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Deering frustrates Portland in football opener; Two Ross second half TDs the difference in 14-0 victory

Sports

Deering frustrates Portland in football opener; Two Ross second half TDs the difference in 14-0 victory

PORTLAND—Friday evening's first Deering-Portland football regular season opener in recent memory was supposed to be a back-and-forth offensive shootout.

Instead, the huge crowd on hand witnessed the host Rams and improved Bulldogs combine for only 143 yards, six penalties and a pair of turnovers in a first half that wound up 0-0.

Deering was finally able to take advantage in the second half, twice getting touchdown runs from junior quarterback Jamie Ross (who was far more dangerous with his legs than his arm in this one) and riding a stellar defensive and special teams effort to a 14-0 victory.

"It's a great start," said Ross, who only completed 2-of-14 passes for 23 yards and an interception, but ran for 82 yards and two scores on 17 carries and delivered a series of booming punts. "Everyone had doubts about us. We lost a lot of starters. It's a big momentum builder. It's a lot of confidence for the young guys who are starting. We came up big."

Meeting early

Longtime fans of the fierce rivals remember a day when Deering and Portland regularly opened with each other, but that trend ended years ago. In recent seasons, the Rams and Bulldogs met in Week Three, occasionally squared off in the playoffs, then faced off again Thanksgiving morning.

A new schedule cycle this fall led a fluke pairing of the two on the first Friday night under the lights. Deering is coming off a stellar 9-1 campaign which ended with a loss to Bonny Eagle in the semifinals. Portland has missed the playoffs the past couple years, but showed improvement in going 3-5 a year ago and after a solid preseason, felt it was ready to beat the Rams for the first time since 2005.

The Bulldogs had plenty of chances to deliver the first punch, but instead sputtered time and again.

Deering got the ball first and after a pair of penalties lost 10 yards and had to punt. It appeared as if Portland would get good field position, but on the punt return, senior Jason Strauss was stripped by Rams' junior Sam Morrison who recovered at the Deering 40. The Rams then went three-and-out again and the Bulldogs got the ball for the first time at their 17.

While junior Imadhi Zagon is the feared back for Portland, junior Will Walsh announced that he is also a force to be reckoned with and the balanced attack promptly combined to pick up a pair of first downs. The drive would stall at the Bulldogs 45 and Deering got another chance.

The Rams would again do nothing with the pigskin and Portland got a second series. At that point, the Bulldogs put Zagon at the quarterback position in their version of the "Wildcat" offense. A 5-yard run by Walsh and an 8-yard pickup by Zagon got Portland off to a promising start, but a false start penalty short-circuited the series and the Bulldogs would have to punt away late in the first quarter.

With time winding down, Deering appeared bound for another three-and-out, but a roughing the passer penalty gave the hosts their initial first down. However, as the second period began, the drive stalled with an incomplete pass and the Rams had to punt.

Ross unleashed a beauty, pinning the visitors on their 7. After a Portland three-and-out, Deering took over at the Bulldogs' 43, but two runs gained two yards and Ross' third down pass was incomplete.

After trading three-and-outs, Portland took over on its 6 with 3:53 to go in the first half. A pair of 11-yard runs from Walsh appeared to put the Bulldogs in business, but on third-and-9 from the 30, Strauss' pass was intercepted by Deering senior Ryan Giobbi at the Deering 48. Giobbi raced down the left sideline, cut back at the Portland 10 and raced into the end zone, but the celebration was premature as a defensive hold not only negated the touchdown, but gave the ball back to the Bulldogs. A holding penalty and sack eventually stopped Portland cold. With just seven seconds remaining and facing a fourth down at the Rams' 45, longtime Bulldogs coach Mike Bailey gambled and allowed Strauss to launch a long pass down the left sideline, but it was just out of the reach of senior Jake Alexander, who had beaten his defender. Ross then had time for one prayer as time expired, but his pass was intercepted by senior Gordon Parker.

A fitting ending for 24 minutes of futility.

Portland outgained Deering 103 yards to 40 in the first half. Walsh and Zagon combined for 91 yards on the ground. Ross was just 2-of-11 for 23 yards.


Taking advantage

The Bulldogs got the ball first in the second half, but a block in the back on the kickoff pinned them at their 14. Nevertheless, on third-and-inches at the 23, Zagon ran right, broke through the line, turned on the speed that's made him one of the premier track runners in the state and easily outran the Rams' secondary to paydirt.

Alas, it was for naught. Just before the snap, Portland was flagged for illegal motion and its best scoring chance was out the window. After a Bulldogs' punt, Deering took over at its 48 and finally got the offense going.

