Deering beats Portland on late TD in season opener
PORTLAND—The Deering football team entered the 2010 season as an afterthought in parity-ridden Western Class A.
After losing their final six contests in 2009, then getting crushed by Portland in the teams' annual Thanksgiving Day showdown, the Rams were seeking a measure of revenge when the longtime rivals brought up the curtain on a new season Friday night at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
After a lackluster first half, Deering came alive in the second and at gutcheck time, thanks in large part to the heroics of senior quarterback Jamie Ross, had all the answers.
After the host Bulldogs tied the score on a electrifying 92-yard touchdown pass from senior Imadhi Zagon to junior Michael Herrick with 4:25 remaining, the Rams took over at their 2 and appeared to be in deep trouble, but Ross' running and passing led them down the field and with 14.8 seconds left, Ross capped an epic 16-play, 98-yard, 4 minute, 9 second drive by bursting in for a 2-yard TD which gave Deering an inspirational 21-14 triumph.
"We're not looking for respect to be handed to us," said Ross, alluding to his team's lack of attention in the preseason. "We have to earn everything we get. We hoped to see more positive things about Deering, but we haven't earned it. This our hunt for a little respect and to make a name for ourselves."
To the finish
Deering has been a perennial playoff contender this decade, but after starting 2-0 a year ago, everything fell apart and despite being competitive in almost every game, it lost the rest of them to wind up 2-6.
Portland, meanwhile, returning to prominence and went 5-3 before losing a 25-19 quarterfinal round heartbreaker to Bonny Eagle in the quarterfinals.
The last time the city rivals squared off was Thanksgiving Day, when the Bulldogs cruised, 41-6.
This one would be tight throughout and both squads showed glimpses of the playoff teams they hope to become.
Portland got the ball first, but gave it up immediately as Zagon couldn't handle the snap, fumbled and Rams senior Devon Fitzgerald pounced on it at the Bulldogs 11.
Deering's golden opportunity went by the wayside, however, when on third down from the 17, Ross' pass was intercepted by a leaping Portland junior Seamus Kilbride.
The Bulldogs then drove 96 yards to take the lead.
Zagon got his team some breathing room when he raced 48 yards before caught from behind by Rams junior Renaldo Lowry. Steady running from Zagon and senior Andrew Poston got the hosts close and on second-and-goal, Zagon scored on an 8-yard scamper. Senior Feliks Cobanovic added the extra point and midway through the first period, Portland was up, 7-0.
A sack from senior Caleb Kenney helped the Bulldogs' defense force a three-and-out on the next Deering series. The Rams then forced a punt and took over a their 33 to start the second period, but Deering's offense continued to struggle, gaining just eight yards before punting away.
The teams then traded punts before Portland appeared to extend its lead on a 54-yard run from sophomore Nick Volger, but a holding penalty negated the score. The Bulldogs gave the ball up on a Zagon fumble and at last, the Rams showed some life on offense.
Late in the half, Ross hooked up with senior John Hardy for a 13-yard reception and Deering's initial first down. It also gave the Rams positive yardage for the first time all evening. While Deering fell short of the end zone, it had a little confidence heading into halftime.
While Portland had a 144-16 edge in yardage and had ample opportunity to take a commanding lead, it was only up 7-0 at the break and would soon struggle to slow Ross and the Rams.
Deering drove 83 yards on five plays in just under two minutes to start the second half. The tying score came on a short slant pass over the middle to Lowry who got around two Bulldogs defenders who collided, then outraced the pursuit down the right sideline for a 62-yard score. Ross' extra point made it a 7-7 contest.
Portland gave the ball back on downs and the Rams struck again, driving 50 yards on five plays to go ahead. On first-and-10 from the Portland 16, Ross recovered a bad snap well behind the line of scrimmage, broke one tackle, then ran down the left sideline. As he neared the end zone, Zagon stood in his way, but Ross stood tall and leveled the Bulldogs standout, scoring in the process.
"He went high, I went high and I won the battle," Ross said.
Another Ross extra point made it 14-7 Deering with 4:40 to go in the third period.
As the third quarter gave way to the fourth, Portland embarked on a long drive that appeared primed to even the score. The Bulldogs moved from their 18 to the Rams' 8, but after eating up 6 minutes, 20 seconds on 11 rushes, Zagon attempted to pass only to find Hardy in the way. Hardy grabbed the ball at the end zone before returning it to the 7.
"I bobbled it a little bit," Hardy said. "I knew I had to get a hold of it and get upfield."
Deering hoped to ice the game as it drove for a pair of first downs, but with just over six minutes to go, the Rams had to punt and after Ross made a ridiculously athletic play on a high snap and got it away, his kick pinned the Bulldogs at their 10.
Two plays later, Zagon faced a third-and-12 from his 8. He rose to the occasion, completing his only pass of the night, deep down the right sideline to Herrick. Herrick shed a tackle, stumbled, kept his feet, then ran to paydirt before Lowry could track him down. The spectacular play, followed by a Cobanovic extra point made it a brand new ballgame, 14-14, with 4:25 to go.
