WINDHAM—The Deering Rams, who have one of the most potent and athletic offenses in the state, put all their skills on display Friday night in a tough battle at Windham Eagles squad picked by many to be one of the top teams in Western Class A.
Led by their extremely versatile senior quarterback Matt Flaherty, the Rams posted a 21-0 halftime lead and finished in crunch time to win, 28-20, improving to 2-0 on the season, dropping the Eagles to 0-2.
The Rams moved the ball with ease and were stuffing seemingly every Windham run in the first half. It looked as though they were en route to another 41-8 victory (like last week versus Noble High School), but the second half proved to be a different story as the Eagles started mixing in more aerial attacks and would not go out without a battle.
Senior wide receiver Renaldo Lowry had himself a night, scoring the game’s first two touchdowns on perfectly thrown passes from Flaherty. Flaherty ran for Deering’s other two touchdowns.
“We run the spread option,” Flaherty stated. “I love it.”
Lowry got the Rams going with a 50-yard punt return which brought the ball to the Windham 24 yard line with 8:22 to play in the first quarter. On second down, Lowry ran a textbook fade route in the right side of the end zone and caught the ball with two defenders near him to give Deering the 6-0 lead with 7:44 left (Senior Brandon Saucier, who also plays soccer, is pretty much lights out on PATs and booted the ball through the uprights for a 7-0 advantage).
On Windham’s possession following the Lowry touchdown, senior Nick DiBiase highlighted a strong defensive set that forced a three-and-out by sacking quarterback T.D. O’Brien for a seven-yard loss on second down. O’Brien was apparently the only player Windham coach Matt Perkins wanted touching the ball on offense in the first half, as around 75 percent of the plays were quarterback keepers from the shotgun formation.
Late in the first quarter and into the second, O’Brien marched the ball down to the Deering 13-yard line, however, a holding call on Windham bumped the ball back and made it first-and-20, which forced the hosts to throw some passes. Senior Trey Thomes batted a ball down and then Lowry had back-to-back pass breakups that lead to a turnover on downs. In the entire first half, it looked as though Windham was incapable of executing successful pass plays.
Deering then methodically marched down the field behind the running of Thomes and Flaherty to get all the way to the Windham 37. Then, Lowry burned the secondary and got very open on the right side and caught a pass in stride near the sideline and raced another 20 yards along the paint to the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown reception and 14-0 Deering lead with 7:20 to play in the second quarter.
“You have to give our line a lot of credit as (Flaherty) had a ton of time all night,” first-year Deering coach Jon Gallant said. “We have speed to go deep and we just have to give our quarterback time and we did that. He made great reads tonight.”
On the ensuing Windham possession, DiBiase snagged an interception and ran it to the Windham 32. Flaherty ran himself on three of the next four plays and then Thomes ran for five yards which put the ball at the Windham 5. Flaherty got good blocking up front and jolted through for a rushing touchdown and 21-0 lead with 4:25 to play in the half.
Windham then started their drive at their own 28, and proceeded to march down the field all the way to the Deering 5. O’Brien had runs of 33, 16, 13, and 5 to make it first and goal. Deering’s defense then came through in the clutch highlighted by big stuffs for loses on O’Brien by Thomes and junior James Doyle. On fourth-and-goal from the 11, junior Sam Ezzy and sophomore John Curtis flattened a receiver on a little dump pass for a turnover on downs with 1:12 remaining.
“Our defense is really good this year,” stated Flaherty confidently.
Though deep in their own territory, the Rams were looking to strike again and rack up even more points. Flaherty handed the ball off to Thomes, who has elite playmaking abilities (he put on an absolute clinic last week against Noble), and he just took off. Thomes weaved in and out of defenders, shook tackles, cut back, the whole works. He was finally brought down after 70 yards, only to be denied by the referees on a holding call. Although the play didn’t count, everybody in attendance knew they just witnessed a play that was of the caliber of a highlight reel like SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays
“He is a great running back,” Gallant said. “He has great vision, great ability to stick a foot in the ground and go. That run that got called back at the end of the half was amazing. I felt bad for the kid. I was trying to yell at him to go down because I saw the flag and I didn’t want him to waste himself. It was like a 70-yard gain but a 90-yard run.”
Deering went into halftime looking poised to dominate the next two quarters. O’Brien had been able to run with success on a few occasions, but the Rams shut him and the Eagles down in the red zone, which is ultimately all that matters. Unfortunately for Deering, Windham decided to mix things up a bit and was able to whip up a plan that would get them in the end zone multiple times.
“(Windham’s) a good team and they’re going to keep fighting,” said Gallant. “All that matters at the end of the night is who has one more points. It was a great high school football game.”
On its first second half possession, Windham spread the ball a little bit more. Christian Coons ran for a first down, as did Damien Shepard. O’Brien then busted free to the right side and ran for about 30 yards to the Deering 20 and then was given an additional 15 yards due to an unsportsmanlike conduct flag on the tackle. He then punched it in with 8:58 remaining in the third. Josh Dugas kicked the PAT and it was 21-7 Deering.