Ross did it all himself (with plenty of help from the offensive line), gaining 13 yards on a first down run. The Rams then got a break when Portland was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, putting the ball on the Bulldogs 24. An illegal substitution penalty on the Bulldogs moved it five yards closer. Ross then ran twice for 11 yards to set up a first-and-goal at the 8. After Ross lost a yard on a first down run, then threw incomplete, he ran through the line and carried Portland seniors Jon Brown and Ted Volger into the end zone to break the ice. Ross added the point after and it was 7-0 Deering.

"It wasn't our best first half, but we weathered the storm," Ross said. "We started doing power more up the middle. It opened it up. We made the best of it. The penalties gave us great field position. It was a mind game. We had to win the mind game and we had to keep our composure."

The Bulldogs moved the ball on their next series, going from their 27 into Rams' territory. On third-and-1 at the 49, Zagon fought for 14 yards, but was stripped by senior Travis Wade. The ball popped into the eager hands of sophomore Trey Thomas and he returned it nine yards to the Deering 44.

The Rams went three-and-out, but another superb Ross punt forced Portland to begin at its 13. Two Walsh runs gained 12 yards, but with time winding down in the quarter, the Deering defense stepped up big, dropping Zagon for a two-yard loss on third-and-10 and the Bulldogs had to punt. Rams junior Sam Balzano then made the most of his one opportunity to shine, returning the punt 35 yards to the Portland 16.

Ross ran for six yards as the third period expired, then gave his team a cushion on the first snap of the fourth period, racing in from 10-yards. He added the point after and with 11:55 to play, it was Deering 14, Portland 0.

"We've always been a third quarter team," said Rams senior defensive lineman Tyler DeBardino. "We get stronger in the third and get fired up. Our motto is to always win the third quarter. We scored in the third and kept the ball rolling. Our defense was strong. They have a lot of good players. We had to cover the field well. We work hard on our defense."

"Imadhi's a great running back and Will's a great running back, but our D line just contained them," added Ross.

The Bulldogs turned to Walsh on their next series and the bruiser gained 12 total yards on five successive carries. Zagon then got free for 12 and a first down at the Portland 44. Alexander's 12-yard carry put the ball in Deering territory, but again the Rams' defense sparkled at the most opportune time, forcing a fourth down with 7:30 to play.

Despite the deficit and little time remaining, Bailey chose to punt.

"We were trying to pin them deep and get some field position," Bailey said. "We didn't have any field position the whole game. Their touchdowns came off short fields."

That's exactly what happened when the Rams had to start at their 4, but Thomes then emerged as an offensive threat, rushing for 15-, then 23-yards to give the hosts some breathing room.

"Trey had some nice runs," Ross said. "He came up big for us. He had jitters coming in, but he came up big for us."

Deering eventually had to punt, but it ate up almost three minutes before doing so. Portland then began at its 20, but a pair of penalties backed it up to its 3. That led to yet another punt and this time, the Rams finished the job, picking up a first down on a facemask penalty and running out the clock on their 14-0 victory.

"It's a good way to start the season, but we still have a long way to go," said DeBardino. "We're looking for a state championship. We'll see (Portland) again. That's for sure. (Not being a favorite this year) motivates us a lot. We're under the radar. We're underdogs. We'll try and be as good as we can."

Ross wound up accounting for 105 of Deering's 169 yards. Thomes had 44 yards on seven carries. The Rams were flagged 10 times for 55 yards.

For Portland, Walsh gained 104 yards on 21 carries. Zagon had 62 on 20. Strauss did not complete a pass in six attempts. The Bulldogs had 179 offensive yards, but were hobbled by two turnovers and a whopping 11 penalties for 99 yards.

"We did a good job shutting them down, but they got momentum with penalties," Bailey said. "We gave them great field position and had the fumbles. We made more mistakes than they did. Will was very impressive. We have some balance we haven't had in the past. The passing game wasn't there tonight. It was a hard-hitting game. My kids are hurting. We have to rebound and go back to the drawing board."

Next up

Both teams have home tests next week. Portland faces a tall task in its quest for win No. 1 this fall when it hosts defending Class A champion Bonny Eagle (a 48-2 winner over Westbrook Friday). The Scots graduated Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Nate Doehler, but are still a big-time threat this season.

"I don't know how good Bonny Eagle is," Bailey said. "We'll find out."

As for Deering, it will stay home and meet the other Rams from Gorham (30-6 home losers to Cheverus Friday).

"(Gorham back) John Day is a big threat," Ross said. "It's like tonight with Imadhi. We have to keep him contained. Their double wing is a tough offense. They have a lot of good players. Hopefully we can stop them."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net.

Photo: Jason Veilleux
Portland senior defenders Ted Volger (84), Joe Zukowski (11) and junior Imadhi Zagon (24) tried in vain to slow the running of Deering senior Ryan Giobbi.

