SP playoff hopes take a hit with loss to Sanford
SOUTH PORTLAND—After finally coming to life offensively and getting in the win column a week ago at Massabesic, the South Portland football team entered Friday night's battle with Sanford hopeful of going on a run and earning a playoff berth.
The Red Riots' postseason hopes are now iffy at best.
South Portland got off to a strong start, driving the field in nine plays to grab an early lead on a touchdown run from junior quarterback Duncan Preston, but the Red Riots simply couldn't slow the Spartans' attack.
Led by senior standout Alex Shain, who went around, through and over the South Portland defense (sometimes on the same play), Sanford rallied to tie on its first possession, went ahead to stay on a Shain interception return, then after the Red Riots pulled to within 14-12 on a TD run from junior Joey DiBiase, got two Shain 7-yard scoring runs late in the first half to take a commanding 28-12 lead at the break.
The visitors didn't let up in the second half, scoring a second defensive touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone, then ending all doubt with scoring runs from Shain and junior Josh Schroder to pull away for a 46-12 victory.
Sanford, led by Shain's 196 yards and four TDs on 20 carries, mustered 475 yards of offense, improved to 3-3 and kept its playoff hopes very much alive, while dropping South Portland to 1-5.
"I think early on we came out, moved down the field and punched the ball in," said Red Riots coach Steve Stinson. "We pinned them in on the kickoff, but they converted a third-and-long and that got them going. All roads for Sanford lead through Shain. When he gets rolling, their offense builds. We had no answer for him tonight to slow him down. He made his line play better and the other backs play better."
South Portland enjoyed its best season in a decade a year ago, reaching the semifinals before suffering a last-second loss at Thornton Academy.
After losing the core of that team to graduation, the Red Riots struggled in the first half of the 2012 campaign, losing to visiting Windham (47-13), at Biddeford (23-7), to visiting two-time defending Class A champion Cheverus (42-0) and at Kennebunk (40-6), but last Saturday, South Portland got in the win column in impressive fashion, holding off visiting Massabesic, 35-34.
Sanford made the playoffs in 2011, but opened 2012 with a 43-6 home loss to Cheverus. After a 24-6 triumph at Deering, the Spartans were blanked at Noble, 14-0. Sanford then won at Gorham, 48-20, but lost last week to visiting Bonny Eagle, 14-6.
Last year, South Portland handled Sanford twice, 42-34 in a regular season shootout and 33-13 in the Western A quarterfinals.
Friday, the Red Riots looked good early, but simply couldn't stop the Spartan Express, conducted by one of the state's finest players.
Prior to the game, a ceremony for the late longtime South Portland fan and athletic supporter Bill Orcutt was held. His family was brought on to the field and honored and a moment of silence was held in Orcutt's honor.
The Red Riots put on a show on their first drive. They began at their 35 and marched 65 yards in nine plays, in 2 minutes, 39 seconds to take the lead.
On the second play of the drive, DiBiase ran 11 yards for a first down. Three plays later, on third-and-6 from midfield, sophomore Matthew Stearns ran for 11 yards to move the chains. On the next snap, it was DiBiase again, finding a huge hole and scampering all the way to the Sanford 12, for a gain of 27. Three plays later, on third-and-4 from the 6, junior quarterback Duncan Preston capped the march with a 6-yard scoring run on a scramble to the left side. The extra point failed, but with 9:18 to play in the opening quarter, South Portland was up, 6-0.
That would prove to be the Red Riots' highwater mark.
The Spartans' first possession was even more impressive. The visitors started at their 4 after their return man slipped on the wet field and was down by contact after a 1-yard return. It would take 15 plays and nearly 8 minutes, but Sanford managed to go the whole field to tie things up.
South Portland's defense had a chance to force a three-and-out on the first series when the Spartans faced third-and-8 from their 6, but senior quarterback Cody Mooney hit Schroder for 12 yards to move the chains. Schroder then burst 29 yards to midfield. On third-and-8 from the Red Riots' 48, Mooney lofted a pass down the left sideline that appeared as if it would sail out of bounds incomplete, but instead, junior John Morgan went up and made the catch of the night, securing the ball while contorting his body to stay inbounds, good for a gain of 19 and a first down. On third-and-1 from the 20, the Red Riots again had a chance to make a play, but Schroder broke a tackle in the backfield and managed to get the yard his team needed. After Mooney and Schroder hooked up for a 12-yard pass, setting up first-and-goal from the 5, Shain ran for 2 yards, then, on the next play, ran untouched up the gut for a 3-yard score. The extra point failed, but with 1:17 left in the quarter, the game was deadlocked, 6-6.
