SOUTH PORTLAND—For three years, players who are now seniors on Deering’s football team knew nothing but upheaval and frequent disappointment.
Now, the Rams are writing a new chapter.
A victorious and inspirational chapter.
Saturday afternoon at Martin Memorial Field, Deering, coming off two wins and a strong effort against a powerhouse defending state champion, paid a visit to South Portland, which was coming off its first loss of its season.
The Rams went up-tempo in the first half and produced four scoring drives.
Just 3 minutes, 30 seconds in, quarterback Max Chabot, one of those aforementioned seniors who have endured so many changes, ran for a 7-yard touchdown to get the party started.
The Red Riots drew even on a 19-yard scoring run from their quarterback, junior Matt Crockett, but Chabot struck again late in the quarter, on another 7-yard scamper, to put Deering on top to stay.
Second quarter scoring runs from junior Rob Dacey (6-yards) and senior Scott Bresette (7-yards) pushed the lead to 27-7 at halftime.
In the second half, the Rams focused on running down the clock and playing defense and while they did surrender one score, a 1-yard run from South Portland sophomore Spencer Houlette, Deering made the plays it had to on both sides of the ball to run out the clock on a 27-14 victory.
The Rams improved to 3-1 and dropped the Red Riots to 2-2 in the process.
“We’ll take it,” said first-year Deering coach Jason Jackson. “We’re just trying to stay under the radar as long as we can. It’s getting harder and harder. We had a lot of doubters at the beginning, but I’m not surprised at all. They’re great kids.”
Deering has owned the rivalry this century, even though the teams haven’t met yearly.
After South Portland took the 2000 encounter, 35-28, the Rams won eight straight meetings by an average score of 32-4 (see sidebar, below). The Red Riots won a 36-34 slugfest in 2009, but Deering took the two most recent showdowns, 35-0 at home in 2010 and 57-12 at home in 2012.
Both teams won two of their first three games this fall.
The Rams, under new coach Jason Jackson, opened with a 35-6 triumph at Massabesic, then rallied for a palpitating 14-13 home victory over Sanford. Last week, Deering gave visiting defending Class A champion Thornton Academy a tougher game than anyone expected, losing, 42-20, after being within eight points at one juncture.
While that game was a loss, the Rams took a lot from it.
“To score a couple touchdowns on (Thornton Academy) in the first half felt great and we took a lot of energy from that,” said Chabot. “We’ve always had talent, we just haven’t put it together. This senior class has done a lot of work and it’s paid off.”
“We went into that game positive,” said Jackson. “Everyone thought we’d lose 100-0, but we’re a good football team. The Thornton coaches told us we’re going in the right direction. To hear that from an upper echelon team was good. I think the Sanford game was the big statement for me. We learned we could play when we’re down.”
The Red Riots made a powerful statement in their opener, rallying to beat host Bonny Eagle, 18-14. After a 49-6 home win over Massabesic, South Portland was blanked at Sanford last week, 25-0.
Prior to that game, the Red Riots missed a day of practice due to an investigation of drug activity and hazing. While coach Steve Stinson and athletic director Todd Livingston wouldn’t comment on the situation, senior captain Dylan Rottkov was absent from Saturday’s game.
South Portland was supposed to host Deering Friday night, but issues with power on campus which affected the scoreboard and lights moved it to an afternoon kickoff Saturday where the Rams played a solid first half and went on to victory.
Under a comfortable 63 degree autumn sky, Deering won the opening coin toss, but deferred possession to the second half, giving the Red Riots the ball first.
They didn’t have it long, as on the first play from scrimmage, the snap sailed over Crockett’s head for a 19-yard loss back to the 5. Two runs by Houlette gained nothing and the hosts had to punt from their end zone.
The Rams got the ball at South Portland’s 40 and needed seven plays and just 88 seconds to grab the lead.
After Chabot threw incomplete on first down and Dacey ran for two yards on second down, Chabot placed the ball between four defenders to connect with senior Sambath Sao for 18 yards and a first down. Chabot ran for seven and a four-yard Dacey run set up first-and-goal at the 9. After Dacey ran for two, Chabot did the rest, rolling right, then turning around and beating the pursuit to the left pylon for a 7-yard touchdown run with 8:30 to play in the opening quarter. Senior Patrick Viola added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
The Red Riots came to life on their next possession and drove 70 yards in nine plays and 3:12 to pull even.