PORTLAND — Friday evening's first Deering-Portland football regular season opener in recent memory was supposed to be a back-and-forth offensive shootout.

Instead, the huge crowd on hand witnessed the host Rams and improved Bulldogs combine for only 143 yards, six penalties and a pair of turnovers in a scoreless first half.

Deering was finally able to take advantage in the second half, twice getting touchdown runs from junior quarterback Jamie Ross (who was far more dangerous with his legs than his arm in this one), and riding a stellar defensive and special teams effort to a 14-0 victory.

"It's a great start," said Ross, who only completed just 2-of-14 passes for 23 yards and an interception, but ran for 82 yards and two scores on 17 carries and also delivered a series of booming punts. "Everyone had doubts about us. We lost a lot of starters. It's a big momentum builder. It's a lot of confidence for the young guys who are starting. We came up big."

Meeting early

Longtime fans of the fierce rivals remember a day when Deering and Portland regularly opened with each other, but that trend ended years ago. In recent seasons, the Rams and Bulldogs met in Week 3, occasionally squared off in the playoffs, then faced off again Thanksgiving morning.

A new schedule cycle this fall led to a fluke pairing of the two on the first Friday night under the lights. Deering is coming off a stellar 9-1 campaign which ended with a loss to Bonny Eagle in the semifinals. Portland has missed the playoffs the past couple years, but showed improvement in going 3-5 a year ago. After a solid preseason, the Bulldogs felt they were ready to beat the Rams for the first time since 2005.

The Bulldogs had plenty of chances to deliver the first punch, but instead sputtered time and again.

Deering got the ball first and after a pair of penalties lost 10 yards and had to punt. It appeared as if Portland would get good field position, but on the punt return, senior Jason Strauss was stripped by Rams' junior Sam Morrison who recovered at the Deering 40. The Rams then went three-and-out again and the Bulldogs got the ball for the first time at their 17.

While junior Imadhi Zagon is the feared back for Portland, junior Will Walsh announced that he is also a force to be reckoned with and the balanced attack promptly combined to pick up a pair of first downs. The drive would stall at the Bulldogs' 45 and Deering got another chance.

The Rams would again do nothing with the pigskin and Portland received a second series. At that point, the Bulldogs put Zagon at quarterback in their version of the "Wildcat" offense. A 5-yard run by Walsh and an 8-yard pickup by Zagon got Portland off to a promising start, but a false start penalty short-circuited the series and the Bulldogs would have to punt away late in the first quarter.

With time winding down, Deering appeared bound for another three-and-out, but a roughing the passer penalty gave the hosts their initial first down. However, as the second period began, the drive stalled with an incomplete pass and the Rams had to punt.

Both teams went three-and-out twice to start the second. Portland then took over on its 6 with 3:53 to go in the first half. A pair of 11-yard runs from Walsh appeared to put the Bulldogs in business, but on third-and-9 from the 30, Strauss' pass was intercepted by Deering senior Ryan Giobbi at the Deering 48. Giobbi raced down the left sideline, cut back at the Portland 10 and raced into the end zone, but the celebration was premature as a defensive hold not only negated the touchdown, but gave the ball back to the Bulldogs. A holding penalty and sack eventually stopped Portland cold. With just seven seconds remaining and facing a fourth down at the Rams' 45, longtime Bulldogs coach Mike Bailey gambled and allowed Strauss to launch a long pass down the left sideline, but it was just out of the reach of senior Jake Alexander, who had beaten his defender. Ross then had time for one prayer as time expired, but his pass was intercepted by senior Gordon Parker.

A fitting ending for 24 minutes of futility.

Portland outgained Deering 103 yards to 40 in the first half. Walsh and Zagon combined for 91 yards on the ground. Ross was just 2-of-11 for 23 yards.

Taking advantage

The Bulldogs got the ball first in the second half, but a block in the back on the kickoff pinned them at their 14. Nevertheless, on third-and-inches at the 23, Zagon ran right, broke through the line, turned on the speed that's made him one of the premier track runners in the state and easily outran the Rams' secondary to paydirt.

Alas, it was for naught. Just before the snap, Portland was flagged for illegal motion and its best scoring chance was out the window. After a Bulldogs' punt, Deering took over at its 48 and finally got the offense going.

Ross did it all himself (with plenty of help from the offensive line), gaining 13 yards on a first down run. The Rams then got a break when Portland was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, putting the ball on the Bulldogs 24. An illegal substitution penalty on the Bulldogs moved it five yards closer. Ross then ran twice for 11 yards to set up a first-and-goal at the 8. After Ross lost a yard on a first down run, then threw incomplete, he ran through the line and carried Portland seniors Jon Brown and Ted Volger into the end zone to break the ice. Ross added the point after and it was 7-0 Deering.

