Cheverus senior Max Coffin is wrapped up by Windham senior Tanner Bernier during the teams’ regular season opener Friday night. Coffin ran for 103 yards, but Bernier and the Eagles prevailed, 24-0.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
C- 0 0 0 0- 0
W- 14 7 0 3- 24
W- Bernier 22 run (McCusker kick)
W- Peeples 7 pass from Bernier (McCusker kick)
W- Salom 11 run (McCusker kick)
W- McCusker 22 FG
WINDHAM—Whether it’s the beginning of the season, in the middle, or at the end, Cheverus’ football team just can’t seem to solve the Windham Eagles.
Friday evening, the Stags paid a visit to Windham in the regular season opener and as was the case in the regular and postseasons each of the past three years, Cheverus was left frustrated and defeated.
The Eagles took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks in large part to Stags’ largesse.
After Cheverus fumbled on its second play from scrimmage, Windham took advantage of a short field and took the lead for good on a 22-yard touchdown scamper from senior quarterback Tanner Bernier.
After another Stags fumble, this time on a bad center exchange, the Eagles struck again, as Bernier hit junior Garrett Peeples on a 7-yard scoring pass.
Late in the first half, Windham added a third TD, as junior Stuart Salom scored on an 11-yard run.
Cheverus, which was outgained, 197-0, in the first half, showed fight in the second half and twice got into Eagles territory after nice runs from senior Max Coffin, but the Stags couldn’t find the end zone and a late 22-yard field goal from junior Liam McCusker accounted for the final score as Windham went on to a 24-0 victory.
The Eagles beat Cheverus for the seventh consecutive time, handed the Stags their first season opening loss since 2008 and earned some important early season Heal Points in the process.
“We’ll have to learn quickly how to come out and play clean football,” said Cheverus coach Mike Vance. “Tonight wasn’t very clean. We really hurt ourselves.”
Last season, Windham edged Cheverus in a rainy regular season finale, 13-12, then frustrated the Stags again in the Class A North semifinals, 9-7, when Cheverus had a late field goal blocked.
The Eagles went on to lose, 27-14, to Portland in the regional final to wind up 6-4.
The Stags finished 5-5 and lost some top talent to graduation, but welcomed back former coach John Wolfgram as their defensive coordinator and hope to be in the title hunt again this fall.
Prior to kickoff Friday, Windham held a 9-7 lead in the all-time series. The Eagles had won six in a row and the squads have produced some instant classics in recent years (see sidebar, below).
This time around, on an unseasonably chilly evening (57 degrees at kickoff and it only plummeted from there), Windham was in command pretty much throughout, thanks in large part to Cheverus miscues.
The Stags won the opening coin toss and deferred possession to the second half.
That appeared to be the right move when Cheverus forced a quick three-and-out, as Bernier twice threw incomplete and Stags senior defensive line behemoth Zeb Leavitt threw Salom to the turf for no gain.
Cheverus took over at its 27, but after Coffin was held to no gain by junior Treva Valliere, Coffin gained three yards before junior Grant Jacobson ripped the ball out of his hands and pounced on the loose pigskin at the Stags’ 30.
It would take Windham just four plays and 1 minute, 39 seconds to march for the only score it would need.
After Salom gained five yards, he ran for one and fumbled, but Valliere was there to fall on it and keep possession. On third-and-4 from the 24, Salom gained two yards, setting up a critical fourth down where the Eagles got a bit of good fortune.
Bernier attempted to hand off to Salom and the ball was fumbled, but Bernier grabbed it, took off to his right and outraced the pursuit to the pylon for a 22-yard touchdown run with 8:57 left in the opening quarter. McCusker’s extra point made it 7-0 Windham.
After recovering a squib kick, Cheverus started at its 43, but immediately went backwards, thanks to a false start penalty, a sack by Eagles senior Marcus Canty, a one yard loss by senior Finn Cawley and a five yard loss by senior quarterback Perrin Conant after a bad snap.
The Stags were forced to punt and Windham got the ball back in good field position, at its 47.
The Eagles went backwards 10 yards due to an offensive pass interference penalty, but were able to move the chains, as Salom ran for three yards and Bernier kept the ball for 18 more. After Bernier hit senior Nazari Henderon for one yard, Salom ran for six and senior Nathan Watson picked up the first down with a five yard scamper. After Watson gained five more yards and Bernier threw incomplete, Salom gained four yards, but on fourth-and-1, Bernier surprisingly spiked the ball and it went over to Cheverus on downs at the Stags’ 21.
Cheverus gave the ball right back, however, as a bad snap put it on the ground and Valliere fell on it at the Stags’ 20.
Four plays and 90 seconds later, Windham doubled its lead.