After getting the ball on the 20 via a touchback, Flaherty and company moved the chains all the way to the Windham 30. Lowry had a nice slant route catch on a third-and-nine and senior receiver Matt Kimball got in on the action with a nice eight-yard reception, too. However, Flaherty threw a ball towards the front left pylon and it was picked off by Damien Shepard and returned about 35 yards to the Windham 40. The Eagles never developed too much on their drive and punted it back.
With 3:13 left in the third quarter, Deering had a short lived drive and punted back to Windham, with the Eagles getting good field position around midfield. O’Brien hit a receiver for a gain of 10 and then ran himself several times to get the ball inside the Deering 15. The third quarter came to an end and O’Brien promptly scored on the first play of the fourth quarter on a run of 14-yards. It was now 21-14 with an entire quarter to play.
The Rams responded with a solid overall drive featuring good runs from Thomes and Flaherty that marched them to the Windham 15. However, on a run up the middle, Thomes fumbled and Windham fell on the ball for a turnover. Despite the turnover, the Eagles were unable to move the ball anywhere and had to punt it back, which gave the Rams the ball in good field position at the Windham 40 with 7:19 left in the game.
After a few plays, Thomes had a breakout run for 22 yards that brought the ball to the Windham. The hosts then buckled down and stuffed Thomes and Flaherty on back-to-back running attempts and it was now third-and-nine with a crucial first down at stake.
Well, if you need a clutch or timely reception, it’s not a bad idea to look for Lowry.
“Renaldo is a great football player,” said Gallant. “He’s got great speed, great hands and he has the ability to run great routes when he’s focused.”
Lowry ran a route toward the right sideline first down marker and then curled on a dime and caught a precise pass from Flaherty for a gain of nine, just enough for the first down. A few plays later, Flaherty ran up the middle for his second touchdown of the game, making it a more comfortable 28-14 lead with about 4 minutes left.
On the kickoff, Shepard brought it to the Windham 38 and a few plays later O’Brien ran it to midfield. Shepard then ran a cross route, left to right and had a nice catch and run netting 28 yards to the Deering 20. Doyle made a great tackle to bump O’Brien back two yards on another rush attempt and force a Windham timeout with about 3:30 remaining.
The Eagles then took to the sky, as O’Brien connected with Johnny Weymouth and Jeremy Peavey to bring it to the Deering 5. On third-and-goal, Zach Bushey and Doyle hit and grabbed O’Brien and forced him to throw it out of bounds to set up a fourth down that could all but seal the game, should the the Eagles fail to convert.
Well, the Eagles had no plans of rolling over and O’Brien dumped a pass just over the outstretched arms of Deering’s defensive backs to Shepard for a touchdown in the front right side of the end zone to make it 28-20 with just over two minutes remaining. The Rams got through the line and smothered the PAT.
“We gave it our fight,” Lowry said. “Windham is a team that can always come back, we knew that. We came out sloppy (in the second half) and they gave us their best game and it was a hell of a game, 28-20.”
Of course, the Eagles were forced into an onside kick situation, which their kicker Josh Dugas actually executed well. Doyle had to jump a little bit to make the catch and was then hit fairly hard, but he held on. Thomes ran for one yard on the first play and then Windham used a timeout. Next was a false start for Deering setting up a second-and-14. DiBiase then ran for five making it third-and-nine from the Rams’ 43 with 1:37 remaining.
Obviously not expecting a mid to deep pass, Windham left the middle of the field open and Flaherty confidently hit a wide open Doyle for a 30-yard gain which was the final dagger. The Rams then took a couple knees and ran out the clock for the victory.
“The middle of the field was wide open, so I have to take it, you know?” Flaherty said. “We all love football. We just love football and we’ll play to the last second like we did tonight. After a couple turnovers we come back and still score a touchdown.”
While the second half wasn’t pretty for Deering, it wasn’t that bad either. The Rams were able to make stops when they had to, and certainly had good drives. The Thomes fumble was a rarity for him, which halted a strong moving drive.
O’Brien started throwing more in the second half, which made the Rams have to respect it somewhat, which ultimately made it harder to know exactly when he was going to run. It was a very noticeable difference compared to the first half when virtually every play was a quarterback run. The Eagles had numerous dropped passes on open routes as well, which didn’t help their cause. But Deering defenders were certainly making hits left and right, especially Lowry and DiBiase.
“Our motto here is to swarm,” Lowry said. “Everyone. 11 men getting to the ball. We like to run fast. (O’Brien) is s a hell of a quarterback, but in the end, you need to have that extra push, and we just outplayed him.”
Overall, it was a great game for Deering. The Rams are confident knowing that they can close a game and come up with plays in the clutch when necessary.
Deering travels to 1-1 Kennebunk next week.
Deering senior quarterback Matt Flaherty lofts a touchdown pass over leaping Windham junior lineman Joe Francoeur.
Deering senior running back Trey Thomes breaks a Windham tackle on his way to a big gain.
Deering sophomore lineman John Curtis wraps up Windham senior quarterback TD O’Brien.
Deering junior linebacker Tyler Wiggin brings down Windham senior Jeremy Peavey.
Deering senior wide receiver Renaldo Lowry hauls in a touchdown pass despite the best defensive efforts of Windham junior Todd Allen during the Rams’ 28-20 win Friday night.
More photos below.