After Deering senior Ahmed Ali batted down Crockett’s pass on first down, Crockett ran for seven yards, then dashed for 11 to move the chains. Crockett threw incomplete, then handed off to Houlette, who broke free for 28 yards (junior Nate Richards held on to Houlette’s shirt for dear life to prevent a TD). Crockett ran for six yards, then threw incomplete. On third-and-4, Houlette was thrown for a one-yard loss by Rams senior captain Dominick Bernard, but on fourth down, Crockett got free down the right sideline and completed a 19-yard touchdown dash with 5:12 to go in the stanza. Sophomore Zack Johnson booted the extra point to make it 7-7.
Deering got a great kickoff return from Richards to the South Portland 47 and eight plays later, had the lead for good.
Chabot hit Bernard for 12 yards and a first down, then Chabot kept the ball for nine yards and Dacey picked up three to move the chains. After a holding penalty backed up the Rams, Dacey ran for eight yards and a Red Riots’ personal foul set up first-and-10 from the South Portland 12. Dacey ran for a yard, Chabot picked up four on a scramble, then Chabot was held for no gain by Red Riots senior captain Nick Mezzanotte. On fourth-and-goal, Chabot again kept the ball, breaking a couple tackles and willing his way into the end zone for a 7-yard score with 3:26 remaining in the period. Viola’s PAT made it 14-7 Deering.
South Portland went three-on-out on its next possession and the Rams started at the Red Riots’ 41 late in the quarter. After Chabot threw incomplete, he hooked up with junior Raffaele Salamone for 22 yards and a first down at the 19. Dacey ran for six yards, then appeared to have a 13-yard TD run, but it was called back due to a holding penalty. Chabot hit Bernard for four yards, a facemask penalty tacked on five more and after Dacey ran for two, on a fourth-and-4 from the 13, South Portland junior Finn Zechman knocked down Chabot’s pass to Salamone, giving the Red Riots the ball on downs.
On the final play of the first period, Crockett ran for seven yards. On the initial play of the second quarter, Crockett threw incomplete. After Deering jumped offsides, giving South Portland a first down, Houlette was thrown for a one-yard loss by Salamone, the Red Riots jumped offsides, Crockett’s pass to Houlette resulted in a 16-yard loss back to the 3 (senior Kahlil Brown made the big defensive play) and Houlette’s rush on third-and-32 gained nothing and led to a punt.
Deering again started in golden field position, at the South Portland 27, and needed just six plays to strike paydirt for a third time.
After Dacey caught a three-yard pass, Chabot found Sao for seven and a first down. Dacey ran for five yards, then picked up four and on a sneak, Chabot gained two to move the chains and set up a first-and-goal at the 6. On the next play, Dacey did the honors, bulling in for a 6-yard score with exactly 7 minutes left before halftime. Viola’s kick gave the Rams a 21-7 lead.
Another Red Riots’ three-and-out set the stage for Deering to extend its lead even further.
With 5:43 to go in the half, the Rams started at their 34. They used up 3:28 on a seven-play drive.
Chabot found Sao for 23 yards on the first play to move the ball into South Portland territory. After Dacey lost a yard, he was thrown for a five-yard loss by senior Joe Mutombo, but Bernard caught a pass and moved the pile for 14 yards and on fourth-and-2, Dacey swept right for 18 yards to keep the drive alive. After Dacey ran for 10 more, Bresette finished the drive with a nice second effort to score from 7-yards out with 2:15 to go before the break. Viola’s PAT was blocked, but Deering was in command, up, 27-7.
The Red Riots started at their 25 with 2:14 to go in the half and threatened to get on the board, but ultimately, they were denied.
Runs of one yard and three yards by Crockett, followed by a false start, set up third-and-11, but Crockett floated a pass down the left sideline which Zechman dove to catch for a 27-yard gain. After a bad snap, Crockett lofted a pass which Houlette caught for 22 more yards to the Rams’ 27 with 17.6 seconds left. A facemask penalty tacked on five more yards, but Salamone sacked Crockett for a five-yard loss and as time expired, Dacey tipped a pass and Viola intercepted it to end the drive.
In the first 24 minutes, Deering gained 208 yards to South Portland’s 93.
Mixing up the tempo proved to be just the ticket for the Rams in the first half.
“I wanted to come at South Portland that way and see how they could handle it,” Jackson said. “We know we can run it.”