Bernier kept the ball for 10 yards, setting up first-and-goal, and after Bernier kept the ball for a yard and Salom gained two, Bernier rolled left and hit Peeples at the end zone line and Peeples dove and held on to the ball for the 7-yard TD. McCusker added the PAT and with 1:40 to go in the frame, the Eagles were up, 14-0.
A nice return from Watson set Cheverus up at its 43 to start its next drive, but after junior Teigan Lindstedt rushed for four yards and Coffin ran for two, Watson caught a pass from Conant and was thrown for a one-yard loss on the final play of the first quarter.
After being outgained, 82 yards to negative-6 in the first 12 minutes, the Stags started the second period by punting and pinning the Eagles at their 24.
Windham picked up a first down, as Henderson ran for five yards and Salom picked up seven, but after an incomplete pass and a one-yard run by Salom, a 16-yard pass from Bernier to senior Hunter Coffin was negated by an illegal formation and Henderson’s four yard run on third-and-14 forced a punt.
Cheverus started at its 32, but again went three-and-out, as Coffin and Watson both ran for two yards and Conant threw incomplete on third down.
The Eagles got the ball back at their 30 with 7:53 left in half and began to drive, as Bernier hit Jacobson for 11 yards and Bernier ran for 13. After a false start, Salom gained a yard and Bernier hit Peeples for seven yards, but on third-and-7, Bernier threw incomplete.
The Stags began at their 10 and after a one-yard loss by Coffin, another fumbled exchange nearly led to disaster, but Cheverus recovered. Coffin ran for three yards on third down, but the Stags had to punt again and Windham took over at the Cheverus 43 with 3:43 to go in the half.
This time, it took five plays and 1:37 to march to paydirt to break the game open even further.
A 10-yard Salom run got things started. After Bernier hit Henderson for three yards, Bernier completed another pass for 10 yards, setting up first down at the 20. Bernier ran for nine more yards, then Salom did the rest, scoring on an 11-yard burst to left side with 2:06 remaining before halftime. McCusker’s extra point extended the lead to 21-0.
Another nice Watson return, combined with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Eagles, allowed the Stags to start at Windham’s 49, but after a Conant pass to Lindstedt didn’t gain a yard, the visitors fumbled again and the Eagles recovered at the Cheverus 48 with 1:47 left before the half.
Windham wasn’t able to deliver the knockout blow, however, as it took ill-timed penalties again.
After Bernier hit senior Hunter Coffin for seven yards, he scrambled for seven more, setting up a first down at the 34. A seven-yard completion to Jacobson was then negated by illegal procedure and a false start penalty backed the Eagles up five more yards. After throwing incomplete, Bernier found Henderson for six yards and Salom ran for three. Then, on the final play of the half, Bernier passed to Valliere, who rumbled for 20 yards before being forced out of bounds at the 15 as time expired.
Windham gained 197 yards in the first half and didn’t allow the Stags, who turned the ball over three times, to pick up a single yard. Salom ran 14 times for 56 yards and a score and Bernier rushed for 80 yards and a TD on seven carries, while completing 9-of-16 passes, good for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Cheverus was able to get some offense going in the second half, but couldn’t turn it into points and while the Eagles couldn’t get back in the end zone, they did more than enough to prevail comfortably.
After the second half kickoff went out of bounds, the Stags started the third quarter at their 34, but again, a snap wound up on the ground and while Cheverus recovered, it lost a yard. Coffin then broke free for 54 yards and the Stags’ initial first down of the contest. Coffin then gained a yard to the 11, but Lindstedt lost a yard and Conant threw incomplete before senior Anthony Kilgallon sacked Conant for a seven-yard loss on fourth-and-10, giving Windham the ball at its 19.
The Eagles began another drive, as Watson ran for three yards and Salom added eight to move the chains. After an incomplete pass, Salom ran for three yards and Bernier hit Coffin for eight and another first down at the 41. After Cheverus jumped offsides, Salom ran for four yards and Watson gained for a first down at the Stags’ 41. Successive five yard carries by Jacobson and Watson moved the chains again, but a holding penalty short-circuited the threat and after Bernier threw incomplete, Watson ran for four yards and after a false start penalty, Bernier threw incomplete again, forcing a punt.
Cheverus got the ball back at its 29 and again Coffin made things happen, running for seven yards, then twice for two to move the chains, before breaking free for 16 yards and when a late hit penalty was called at the play’s conclusion, the Stags had a first down at the Windham 29. Lindstedt was then thrown for a two-yard loss, Watson lost three yards and Conant threw incomplete. On fourth-and-15 from the 34, Conant was dropped for a sack and a seven-yard loss by junior Braxton Cassidy and the Eagles took over again at their 41 with 1:18 to go in the third.
