Cheverus holds off Deering, finishes unbeaten
PORTLAND—For the first time this autumn, the Cheverus defense had to be the difference in a football game.
Friday evening at Memorial Field, against rival Deering in a rematch of last year's epic regional final, the Stags high-powered offense, which averaged 42 points a game over the first seven weeks, did very little in the first half.
The Rams consistently began drives in Cheverus' territory, but every time, the Stags held firm and kept the game scoreless.
Then, finally, the offense came alive in the third period as senior Spencer Cooke and sophomore Donald Goodrich both broke long scoring runs. The defense continued its stellar effort and Cheverus closed the regular season 8-0 with its 20th successive triumph, 14-0, dropping Deering to 5-3.
The Stags will be the top seed for the playoffs for the second year in a row and will host No. 8 Scarborough in the quarterfinals next Saturday, while the Rams dropped to fifth and will go to fourth-ranked and sizzling Bonny Eagle in their quarterfinal.
"We were expecting a battle," said Cheverus coach John Wolfgram. "They're our rival. They played us tough. They were physical."
The Stags have done a fabulous job defending their championship this fall, demolishing each of their first six foes by a composite 271-47 margin, before edging host Portland last week, 21-7.
Deering looked like the region's second-best team through four weeks, but the Rams couldn't hold an early lead and lost, 28-21, to visiting Thornton Academy, then, after surviving at Scarborough, 14-7, Deering was pummeled in the second half at Bonny Eagle, 41-7.
For most of this century, the Rams dominated the Stags, but the rivalry turned two years ago with a Cheverus win at Deering. The Stags then won both meetings a year ago, most notably, 35-34, in the Western A Final.
Cheverus expected a battle Friday night and the Rams gave the Stags all they could handle, but Deering missed out on some great opportunities in the first half and fell short.
The Rams set the tone on the opening kickoff when sophomore Chhorda Chorn raced 51 yards to the Cheverus 39. An 8-yard pass from senior quarterback Matt Flaherty to senior Matt Kimball gave Deering a first down at the 26, but a hold and a false start doomed the drive and the Rams had to punt.
The Stags were pinned at their 10 in their first drive, but after Cooke picked up one first down, they stalled and punted the ball to Deering, which began at its 40.
This time, a bad snap on first down led to a loss of four yards, but Flaherty hit senior Trey Thomes for an 11-yard reception and a first down at the Cheverus 46. That's the best the Rams could do, however, as Stags junior Parker Doyon leveled Flaherty for a 3-yard loss and an incomplete pass led to another punt.
The visitors started at their 7 and picked up a pair of first downs behind the running of Cooke and junior Brent Green. As the second quarter began, the Stags (who had a 54-8 edge in yardage in the first period) committed a false start and soon had to kick again.
Deering's next drive began on its 17 and right away, the Rams went backwards with a false start. On the next play, however, Flaherty found Chorn for 31 yards and a Flaherty run for 9 put the ball on the Cheverus side of the field. After Thomes picked up a first down at the 43, again Deering stalled as three runs only gained two yards.
After the ensuing punt, the Stags again started in poor field position, at their 15. The Rams' defense rose to the occasion, forcing a three-and-out after senior Lucas Watson sacked Cheverus senior quarterback Cam Olson on third down. Olson then only managed a 19-yard punt and Deering took over at the Stags 26 with 5:53 to go in the first half.
A great scoring opportunity soon went by the wayside as Goodrich made his presence felt with two sacks on three plays, knocking the Rams all the way back to the Cheverus 48, where they had to punt again.
The Stags started at their 23, but on the first play, Cooke fumbled and Thomes recovered at the 32, giving Deering another golden chance.
Again, the Rams did nothing with it.
After senior Nick DiBiase ran for four yards on first down, Flaherty threw consecutive incomplete passes before he was sacked by Goodrich on fourth down.
"I love to get after it," said Goodrich, who came to Cheverus from York, where he spent his freshman year. "I have (senior Christian) Deschenes on my side. We go hard every play. We never stop."
