Deering dominates TA, advances to semifinals
PORTLAND—The location was different. The stakes were higher. The end result did not change.
For the second time this season, the Deering Rams steamrolled Thornton Academy, their latest triumph coming at home in a 56-18 win in Friday night’s Western Maine Class A quarterfinals, the first ever playoff meeting between the schools.
The third-ranked Rams improved to 7-2 and will travel to Standish on Saturday to take on No. 2 Bonny Eagle (8-1), which won 32-0 over No. 7 South Portland. No. 6 Thornton Academy ended the year at 6-3 with two of those losses coming to the Rams. The Golden Trojans suffered their first loss of the season, 35-6, to Deering on Oct. 2 in Saco.
Deering broke open a 12-12 tie by scoring 16 points in the final 3:06 of the first half, then responded to Thornton Academy’s touchdown to open the third quarter with 21 points in a span lasting just over four minutes to put the game away.
“We’re definitely a big-play team,” said Rams senior John Hardy, who scored on a punt return and long reception and also intercepted a pass. “We rally on big plays. We know if we get something going, we can get it all going. That’s exactly what we did. Momentum definitely fell our way.”
Deering fumbled away its first possession, but quickly forced the Golden Trojans to punt after going three-and-out without advancing a single yard. Hardy fielded the high punt and followed his blockers down the right sideline for a 65-yard touchdown with 9:24 remaining in the first quarter to put the Rams on top.
“Trey Thomes laid a great block on the edge on the gunner,” Hardy said. “I knew that if I could squeeze through that hole, our wall was going to set up good. That’s exactly what happened. It gave me a lift. It gave everyone else a lift.”
“John is a great athlete,” said Deering coach Greg Stilphen. “He’s one of our go-to guys. We find ways to get him the ball. He’s been doing a great job as our punt returner. We had some really big blocks on that. It was a big play executed by everybody. John really finished it, though.”
The PAT was blocked and the Rams led 6-0, but not for long. The Golden Trojans took over on their own 23 and marched 77 yards in seven plays to knot the score. On third-and-7 from the Deering 11, senior quarterback Josh Woodward, who had runs of 32 and 24 yards on the drive, rolled right and found senior Dimitri Skinsacos open back across the field. Skinsacos easily scored on the 11-yard reception. He was stopped short on his rush attempt on the two-point conversion however, and it was 6-6 with 6:14 to go in the first.
Sophomore Dominic Lauture set Deering up with good field position at the Rams 40 following a 27-yard return on the ensuing kickoff. Senior quarterback Jamie Ross, who was again huge for Deering (15 carries for 101 yards and four touchdowns; 7-for-10 passing for 131 yards and a TD), found Hardy for a 28-yard gain on first down, bringing Deering to the Thornton Academy 32. Six plays later, on third-and-1 from the 10, Ross ran in for the score. His kick was blocked and Deering led 12-6 with 2:58 to go in the first.
Early in the second quarter, the Golden Trojans capitalized on a short field after taking over on the Deering 37 following a punt. After two runs and a pass to Skinsacos, Woodward scored on a 14-yard keeper. The conversion pass was picked off by Deering sophomore Kenny Sweet and it was 12-12 with 8:54 left in the first half.
Deering was forced to punt again on its next possession, but Ross booted a doozy. The 42-yard punt rolled out of bounds at the Thornton Academy 1. While the Golden Trojans were able to pick up a first down out to the 12, Woodward fumbled and Rams junior Jake Totman recovered, setting up first-and-goal at the 9.
The Rams were stuffed on three rushes and had to settle for a Ross 22-yard field goal, making it 15-12 with 3:06 left in the second quarter. They forced a quick punt and took over at their own 38. A 16-yard run by Thomes set up a pretty Ross-to-Hardy pass for a 46-yard touchdown. Ross hit a streaking Hardy down the left sideline. With a step on the defender, Hardy initially bobbled the ball, but it bounced off his knee right back into his hands, allowing him to continue on to the end zone without breaking stride.