Three straight Salom runs picked up 19 yards and a first down at the Stags’ 40 as the third period gave way to the fourth. On the first play of the final stanza, Salom picked up eight more yards and when he gained 15 on the next snap, Windham was at the 17. Salom picked up four more, then appeared to score on a 13-yard scamper, but the touchdown was negated by a hold and after Bernier twice threw incomplete, an 11-yard Henderson run on fourth-and-11 wound up inches shy of the marker and Cheverus got the ball back at its 7.
The Stags could go nowhere, as Griffin ran twice for a yard and Conant threw incomplete.
The Eagles then got the ball back at the Cheverus 28, but again couldn’t convert.
After Salom ran for a yard, Jacobson ran for 11 yards, then picked up five more to put the ball at the 11. After Bernier threw incomplete, an illegal procedure penalty backed the ball up five yards. Watson ran for four yards, setting up a 27-yard field goal attempt by McCusker, but it sailed wide left.
The Stags started at their 20 and after an incomplete pass, Coffin ran for 11 yards and at the end of the play, a personal foul penalty on Windham gave Cheverus a first down at the 46. Two incomplete passes were sandwiched around a two yard run by Lindstedt and again, the Stags had to punt.
With 5:14 remaining, the Eagles got the ball back at their 33 and this time they drove for the second half’s lone points.
In a march which chewed up 62 yards and 3:37 on eight plays, Windham moved close enough to attempt another field goal.
Salom got things started with a 27 yard scamper. After Salom gained four more yards and Jacobson did the same, Salom broke free for 20 yards and a first down at the Cheverus 12. Another illegal procedure penalty cost the Eagles five yards before Salom ran for five yards, four yards, then three more, setting up fourth-and-3 from the 5. That brought on McCusker and this time, his field goal attempt of 22 yards was true and with 1:37 to go, Windham’s lead was 24-0.
The Stags got one final possession and started at their 35 after the kickoff went out of bounds. After Cawley ran for 10 yards and Lindstedt gained seven, Lindstedt was thrown for a two-yard loss and that brought the curtain down on the Eagles’ 24-0 triumph.
“We improved from (our exhibition game last week),” said Windham coach Matt Perkins. “Tonight, we took a huge step. Our offense is drastically different from what it’s been. I’m very pleased with our defense and our secondary’s growth.”
Cheverus ultimately mustered 119 yards of offense. Coffin was the bright spot, picking up 103 yards on 15 attempts.
“We didn’t do enough for Max up front,” Vance said. “He’s a quick little back and he’s tough. We have to find more ways to highlight him.”
Conant completed 2-of-9 passes for negative-1 yard.
The Stags turned the ball over three times and were penalized three times for 15 yards.
“We got it going a little bit in the second half, but we were playing with holes in each foot from shooting ourselves,” Vance said. “The fumbles were tough to overcome. I don’t know if the ball wasn’t getting up or if the quarterback pulled up too early or if it was a combination of both. The kids hung tough. It was a disappointing night, but they didn’t get down on each other or themselves.”
Windham finished with 373 yards of offense. Bernier completed 10-of-23 passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. He ran for 80 more yards and another score on seven attempts. Salom was the game’s top rusher, picking up 181 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.
The Eagles were penalized 12 times for 88 yards.
“We did a lot of nice things, but we had major penalties,” Perkins lamented.
This game will be quickly forgotten by both squads, who each have a lot of work still to do.
Windham has the daunting task of visiting defending Class A champion Bonny Eagle (a 48-0 winner at Sanford Friday) in its next game Friday of next week.
“This was a vital game and now we have to move on,” Perkins said. “We have a true test next week. Bonny Eagle will be tough. We’ll keep getting better. That’s our mantra.”
Cheverus comes home Saturday, Sept. 9 to meet Bangor (a 44-0 home loser to Edward Little Friday).
“We’re going to need to mature a little bit,” Vance said. “We’ll take it one game at a time.”
Cheverus senior Griffin Watson gets past Windham senior Anthony Kilgallon.
Cheverus senior Zeb Leavitt wraps up Windham junior Stuart Salom.
Cheverus senior quarterback Perrin Conant is pressured by Windham junior Grant Jacobson.
Cheverus senior Bobby Holzhacker pressures Windham senior quarterback Tanner Bernier.
Cheverus senior Nathan Dunn exults after a third down stop.
Windham 13 @ Cheverus 12
Class A North semifinal
@ Windham 9 Cheverus 7
Cheverus 57 @ Windham 22
Cheverus 47 @ Windham 0
Cheverus 28 @ Windham 0
Western A quarterfinals
@ Cheverus 34 Windham 27
@ Cheverus 27 Windham 13
Western A Final
@ Windham 7 Cheverus 6
@ Windham 34 Cheverus 28
@ Cheverus 35 Windham 6
@ Windham 28 Cheverus 14
@ Cheverus 7 Windham 6