Late in the half, Cheverus went backwards and Deering had one final chance before the break, but a fourth Goodrich sack ended any hopes of scoring and the teams went to the locker rooms stunningly tied at 0-0.
"We made plays defensively," said Wolfgram. "We just had terrible field position the whole first half. It's tough to open the playbook when you have that type of field position."
The Rams only managed 26 yards of offense in the first half, while the Stags were held to 96.
Cheverus would finally get it going when it got the ball to start the third quarter.
Starting at their 31, the Stags needed just five plays and 1 minute, 49 seconds to march 69 yards for the first score of the game.
After runs of 3 yards and 1 yard from Cooke and a 13-yard Olson to junior Ryan Casale pass, Cooke took a handoff, bounced off a tackler and found a seam in the middle of the field. All he needed was a little breathing room and he did the rest, outracing the pursuit to the end zone for a 52-yard scoring run. Senior Louie DiStasio's extra point made it 7-0 Cheverus with 9;57 to go in the third period.
"We were a little frustrated, but we stepped it up," said Goodrich. "I loved our energy coming out in the second half. It was a great half of energy for us."
Deering's first possession of the second half resulted in an interception by Olson at the Stags' 43, but Cheverus gave the ball right back when Cooke fumbled and DiBiase recovered at the Rams' 30.
Deering began to drive, seeking the tying score, as Thomes picked up one first down with a 9-yard run, Flaherty found junior Kenny Sweet for another on a 22-yard pass to the Stags' 36 and a 4-yard run from Thomes gave the Rams a first down at the 25, but two incomplete passes, sandwiched around a 6-yard Thomes run, set up fourth down and with four yards to go, Thomes could only manage one and Cheverus took over on downs at its 18.
The Stags would keep the momentum and double their lead.
On third-and-2, Cooke ran for 18 yards, keeping his legs churning throughout. Two plays later, on third-and-13, Goodrich got the ball on a trap and after cutting back to elude Thomes, had nothing but daylight. Goodrich didn't stop running until he crossed the goal line for a 59-yard score and Cheverus had a little breathing room after DiStasio's extra point made it 14-0 with 2:46 to go in the third.
"It was great blocks all around," Goodrich said. "It was open field and an easy play from there. The great blocks really did it."
"(Donald's) a playmaker," Wolfgram said. "Defensively, he's a playmaker. Offensively, he can do things for us also. That was a huge run."
The Stags almost put the game away moments later.
After Deering started at its 11, Flaherty had to go all out to recover a bad snap at the 2. Then, throwing caution to the wind, the Rams had Flaherty drop back in the end zone and heave a pass down the right sideline that was intercepted by Cheverus junior Mike Flaherty at the 36. He would take it all the way in for a touchdown, but the score was negated due to a roughing the passer penalty on the Stags.
As a result, Deering got a first down at the 17, but a false start short-circuited the next series and the Rams had to punt, giving Cheverus the ball at the Deering 49.
The Stags allowed the Rams to stay alive as a bad snap on the first play resulted in a fumble and a recovery by Watson at the Cheverus 48.
On the first play, Flaherty hit Chorn with a quick pass and the speedster raced all the way to the Stags' 7, but a hold moved the ball back to the 45, costing the hosts 38 yards.
As the fourth quarter began, Deering got a first down at Cheverus' 37 thanks to a 13-yard Flaherty-to-Thomes pass, but Flaherty threw incomplete, then, after finding Sweet for 3 yards, threw two more incomplete passes and the Stags took over on downs at their 34 with 10:38 to go.
Cheverus would manage to gain 36 yards and run 5:28 off the clock before punting the ball back. The Rams began at their 3 and got a little breathing room with a 17-yard pass from Flaherty to Chorn, but on fourth-and-7, Flaherty was intercepted by Stags junior Liam Fitzpatrick and that was all she wrote.
Cheverus ran out the final 3:52 and completed its perfect regular season with the 14-0 triumph.