Deering, which got the ball first, changed up its approach in the second half and while it didn’t score again, it managed to milk a lot of time.
Starting at their 40, the Rams ran over four minutes off on their first drive of the third quarter, as a Chabot sneak moved the chains once before a sack from Red Riots junior Deven Dupuis ultimately led to a punt.
South Portland started at its 34 and moved into Deering territory on the strength of a 16-yard pass from Crockett to Zechman. Three plays later, Crockett aired out a 32-yard pass to Zechman to set up first-and-10 at the 18. Crockett burst free and took the ball to the 1 before Houlette capped the seven-play, 66-yard, 3:13 drive with a 1-yard rush. Johnson’s extra point cut the deficit to 27-14.
The Rams started their next possession at their 35 with 4:02 to play in the third and they kept the ball into the fourth quarter.
Runs of eight yards by Bresette and three by Bernard picked up one first down. A three-yard Bresette run on third-and-3 moved the chains again and a six-yard pass to Dacey and a six-yard Bresette run and a facemask penalty picked up another first down at the South Portland 27. On the final play of the third period, Bernard picked up three yards. After Chabot threw incomplete on the first play of the fourth, he attempted to hit Sao, but the ball went through the receiver’s hands and was intercepted by Houlette. Houlette returned it 31 yards to seemingly put the Red Riots in business, but on the return, a block in the back penalty pushed the hosts all the way back to their 14.
Still, South Portland had time to drive down and make things very interesting.
Deering’s defense had other ideas.
A 12-yard slant pass from Crockett to Zechman picked up a first down at the 31, but Crockett was thrown for a one-yard loss, then threw a pair of incompletions. After a false start added insult to injury, the Red Riots punted.
The Rams started at their 47 with 9:17 to play and would run five-plus minutes off the clock, thanks in part to some trickery.
After a 14-yard Chabot-to-Salamone pass picked up one first down, Bernard ran for three yards, senior captain Luciano Minervino lost a yard and Chabot was sacked by senior Jordin Jackson to set up a punt.
Deering didn’t follow the script, however, as the ball was snapped to Minervino, the up-man, and on a fake, Minervino hit Viola for 20 yards and a first down at the Red Riots’ 21. Four more runs only gained nine yards, giving the ball back to South Portland, but the Red Riots, who took over at their 12, only had 4:04 to work with.
“In the second half, we wanted to slow it down,” Jackson said. “It would have been nice to punch it in, but we didn’t. Hats off to South Portland. Those boys are big. They have some beef. It was nice to gain some yards on them.”
A false start backed South Portland up five yards and Crockett was dragged down for a two yard loss by Salamone. Crockett did find Zechman for 14 yards, then Zechman again for 10 more and a first down, but the Red Riots tried to run Zechman on a reverse and Minervino blew it up, leading to a 10-yard loss. Crockett threw incomplete, hit Zechman for 14, then threw incomplete once more, giving the Rams the ball on downs at their 28 with only 1:24 remaining.
Deering couldn’t pick up a first down and had to punt, but with less than a minute to work with, South Portland wasn’t able to rally.
Crockett did hit Mezzanotte for 10 yards and sophomore Cody Dudley for 18 more, but three incompletions followed. On fourth-and-10, Crockett’s pass to Dudley only covered five yards, but the Rams committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, moving the ball to midfield. Crockett hooked up with Mutombo for 15 yards, then found Mezzanotte for five, but time ran out and Deering had a 27-14 victory.
“We’ve worked hard all week and I think we made a statement in the first half,” Dacey said. “We came out in the second half and worked hard and did the ground-and-pound and came out with the ‘W.’ We didn’t want to leave them much time on offense. They could make some magic happen. We were trying to take away their deep ball. We had to respect their running game too.”
“They were 2-1 and so were we, so obviously we weren’t going to overlook them,” Chabot said. “They’re a very good team. We just had to come in and work our hardest. Luckily, the scoreboard favored us. We started doing something we haven’t really done yet, going no-huddle, and I think it threw them off-balance a little bit. I love to be able to throw. The more the better. Once they figured that out, we went to the ground-and-pound and I think that was really effective.
“Winning is always fun. Coach Jackson has brought in a great staff and he’s a great coach himself. He really gets us as players and that motivates us to work hard for him.”
