PORTLAND—After playing eventual state champion Cheverus a tough as anyone the past two seasons, the up-and-coming Portland football team had its sights set on springing an upset Saturday afternoon when it went to Boulos Stadium, hoping to snap the Stags’ 25-game win streak.
Instead, the Bulldogs’ mistakes opened the door for the two-time defending Class A champions and Cheverus pounced.
The Stags grabbed a 7-0 lead just 110 seconds into the game after a shanked punt, took advantage of an untimely Portland penalty to take a 14-0 advantage after one quarter and after recovering a fumble, Cheverus tacked on another score to seize control. A 94-yard drive late in the first half ended all doubt and the Stags went on to their 26th successive triumph, 42-0.
Seniors Donald Goodrich and Brent Green both rushed for a pair of touchdowns and senior quarterback Liam Fitzpatrick threw for two TDs as Cheverus improved to 2-0, dropping the Bulldogs to 1-1 in the process.
“Portland’s a good team,” said Stags coach John Wolfgram. “They’ll win some football games. I felt we took it to them early and that helped.”
Both teams enjoyed victories in their openers.
The defending champs started slowly, then pulled away for a 43-6 triumph at Sanford.
The Bulldogs ushered in the Jim Hartman Era with a 45-14 home win over Massabesic. Hartman had led Yarmouth to the past two Class C state championships and got off to a good start as Mike Bailey’s replacement.
Prior to Saturday, Cheverus and Portland had squared off 80 times with the Bulldogs holding a 45-30 advantage (with five ties), but the Stags had taken four of the prior five meetings (please see sidebar).
Last fall, Cheverus trailed 7-0 early at Fitzpatrick Stadium, rallied to tie the game at halftime, then went on to a 21-7 victory.
This time around, with the intriguing sidebar of two coaches riding personal 25-game win streaks (something we’ll likely never see again) as a backdrop, the Stags demonstrated yet again that until further notice, they have no peer.
The Bulldogs got the ball first, but gained just nine yards and were forced to punt.
That set the stage for the first game-changing play.
Portland senior punter Kyle Reichert took the snap, but Cheverus senior Jackson McMann broke in from Reichert’s left and either got a piece of the ball or induced Reichert to punt the ball straight up.
“Coach emphasizes special teams,” said McMann. “We work on it a lot during practices. It’s big in the game. I think I made him nervous and he rushed the punt. I didn’t touch it. He punted it straight up. I got up and everyone was going crazy around me. You have to come out with energy and we did. We were more energized than them.”
“Like all teams, we spend a lot of quality time on special teams,” Wolfgram said. “That first block set the pace for the game.”
The Stags took over at the Bulldogs’ 20 and on the first play, Green took a handoff, ran up the gut untouched and reached the end zone to put Cheverus ahead to stay. Sophomore Patrick Mourmouras added the extra point and with 10:10 to go in the 12-minute first period, the hosts were up, 7-0.
Portland then embarked on a nice drive from its 20 into Stags’ territory. The Bulldogs earned four first downs, but senior Nick Volger was thrown for a five yard loss and on fourth-and-14, sophomore quarterback Ryan Ruhlin threw incomplete, giving the ball back to Cheverus at its 30.
The hosts moved into Portland territory, but the drive appeared to stall at the 36. Goodrich came on to punt, but faked and ran with the ball. He was forced out of bounds at the 37 for a loss of a yard, seemingly giving the Bulldogs possession, but in a huge swing of momentum, Portland was called for a facemask penalty and the Stags got a new set of downs at the 22.
“You just can’t make mistakes,” Hartman lamented. “It was overzealousness. Penalties killed us.”
Again, the Bulldogs’ defense tightened and Cheverus faced a fourth-and-8 from the 20, but Fitzpatrick hit sophomore Zordan Holman in the flat and after breaking one tackle, Holman ran into the end zone for a touchdown. Mourmouras kicked another extra point and the Stags were up 14-0 with 30 seconds left in the period.
After Portland punted, Cheverus was held in check and had to punt, but again a huge special teams play went the Stags’ way as Goodrich’s punt was fielded by Volger, who immediately fumbled. McMann came up with the loose ball at the Bulldogs’ 27.
“(Volger) just dropped it,” McMann said. “I just came in, the ball was there and I picked it up.”
After a false start, Green ran for two yards. Then, Fitzpatrick dropped back to throw and found wide open junior Noah Stebbins down the right sideline. Stebbins caught the pass and waltzed into the end zone for a 30-yard score and a 21-0 lead with 7:54 remaining in the first half.
“(The secondary) had been biting on my run, so I gave an inside fake and was wide open,” said Stebbins. “I just had to catch it.”
“Fitz is coming along well,” Wolfgram said. “We’re trying to develop the passing game. Noah’s a good receiver. A good, hard working kid.”
Cheverus made it 28-0 with 1:41 left before halftime.
The Stags began a drive at their 6 and marched 94 yards in nine plays to end all doubt.
Goodrich finally got it going on the ground, gaining 15, then 16 yards. A 25-yard Fitzpatrick-to-Stebbins pass play moved the ball to the Portland 15. On the next play, Goodrich took a handoff and ran to the left side. He found a big hole and completed a 15-yard TD run.
In the first half, Cheverus outgained the Bulldogs, 224 yards to 50.
The Stags quickly extinguished any comeback hopes Portland might have entertained by driving 50 yards on six plays to start the second half.