“Jamie threw a perfect ball, right in stride,” Hardy said. “I took my eye off it for a second. Luckily, I held onto it.”
Said Ross: “He came over and told me, ‘I would have quit if I dropped that. That’s the best ball you’ve thrown me all year.’ Number 81 (Thornton Academy senior defensive end Chris Dolewa) is a big boy and he was right in my face, so I didn’t see him bobble it, but I heard the oohs and the ahs, and thought if he dropped that, he’s going to get it.”
Deering led 21-12 with 1:35 left before the break as Thornton Academy again blocked the PAT.
The Golden Trojans fumbled again with under a minute to go in the half, giving Deering the ball on the Thornton Academy 23. On third-and-3 from the 16, Ross connected with junior Renaldo Lowry, who made a nice leaping catch in traffic over the middle, coming down just short of the goal line. Ross took it in on a 1-yard sneak on the next play, then added the PAT to give his team a 28-12 lead at halftime.
There was a scary moment in the final seconds of the half as Thornton Academy senior receiver James Ek remained motionless on the turf after a clean hit by Lowry to break up a pass. Play stopped for 20 minutes as an ambulance was summoned. Ek was put in a neck brace and loaded into the ambulance on a stretcher. He was able to move his fingers.
When play resumed, Thornton Academy took a knee to end the half.
By the time the third quarter started, any momentum the Rams had had vanished. Thornton took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards on eight plays, the final one a 2-yard TD run by freshman Andrew Libby. Woodward recovered his own fumble on the opening play. A 21-yard run by senior Corbett Smith on a third-and-12 kept the drive alive, and a 38-yard pass from Woodward to Smith set up first-and-goal at the Deering 2.
“We told our players that we had to come out and win the third quarter,” Stilphen said. “We lost our focus. To their credit, their coach rallied them during the half. They came out and dropped the ball on the carpet, but recovered. We had them in a couple third-and-longs, but they executed. Then they hit us with the big one over the top. We were not as sharp as we had to be in those situations. We need to play disciplined, smart football.”
Thornton Academy’s conversion attempt failed, and it remained a two-possession game at 28-18 with 8:28 to go in the third. Deering went three-and-out, but the Golden Trojans could not take advantage, failing to convert a fake punt and handing Deering the ball back on the Thornton Academy 21. Two plays later, junior Nick DiBiase ran in from 9 yards out for the score. Ross tacked on the kick to make it 35-18 with 4:30 left in the third.
From there, the rout was on.
Less than two minutes later, Hardy intercepted a Woodward pass, giving Deering the ball at the Thornton Academy 35. Ross broke outside and found paydirt on the next play, running for a 35-yard score, then added the kick to make it 42-18 with 2:27 left in the quarter.
Thornton Academy lost another fumble on its own 20 on the first play of its next possession. The Rams kept it on the ground with Ross capping the five-play, 20-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak. With his kick, it was 49-18 with 22 seconds left in the third.
Lauture scored the final Deering touchdown on a 2-yard run with 7:51 left in the game.
Woodward led Thornton Academy with 118 rushing yards on 10 carries, but only gained seven yards in the second half. He was 4-for-13 passing for 70 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Deering was actually outgained on offense 372-357, but won the turnover battle 5-1.
The Rams, playoff spectators a year ago with a 2-6 record, recovered well from a disappointing 44-14 loss at Cheverus last week in the regular-season finale.
“We had to get the bad taste out of our mouth form the loss and come out here and prove to everyone again that we are a good football team and we can go far,” Hardy said.
The Rams will have a chance to avenge a Week 3 loss to Bonny Eagle in the upcoming semifinals. The Scots defeated Deering 34-12 when the teams met in Portland on Sept. 16.
It will be the teams' fifth playoff meeting since 2004 (Bonny Eagle holds a 3-1 edge after a 26-14 victory at the Rams in the most recent encounter, the 2008 semifinals).