"I watched the (regional final) last year and it was a really close game," Goodrich said. "I didn't care about the records, I knew Deering would give us a good game. We had to come prepared. Our whole mindset during practice was they would come hard and we had to come hard too."
"(Deering's) pass game was a concern," said Wolfgram. "They throw the ball well. They're a balanced, veteran team. They've had a good year."
Statistically, the Stags had 320 yards to 126 for Deering. Cooke wound up gaining 165 yards and had a touchdown on 20 attempts. He left the game late with an ankle injury, but Cheverus is confident he'll be OK for the playoffs. Goodrich had 59 yards and the TD on his two attempts. Green ran for 73 yards on 11 tries. Olson was just 2-of-6 for 32 yards through the air. Cooke had one reception for 19 yards and Casale the other for 13. The Stags had three turnovers and were flagged four times for 56 yards.
For Deering, Thomes managed just 44 yards on 10 carries. He also caught two passes for 24. Flaherty wound up 10-of-25 for 118 yards, but was intercepted twice. He ran 10 times for 27 yards. Chorn had four receptions for 54 yards, Sweet a pair for 25 and Kimball two for 15. The Rams were done in by two turnovers and seven penalties for 54 yards.
"We made too many mistakes against a good team," said Deering first-year coach Jon Gallant. "We felt we matched up well for the most part. We knew they wouldn't make many mistakes. We couldn't capitalize on the mistakes they did make. They're well-coached. We missed a couple players, but we feel we have good depth. The kids that went in there tonight really stepped up. Chhorda Chorn had a great kick return and great runs after catches. We had him in the end zone, but we couldn't capitalize.
"Our players are starting to understand just how good they can be at times. The attitude and effort tonight, we took major strides. Coming off last week's loss and performance, our whole focus this week was just getting our attitude right and getting the edge that teams in the past had. We've had (former Deering standout and professional baseball player) Ryan Reid around for the past month, talking about what it means. He's going to Venezuela and he's genuinely upset because he's missing this game and the playoffs. That passion is what we talk about."
Let the fun begin
The postseason promises to be dramatic and possibly unpredictable.
Deering goes right back to Bonny Eagle for the quarterfinals, just two weeks after suffering the 41-7 loss. The Scots started 0-3 this fall, but are as hot as anyone entering the playoffs after winning their final five games. The teams have met in five of the past seven postseasons with Bonny Eagle holding a 3-2 edge. Last year, in the semifinals in Standish, the Rams shocked the Scots, 28-6.
Deering is eager for another opportunity.
"Obviously, they're good," Gallant said, of Bonny Eagle. "We were only down 14-7 at halftime last time. We can't make pre-snap mistakes. On three of their touchdowns, we lined up wrong and had kids out of place. If we can clean up the little things and take advantage of what we have, we'll be fine. Hopefully, we'll get our guys back. Hopefully we perform better, capitalize and finish when we have chances. Unlike tonight."
The champs welcome 3-5 Scarborough in the quarterfinals next weekend. The Red Storm had to win at Gorham in its finale to earn the final seed in Western A. In Week 5, Cheverus welcomed Scarborough and dominated from start to finish in a 38-0 romp. The Red Storm was without its standout senior running back Scott Thibeault in that game. He's now back and with nothing to lose, Scarborough could give the Stags a scare, much like it did a year ago in a 21-14 semifinal round loss at Cheverus.
The Stags are thrilled with what they've done so far, but know that the road to their ultimate goal remains grueling.
"We love what we've accomplished," said Goodrich. "We come out and work hard every day. We want to win and try our hardest every time to win. Coach Wolfgram pushes us hard and we love it."
"This is nice, but this is just one season," added Wolfgram. "We're 8-0, the No. 1 seed. That's a very good thing. We're very proud of the No. 1 seed, but that doesn't give us anything. It gives us a chance to be successful. We're proud of that, but we have to go from here. There are a lot of good teams out there."