Cheverus rolls to 2-0 start; Stags blank defending champ Windham, 28-0
WINDHAM—The Cheverus football team insists that it is living in the present and has left its close call of a year ago behind.
That was quite evident Friday evening when the Stags demonstrated once again why 2010 might just be their year.
Returning to the scene of last year's agonizing one-point regional final loss, Windham High, Cheverus dominated in all three facets of the game, led virtually from start to finish and improved to 2-0 on the young season with an impressive 28-0 victory over the defending Class A champion Windham Eagles.
The Stags took the lead for good on senior Peter Gwilym's first quarter punt return for a score, punctuated it with an interception return for a TD by junior Spencer Cooke in the waning seconds and in-between, controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage as they staked their claim as an early favorite for the crown.
"It feels great," said Gwilym, who also ran for a score, threw for a TD and forced a fumble. "We didn't talk about last year at all. We're a new team. Some of guys wanted a little revenge, but it's about this year."
In 2009, Cheverus defeated Windham early in the regular season, 27-13, en route to a 6-2 record. After surprising many by advancing to the regional final, at the Eagles, the Stags' title dreams were denied in miserable conditions, 7-6.
The weather and field were in far better shape Friday night and both teams had a lot to play for in the early season showdown.
The Stags hoped to make an immediate statement and did so after their defense forced a three-and-out. On the ensuing punt, Gwilym fielded the ball on a hop at his 42 near the right sideline, cut to his left, ran up the middle and beat the pursuit to the end zone for a touchdown just 2 minutes, 4 seconds into the contest.
"(The ball) bounced and I just saw daylight," Gwilym said. "I didn't get touched the whole time."
"You want to come out and set a tone in the game and we did with that punt return," added Cheverus coach John Wolfgram. "That got things going we wanted. Peter is a very unique athlete. He's a very good player."
The Eagles then drove from their 22 to near midfield, picking up a couple first downs, but the Stags toughened and forced a punt. On its first offensive series, Cheverus got a first down on a 34-yard Gwilym scamper, but the drive stalled and a one yard pickup by Cooke on fourth-and-2 gave the ball back to Windham.
Successive tackles for losses by junior Cam Olson and Christian Deschenes short-circuited the next Eagles' series and the Stags took over at their 34 late in the first period.
Nine plays, 66 yards and 3 minutes, 41 seconds later, Cheverus doubled its lead.
An 11-yard Cooke run got the march started. At the beginning of the second quarter, senior Evan Jendrasko gained 25 yards on three carries and with 9:46 to go in the first half, on fourth-and-5 from the Windham 18, Gwilym drew the defense in and tossed a screen pass to senior Jack Bushey, who followed his blockers down the left sideline into the end zone.
"That screen was big," Wolfgram said. "I thought we played well in all phases of the game."
Junior Louie DiStasio's second extra point made it 14-0, a lead the Stags would take to halftime.
In the first half, Cheverus allowed the Eagles just 67 yards. The strong defense would continue the rest of the way.
Windham did enjoy a good drive midway through the third period when it moved from its 13 to the Stags' 24, but on second-and-9, senior Kyle Williams fumbled and Cheverus senior A.J. Bennett recovered.
"Everyone works hard on defense," said Bennett. "We all work together as a team. We all have one goal. We were trying to get the job done. The line just wants get in there and confuse the quarterback. The backs try to get the passes."
After the turnover, the Stags moved the ball 75 yards on nine plays to paydirt once again. This time, Gwilym ran three straight times for 20 yards, Jendrasko gained 15 and 21 and Cooke scampered for 14, setting up Gwilym's 1-yard TD run with 11:56 to play. DiStasio's point-after made it 21-0.
It appeared as if that would be the final score as Gwilym forced a fumble (recovered by senior Liam Hobbins), Olson intercepted Windham senior quarterback Cody Laberge and Cheverus forced a punt, but the hosts got the ball back one final time and with 4.2 seconds to go, Cooke completed a 30-yard interception return down the right sideline and DiStasio drilled the extra point to bring the curtain down on an emphatic 28-0 triumph.
"The defense was great," Gwilym said. "We play hard and run around. "(Windham) had some drives, but we didn't let them hit a home run."
"I think we're going well," Bennett said. "This will be a good bus ride (home)."
"I think we played well," Wolfgram added. "The kids were prepared and played hard. That's a good win against a very good team. I thought defensively, we were very sound. Offensively, (Windham's) a very good team. Their quarterback is sound. They have good receivers, but I thought our defense was solid the whole time. I was very pleased with how we played their passing game. We made plays and caused turnovers."
For the game, the Stags wound up with a 224-149 edge in total offense. Gwilym ran for 82 yards and a score on 14 carries. He completed just two passes, but they went for 25 yards and a TD. Cooke led the way on the ground with 96 yards on 14 attempts. Jendrasko finished with 67 on 15 tries. He also caught a pass for 6 yards. Sophomore Brent Green rushed twice for 4 yards. Bushey caught the 18 yard TD pass.
Windham was paced by 119 yards on 14-of-25 passing from Laberge, but he was intercepted twice. Senior Drew Gagnon (five receptions, 55 yards) was his top target. The Eagles (0-2) were done in by four turnovers.
Three in a row?
After the game, Wolfgram denied that the win had any extra significance.
"Have we played on this field before?" he said. "This is 2010. I have a very short memory. We'll enjoy this for at least 24 hours. We have good kids. They're really dialed in. We still have a long way to go, but we've taken nice steps in the right direction."
Cheverus goes to 2-0 South Portland next Friday night as it looks to further distance itself from the field. A year ago, the Stags dominated the Red Riots at home, 21-0, but this time around will likely be much tougher.
"I've been impressed with our progress so far," Gwilym said. "We've played great, but we still have a long way to go. South Portland's a good team. I'm expecting a tough game."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org