for 48 yards.
The Stags committed six penalties for 55 yards.
The most telling stat of all, other than the score, was time of possession. Windham had the ball for 28 minutes, 24 seconds. Cheverus for only 19:36.
“We lost momentum in the first half and they hit those deep passes in the second half and that changed the whole tenor of the game,” Wolfgram said. “I thought our kids played hard, but we have some things to tighten up on. We were just a little bit off in our execution. That was the difference.”
The Stags lost a regular season game for the first time since Oct. 16, 2009 (a 24-21 overtime setback at Bonny Eagle). It was their first regular season home loss since Oct. 25, 2008 (40-6 to Deering).
Windham (now first in the Eastern Class A Crabtree Points standings) is in the midst of a brutal stretch. Next weekend, the Eagles visit Bangor. Windham then hosts Portland. After visiting Oxford Hills, Windham closes at home versus defending state champion Bonny Eagle.
The sky is the limit for this group.
“I think we should keep working hard and we’ll keep moving on,” Koza said.
“It’s huge for confidence,” said Perkins. “We go to Bangor, then we’re home against Portland. Two really good teams. To win today is huge. We feel really good.”
Cheverus visits Edward Little Friday, then travels to Thornton Academy and hosts Bangor in consecutive weeks. The Stags close at home versus Deering.
“We’ll clean it up, it’s just one game,” Wolfgram said. “We’re halfway through the regular season. We’ll move on and get better.”
Cheverus junior Frank Curran shadows Windham junior Dylan Koza.
Cheverus sophomore Rylan Benedict returns a kick.
Windham senior Josh Dugas kicks one of his five extra points as Cheverus senior Liam LaFountain arrives too late to block it.
Cheverus junior quarterback Isaac Dunn prepares for a hit from Windham senior Tanner Laberge.
Cheverus senior standout Joe Fitzpatrick finds some rare running room. Fitzpatrick was held to a season low 94 yards on 17 attempts.
Cheverus senior Zach Handley lunges at Windham junior Dylan Koza.
Cheverus junior Justin Johnston tries to break the tackle attempt of Windham senior Tanner Laberge.
Windham senior Tanner Laberge breaks up a pass intended for Cheverus senior Joe Fitzpatrick.
Cheverus 57 @ Windham 22
Cheverus 47 @ Windham 0
@ Windham 34 Cheverus 28
@ Cheverus 35 Windham 6
@ Windham 28 Cheverus 14
@ Cheverus 7 Windham 6
Windham junior Dylan Koza lunges forward and carries Cheverus senior Jacob Schott for extra yardage during the Eagles’ surprisingly lopsided 35-7 victory at the Stags Saturday afternoon. Windham snapped Cheverus’ 36-game regular season win streak.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
W- 0 14 14 7- 35
C- 7 0 0 0- 7
C- Fitzpatrick 10 run (Mourmouras kick)
W- Koza 5 run (Dugas kick)
W- Leslie 1 run (Dugas kick)
W- Webb 33 pass from Leslie (Dugas kick)
W- Davis 20 pass from Leslie (Dugas kick)
W- Koza 41 run (Dugas kick)