A 34-yard kickoff return by Green set the hosts up in great shape. Runs of 13- and 26-yards by Goodrich set the table and with 9:55 to go in the third quarter, Goodrich ran in from six yards out to make it 34-0. Mourmouras added the point after.
The Bulldogs’ next series resulted in a Fitzpatrick interception at the Portland 48.
Seven plays later, Cheverus scored for the final time as Green bulled in from two yards out.
By the end of the third period, the Stags had inserted their second team and the Cheverus reserves ran out the clock and made the 42-0 final score official.
“They played us tough the last couple years so I thought it would be close, but we came out and played well. it,” Stebbins said. “It was definitely good to set the tone. That first quarter really helped us. We played as a team. Everyone did their part for the win. It feels good to beat Portland.”
“I was expecting them to come out hard and give us a tough game, but we came out tougher and were energized,” McMann said. “They’re a good team though. It feels amazing.”
Offensively, the Stags were paced by Goodrich’s 158 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Green scored twice and gained 66 yards on a dozen attempts. Fitzpatrick rushed three times for 11 yards and completed 3-of-4 passes for 75 yards and a pair of scores. Stebbins had two receptions for 55 yards and a TD and Holman caught one pass for a 20-yard score. McMann rushed once for 7 yards. Senior Mike Flaherty rushed twice and lost 5 yards. Off the bench, junior Cody O’Brien gained 26 yards on seven tries, sophomore Joe Fitzpatrick rushed for 21 yards on 10 attempts and sophomore Jack Zinn carried twice for 9.
“Every position we have depth,” said McMann. “Everyone knows about our running backs, but we can give the ball to anyone.”
“I thought we played with good maturity and executed really well in all phases,” Wolfgram said.
Defensively, the Stags got two interceptions from Fitzpatrick. McMann recovered a fumble. Cheverus was penalized just four times for 20 yards.
For Portland, junior Jayvon Pitts-Young gained 51 yards on 10 attempts, classmate Justin Zukowski rushed for 50 yards on 10 tries, Volger was held to 9 yards on nine rushes and Ruhlin was 0-for-4 passing with a pair of interceptions. He gained 2 yards on two rushes. Junior Abe Marr ran four times for 1 yard, sophomore Dominic Fagone carried twice for 6 yards and sophomore Alex Oja ran once for 3.
The Bulldogs were held to just 118 yards of offense.
“(Portland’s) athleticism concerned me” said Wolfgram. “Volger, Pitts-Young, Zukowski, the quarterback. They’re athletic. I thought we handled it pretty well.”
The Bulldogs (who were flagged three times for 25 yards) will treat the loss as a learning opportunity.
“We’re a growing program,” Hartman said. “It’s a process. Cheverus had mental toughness. The polish of a champion. They’re a lot more physical than I thought, but that wasn’t something we couldn’t handle. They don’t make mistakes. If they did, we couldn’t capitalize. They didn’t do anything fancy. We knew what was coming. We thought we’d come in and play. We thought we were ready, but we don’t understand what it is to be ready. I think it’s a great learning game for us. Hopefully, we’ll learn. I think we’ll learn and show some character.”
Cheverus takes its 26-game win streak to Martin Memorial Field to face the South Portland Red Riots (0-2) Friday night. The Red Riots of the late 1990s (then coached by Wolfgram) hold the state record for successive wins, with 31. South Portland would love nothing more than to end the Stags’ run. Last year, host Cheverus pulled away in the second half to dominate the Red Riots, 59-21.
“We certainly have work to do,” Wolfgram said. “We still have a long way to go.”
Portland, meanwhile, hopes to get back in the win column when it hosts Gorham (0-2) Friday. The Bulldogs edged the visiting Rams, 12-8, last season.
“I hope it’s not a trap game,” Hartman said. “The guys should be emotional. I have to do a better job preparing these guys.”
Portland senior Nick Volger falls forward after being ankle tackled by Cheverus senior Brent Green.
Cheverus sophomore Zordan Holman breaks the tackle of Portland senior Nick Volger en route to a touchdown reception in the first period.
Cheverus senior Brent Green is upended on this carry. Green scored the game’s first touchdown.
Cheverus junior Cody O’Brien pressures Portland sophomore quarterback Ryan Ruhlin.
Portland junior Abe Marr looks for running room.
Cheverus junior Noah Stebbins breaks free and completes a touchdown reception in the second period.
Portland junior Justin Zukowski barrels forward for yardage.
Portland sophomore Jordan Talbot wraps up Cheverus senior Liam Fitzpatrick.
Cheverus senior Donald Goodrich is held up by a pair of Portland tacklers in Saturday’s city showdown. The Stags led from start to finish and went on to a 42-0 triumph.
More photos below.
P- 0 0 0 0- 0
C- 14 14 14 0- 42
C- Green 20 run (Mourmouras kick)
C- Holman 20 pass from Fitzpatrick (Mourmouras kick)
C- Stebbins 30 pass from Fitzpatrick (Morumouras kick)
C- Goodrich 15 run (Mourmouras kick)
C- Goodrich 6 run (Mourmouras kick)
C- Green 2 run (Mourmouras kick)
Cheverus 26 @ Portland 7
@ Cheverus 35 Portland 0
@ Portland 27 Cheverus 14
Portland 40 @ Cheverus 7
Portland 42 @ Cheverus 7