Deering tumbles from unbeaten ranks
PORTLAND — A fast start and a spirited finish were not enough for Deering to overcome a disastrous second quarter.
The Rams rallied late, but had a potential game-tying drive snuffed out by an interception deep in Thornton Academy territory, falling to the visiting Golden Trojans 28-21 in Friday night’s football contest.
It was the first loss for Deering (4-1). Thornton Academy improved to 4-1.
The Rams leapt out to a two-touchdown lead, but turned the ball over twice and had a punt blocked in the second quarter. All three miscues led directly to Thornton Academy scores. The Golden Trojans led 21-14 at halftime, then returned the opening kickoff of the second half 50 yards to set up another touchdown.
“We did uncharacteristic things that we hadn’t done all year,” said Deering coach Jon Gallant. “I think a little bit of panic set in.”
While the second quarter couldn’t have gone much worse for the Rams, the first quarter (and first play of the second) couldn’t have gone much better.
Deering opened the game with a six-play, 83-yard scoring drive. Senior quarterback Matt Flaherty started it off with an 11-yard run. Three plays later, he hooked up with senior Matt Kimball for a 40-yard strike on third-and-long. An 8-yard pass from Flaherty to senior Renaldo Lowry was a prelude to the play that followed, as the duo again connected, this time for a 25-yard touchdown. Lowry got behind the defense and Flaherty hit him in stride in the end zone — the first of Lowry’s three long touchdown receptions.
“He’s burned us for three years,” said Thornton Academy coach Kevin Kezal. “He’s a dynamite receiver. You try to play different coverages, but he’s good. The quarterback made some great throws, too.”
Senior Brandon Saucier added the first of his three extra points to give Deering a 7-0 lead just 2:39 into the game.
Thornton Academy punted on its first two possession, with a Deering punt in between. The Rams made good on their third possession, with a 23-yard run by senior Trey Thomes and a 9-yard run by Flaherty getting the Rams to the Golden Trojan 40. On the first play of the second quarter, Flaherty again found Lowry over the top, this time for a 40-yard TD that made it 14-0.
Deering forced Thornton Academy into a three-and-out and appeared to be on the verge of breaking the game wide open, but Lowry was unable to handle the punt. He charged in late to catch it, but it bounced off him and the Golden Trojans recovered at midfield. Four straight runs by junior Nick Kenney got Thornton Academy down to the Deering 7. Two plays later, sophomore Andrew Libby took it in from the 3 to put the Golden Trojans on the board with 8:36 to go in the half. The kick by junior Brandon Briggs (his first of four) made it 14-7.
The teams traded punts, with Deering taking over at its own 19 with 5:38 left in the second quarter. Two runs went for no gain. On third down, Flaherty dropped back and was immediately under duress. He escaped the grasp of Thornton Academy senior Luke Libby to avoid a sack, but his throw toward the sideline was intercepted by junior Josh Cyr at the Deering 24. Six plays later, junior quarterback Eric Christensen kept the ball on a 1-yard TD plunge to even the score with 2:08 left.
The Rams again stalled on offense and were forced to punt with just over a minute left in the half. Senior John Remmes got free and blocked the punt by senior Nick DiBiase. Thornton Academy senior Aaron Scott recovered at the Deering 9. On the next play, Christensen ran in for the score, making it 21-14 entering halftime.
“They’re a very good football team,” Gallant said. “We talked about cleaning up mistakes. We can’t make mistakes against a good football team. They started with the ball every time inside the 50-yard line every time and scored.”
The special teams horrors continued for Deering as the second half began. Libby’s 50-yard return gave the Golden Trojans the ball at the Rams 44 to start the third quarter. Eight plays later, Libby scored from the 5 to make it 28-14 with 8:11 left in the third.
The teams punted back and forth for the rest of the third quarter. Deering faced a long field early in the fourth quarter, as Libby’s punt pinned the Rams back at their own 4. A first-down sack put them back at the 2, but Flaherty, out of his own end zone, found junior James Doyle for an 18-yard gain. On the next play, he hit Lowry on another deep throw. Lowry again had a step on the defense, hauled the pass in in stride and took it to the end zone for an 80-yard score. Suddenly, it was a game again at 28-21 with 9:56 to play.
“Renaldo is a special talent,” Gallant said. “So is Matty. Matty doesn’t get a lot of credit for being a good quarterback. He can run, he can throw. He’s very good. I think every touchdown we had was on an audible. He saw what they were doing in the secondary and we’re going to take advantage when we see that.”
Thornton Academy got a 33-yard run from Libby out of the wildcat formation to cross into Deering territory on its next possession, but eventually had to punt. Again, Libby issued a fine punt, pinning the Rams at their own 7. After an incompletion and sack, Flaherty found Lowry for a 13-yard gain that set up fourth-and-2 at the 15. The Rams elected to go for it, as their receiver on the far side of the field was uncovered. But an incorrect route resulted in an incompletion and Thornton Academy took over on downs at the Deering 15.
The Rams held defensively, using all their timeouts and forcing the Golden Trojans into a field goal attempt. Briggs’ bid from 32 yards out sailed just left and Deering took over at its own 20 with 4:24 on the clock. Flaherty scrambled for 12 and 16 yards to get Deering out near midfield. After two incompletions, he hit Kimball to set up fourth-and-inches at the Thornton Academy 42. Deering converted with a quick slant to Lowry that gained seven yards. Another scramble by Flaherty picked up 12, down to the Thornton Academy 23. An incompletion followed, then Flaherty, facing pressure from the pass rush, had his throw picked off by Libby.
“He gave us a chance,” Gallant said of his quarterback. “We had a chance at the end to tie it. Who knows what would have happened if we did? It would have been nice to see it. We were going max (pass) protection and somehow they got leakage in the middle. That’s been kind of our downfall all year — pass protection. We’ve shown that if we give Matt time he has the ability to make things happen.”
Thornton Academy took over at its 5 with 2:42 to play. Three runs by Libby resulted in a first down. From there, a couple knees ran out the clock.
“It’s a big win,” Kezal said. “We’re kind of a young team. We’ve got a lot of underclassmen playing. To come on the road and beat a quality team like this is a big win.”
It was also revenge for the Golden Trojans, who were twice routed by the Rams a year ago, including a 56-18 loss in the quarterfinals.
“The kids knew about it,” Kezal said. “They’ve been working since the end of last October. That playoff loss, we used it as motivation all offseason and certainly last week. Kids remember.”
Deering will look to eliminate the mistakes as the Rams have three tough games to close the regular season. The Rams visit Scarborough at 7 p.m. on Thursday night, then play at Bonny Eagle and host the defending state champs from Cheverus in the finale.
“It’s the SMAA. It’s the best league in the state,” Gallant said. “There are no easy games. Every game is tough. We knew this would be a tough stretch. We’ve got to turn around and play again in five days. Hopefully we just keep our heads up, stay positive and stay together. That will be telling of our season.”