“There’s talent here, it was just a case of having them believing in themselves,” Jackson added. “They’re believing.”
The Rams finished with 292 yards of offense and overcame one turnover and seven penalties for 71 yards.
Chabot completed 10 of 15 passes for 123 yards with an interception. He ran for 38 yards and two scores on nine attempts.
“Max is a great kid with a great brain,” Jackson said. “He’s been a great leader.”
Dacey was the workhorse, gaining 89 yards and scoring a TD on 22 rushes. He also caught two passes for 9 yards.
Bernard was the top receiving target, grabbing four balls for 53 yards. He also rushed five times for 15 yards.
Salamone caught two passes for 36 yards.
Sao had two receptions for 25 yards.
Bresette gained 33 yards and scored on TD on six rushes.
South Portland finished with 272 yards, but was flagged nine times for 81 yards.
Crockett completed 14 of 32 passes for 184 yards with an interception. He also ran 13 times for 70 yard and a TD.
Houlette scored a touchdown and had 33 yards on 10 attempts.
Zechman was the top receiver, snaring seven passes for 125 yards. Dudley had two catches for 23 yards. Mezzanotte had two for 15, Houlette two for 6 and Mutombo had one for 15.
“We knew Deering was big and aggressive,” Stinson said. “Their tempo was effective at times. They’re very talented. They did enough to win. We were just a little off on a few explosive plays that could have changed the whole game. We won the second half and shut them out and had a chance to make it a game in the fourth quarter. I’m proud of the kids and their effort in all three phases. It’s been an awesome week of practice. The kids worked hard. Today was a big step to come out and work hard for 48 minutes. We’re excited as coaches to build off this.”
With Thornton Academy being upset at Windham Friday, the Class A South race is suddenly up in the air and both teams are very much in the mix.
The Red Riots hope to bounce back Friday when they host 0-4 Bangor. The teams didn’t play a year ago.
“We have to have a great week and try to get that third win Friday,” Stinson said. “We need to get stuff cleaned up. Penalties killed us today. We just need a little bit of polish. We’re still right in the middle of it.”
The Rams return home Friday to welcome 2-2 Bonny Eagle. The teams didn’t meet in 2014.
“We’re feeling good,” said Dacey. “Our new coach is great. We’ve come out strong. We’ve turned the page. We’re getting into the thick of our schedule. We’ll keep working in practice and giving it everything we’ve got.”
“We have four more tough games,” said Chabot. “Bonny Eagle’s a good team. That’s at home too, so we don’t want to disappoint the fans. We’ll keep working hard and playing Ram football. The sky’s the limit.”
“I think we can play with anybody, but we have some things we need to shore up,” added Jackson. “Bonny Eagle is rolling now. They could very well be 4-0. It’s going to be tough. That should be a good game. I’m excited. The boys will be ready. They’ve bought in. They believe in themselves. I’m having a blast. The community’s supporting me. We hope to keep it going.”
Deering senior Max Chabot stiff-arms South Portland junior Deven Dupuis en route to a touchdown run during the Rams’ 27-14 victory Saturday afternoon.
Mike Strout photos.
South Portland junior Finn Zechman dives to make a catch as Deering junior Nate Richards defends.
From left, Deering senior Dom Bernard, junior Rob Dacey and senior Pat Viola look at the ball on the final play of the first half. Viola snared it for an interception.
Deering junior Rob Dacey breaks a long gainer.
South Portland junior quarterback Matt Crockett looks to throw as Deering senior Luciano Minervino defends.
Deering senior Kahlil Brown tackles South Portland sophomore Spencer Houlette.
Deering senior Dom Bernard is brought down by South Portland junior Finn Zechman.
@ Deering 57 South Portland 12
@ Deering 27 South Portland 7
Deering 42 @ South Portland 0
Deering 49 @ South Portland 8
@ Deering 62 South Portland 0
Deering 35 @ South Portland 6
@ Deering 19 South Portland 7
@ Deering 7 South Portland 0
Deering 14 @ South Portland 6
@ South Portland 35 Deering 28
D- 14 13 0 0- 27
SP-7 0 7 0- 14
D- Chabot 7 run (Viola kick)
SP- Crockett 19 run (Johnson kick)
D- Chabot 7 run (Viola kick)
D- Dacey 6 run (Viola kick)
D- Bresette 7 run (kick blocked)
SP- Houlette 1 run (Johnson kick)