"It wasn't our best first half, but we weathered the storm," Ross said. "We started doing power more up the middle. It opened it up. We made the best of it. The penalties gave us great field position. It was a mind game. We had to win the mind game and we had to keep our composure."

The Bulldogs moved the ball on their next series, going from their 27 into Rams' territory. On third-and-1 at the 49, Zagon fought for 14 yards, but was stripped by senior Travis Wade. The ball popped into the eager hands of sophomore Trey Thomas and he returned it nine yards to the Deering 44.

The Rams went three-and-out, but another superb Ross punt forced Portland to begin at its 13. Two Walsh runs gained 12 yards, but with time winding down in the quarter, the Deering defense stepped up big, dropping Zagon for a two-yard loss on third-and-10 and the Bulldogs had to punt. Rams junior Sam Balzano then made the most of his one opportunity to shine, returning the punt 35 yards to the Portland 16.

Ross ran for six yards as the third period expired, then gave his team a cushion on the first snap of the fourth period, racing in from 10-yards. He added the point after and with 11:55 to play, it was Deering 14, Portland 0.

"We've always been a third quarter team," said Rams senior defensive lineman Tyler DeBardino. "We get stronger in the third and get fired up. Our motto is to always win the third quarter. We scored in the third and kept the ball rolling. Our defense was strong. They have a lot of good players. We had to cover the field well. We work hard on our defense."

The Bulldogs turned to Walsh on their next series and the bruiser gained 12 total yards on five successive carries. Zagon then got free for 12 and a first down at the Portland 44. Alexander's 12-yard carry put the ball in Deering territory, but again the Rams' defense sparkled at the most opportune time, forcing a fourth down with 7:30 to play.

Despite the deficit and little time remaining, Bailey chose to punt.

"We were trying to pin them deep and get some field position," Bailey said. "We didn't have any field position the whole game. Their touchdowns came off short fields."

That's exactly what happened when the Rams had to start at their 4, but Thomes then emerged as an offensive threat, rushing for 15-, then 23-yards to give the hosts some breathing room.

"Trey had some nice runs," Ross said. "He came up big for us. He had jitters coming in, but he came up big for us."

Deering eventually had to punt, but it ate up almost three minutes before doing so. Portland then began at its 20, but a pair of penalties backed it up to its 3. That led to yet another punt and this time, the Rams finished the job, picking up a first down on a facemask penalty and running out the clock on their 14-0 victory.

"It's a good way to start the season, but we still have a long way to go," said DeBardino. "We're looking for a state championship. We'll see (Portland) again. That's for sure. (Not being a favorite this year) motivates us a lot. We're under the radar. We're underdogs. We'll try and be as good as we can."

Ross wound up accounting for 105 of Deering's 169 yards. Thomes had 44 yards on seven carries. The Rams were flagged 10 times for 55 yards.

For Portland, Walsh gained 104 yards on 21 carries. Zagon had 62 on 20. Strauss did not complete a pass in six attempts. The Bulldogs had 179 offensive yards, but were hobbled by two turnovers and a whopping 11 penalties for 99 yards.

"We did a good job shutting them down, but they got momentum with penalties," Bailey said. "We gave them great field position and had the fumbles. We made more mistakes than they did. Will was very impressive. We have some balance we haven't had in the past. The passing game wasn't there tonight. It was a hard-hitting game. My kids are hurting. We have to rebound and go back to the drawing board."

Next up

Both teams have home tests next week. Portland faces a tall task in its quest for win No. 1 this fall when it hosts defending Class A champion Bonny Eagle (a 48-2 winner over Westbrook). The Scots graduated Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Nate Doehler, but are still a big-time threat this season.

"I don't know how good Bonny Eagle is," Bailey said. "We'll find out."

As for Deering, it will stay home and meet the other Rams from Gorham (30-6 home losers to Cheverus Friday).

"(Gorham back) John Day is a big threat," Ross said. "It's like tonight with Imadhi. We have to keep him contained. Their double wing is a tough offense. They have a lot of good players. Hopefully we can stop them."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net.

Photo: Jason Veilleux
Deering junior quarterback Jamie Ross was far more deadly with his legs than with his arm, running for a pair of scores.

Photo: Jason Veilleux
Portland senior Jon Brown put the wraps on Deering sophomore Trey Thomes during Friday night's hard-hitting affair.

Photo: Jason Veilleux
The Rams defense ganged up to thwart Portland junior Will Walsh during second half action.

Photo: Jason Veilleux
Portland junior Carl Szanton (left) and senior Jason Strauss found Deering junior quarterback Jamie Ross tough to corral Friday night.