When the ensuing kickoff pinned Deering at its 2, momentum seemed to be completely on the Bulldogs' side, but Ross' finest hour awaited.
He ran for 13 yards and some breathing room on the first play, then hit Hardy for 13 yards and a first down at the 28. Two plays later, facing third-and-4, Ross ran for seven yards and a new set of downs. After junior Nick DiBiase's rush was stopped for no gain and Ross threw incomplete, it was third-and-10, but Ross found Lowry for 17 yards and a first down at the Portland 42.
A 10 -yard strike to James Doyle moved the chains again, but Ross soon faced a fourth-and-8 with just over a minute to go. Calmly, he dropped back and threaded a pass through the Bulldogs' defense right into the arms of Hardy for 23 yards and a first-and-goal at the 7.
Ross rushed for 4 yards and DiBiase followed for 1, setting up a third-and-goal from the 2 with time winding down. To the surprise of no one, Ross kept the ball and barreled in over right tackle.
With 14.8 seconds showing, the Rams had the lead.
"I can't say enough about the line in the second half, they left their hearts out there," Ross said. "The receivers helped me and made big catches. We did what we needed to do to win. It was tough. We knew we had time to score. The first thing I said in the huddle was, 'We're tied, not losing. Let's do our thing.' We went down and scored. I wanted the ball. I guess I just cleaned up."
Ross' extra point made it 21-14.
Portland had one last chance, starting from its 35, but Zagon threw incomplete on first down and his last-ditch bomb was intercepted by Lowry.
Deering then exulted over its inspirational victory.
"It's unbelievable," Hardy said. "We had a rough season last season and (Portland) beat us up pretty good in the Turkey Bowl. We had to come back and prove we're contenders. In the second half we put everything together. Running and passing. We drove downfield. It was determination. Because of the season we had last year, I don't think we get a lot of respect."
Ross, after going 3-for-11 for 17 yards and an interception in the first half, wound up 11-for-23 for 166 yards, the pick and a touchdown. He also rushed for 93 yards and two scores on 19 carries.
"(Jamie's) just unbelievable," Hardy said. "Unreal."
"We need to keep playing like this," Ross added. "We have to play well in the first half and not start slow. We were lucky. We could have been down by a lot more, given up, but we stuck it out. We started to get more push up front. We were nervous in the first half, including me. We settled down. The run opened up the pass. The pass opened up the run. We fed off each other."
Hardy had four catches for 55 yards. Lowry grabbed six balls for 101 yards and a TD. Doyle had the other reception, good for 10 yards.
DiBiase finished with 36 yards on 10 rushes.
The Rams mustered 282 yards of offense (with 266 coming in the second half and 98 of those at the most opportune time), only turned the ball over once and were penalized just three times for 15 yards.
Portland left the field knowing it did itself in. Not only did the Bulldogs fail to build on their lead in the first half or stop Deering when it mattered in the second, they were penalized seven times for 123 yards and had a touchdown called back.
"It was a great high school football game for an opener, but it's a tough loss," said longtime Portland coach Mike Bailey. "We left points on the board in the first half and couldn't get off the field in the second half. We didn't finish it off or make the big plays at the end when we had to. It's a young secondary and we have to get better. Ross got going. We got out of position a little bit. They made some adjustments. They have veteran receivers and I have a green secondary. We'll get better."
Zagon finished with 180 yards and a score on 25 carries, but he did fumble twice. Through the air, he went 1-for-6, good for 92 yards and a TD, with a pair of interceptions.
"We have to get better throwing the football," Bailey said.
"I think we did a great job on Imadhi," Ross said. "He has great open field speed like none other. He's big and strong. Our defense did a great job."
Volger finished with 43 yards on six carries. Poston ran for 20 yards on eight attempts.
Herrick had the lone reception, good for the highlight-reel 92-yard touchdown.
"That was a great play," Bailey said. "(Mike's) got great acceleration."
Portland had 328 yards of offense, but in the end, it wasn't enough.
The Bulldogs look to get healthy next Friday night, but they'll have a daunting task as they go to perennial powerhouse Bonny Eagle, which routed Westbrook, 35-0, Friday night. Last year, in addition to the playoff loss, Portland fell, 27-14, at home to the Scots.
Bailey is confident his team will respond to the challenge.
"We'll be there," he said. "There were a lot of pluses (tonight). A lot of season left. It's a tough league."
As exhilarating as this win was for Deering, it's not overdoing the celebration after the way things went a year ago. The Rams will crave the sensation for a night, then turn their attention to Gorham, where they play next Friday. A year ago, Deering drubbed the other Rams, 35-12, at home.
"It's definitely wide open this year," Ross said. "We don't want to repeat last year. This is one win. We have at least seven more games. We hope to be in the playoffs and be in the hunt for a Gold Ball. We'll see where this goes. It's going to be a different season."
"We have to take it one win at a time," Hardy added. "We hope we can stop Gorham next."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org