South Portland moved the ball again as the first period gave way to the second. A 10-yard run by Preston and a 12-yard Preston-to-junior Jordan Susi gave the hosts a first down at midfield. After a 4-yard Preston run on the first play of the new quarter, Preston dropped back to pass and threw a pass over the middle that resulted in disaster.
Shain managed to haul the ball in with one hand at the 40 and once he had it secured, no one was going to catch him. Shain rumbled 60 yards for the score and after Mooney hit senior Jake Dexter with a 2-point conversion pass, the Spartans were ahead to stay, 14-6.
The Red Riots hung tough, however, and drove 66 yards on 10 plays for another touchdown.
This drive started with an 11-yard DiBiase run. On third-and-12, Preston hit DiBiase for 22 and a first down at the Sanford 35. After a holding penalty backed South Portland up 11 yards, Preston ran for 26 yards. A 15-yard Preston run got the Red Riots close and two plays later, DiBiase scored on a 1-yard run. South Portland went for two, looking to tie the score, but after an offsides penalty, a Preston run was stuffed, keeping the Spartans in the lead, 14-12.
Sanford's next possession resulted in a 63-yard touchdown march. The drive began with a 13-yard pass from Mooney to Schroder. Strong running from Schroder and Shain got the Spartans close and it appeared Shain scored on a 14-yard run, but that score was negated by a holding penalty.
That only delayed the inevitable.
Four plays later, Shain burst through the left side for a 7-yard TD. The extra point failed, but with 2:55 to go in the half, Sanford's lead was 20-12.
The hosts then shot themselves in the foot as on the first play of the next series, Preston's deep pass intended for Susi was intercepted by junior Tyler Flayhan at the 13. The Spartans still had 2:41 to work with and that was plenty of time to drive for a backbreaking score.
It took just 1:52 and seven plays to drive 87 yards. Runs of 33- and 29-yards from Shain set the table. Then, with 49.9 seconds to go before halftime, Shain scored on another 7-yard run. This time, Sanford went for two and Mooney managed to dive for the pylon and convert, giving the visitors a 28-12 advantage at the half.
"We felt in the first half, we moved the ball," Stinson said. "We only had one play that gained less than three yards. Offensively, we did what we liked. The two picks in the half, one was a pick-six and the other led to a long touchdown, are what hurt us. We couldn't catch up offensively after never being able to get a stop defensively."
In the first half, Shain rushed for 109 yards and three scores on 13 carries. Schroder added 63 yards on 10 rushes.
The Spartans ended any remaining doubt in quarter number three.
Sanford took the ball to start the second half and drove from its 48 into South Portland territory, thanks to runs of 24-yards from Shain and 15-yards from Schroder, but the Red Riots' defense stood tall and for the first time on the night forced a loss of downs.
The offense could do nothing with the ball, however, getting pushed back on a holding penalty, then, on second-and-21 from the 9, disaster struck again as a bad snap from center sailed over the head of Preston, landed in the end zone and was pounced upon by Spartans junior Zack Fulton for a touchdown and a 34-12 lead.
After the Red Riots went three-and-out on their next series, they were momentarily bailed out when a 61-yard punt return for a touchdown by Schroder was called back by an illegal block, but the Sanford offense marched 33 yards in three plays to score anyway. After a run of 4-yards by Schroder and a 23-yard burst by Shain, Shain delivered the finishing touch with a 6-yard run to make it 40-12.
The hosts again went three-and-out and this time, the Spartans traversed 60 yards on nine plays and went up 46-12 with just 4 seconds to go in the period when Schroder scored from 6-yards out. A 21-yard scamper from Shain, on what would prove to be his final carry, got that march started.
In the third quarter alone, Sanford outscored South Portland, 18-0, and outgained the Red Riots, 125 yards to negative-17.
The fourth period featured a lot of Spartans subs and little offense. Neither team could score and the clock wound down on Sanford's 46-12 victory.
Shain stole the show with 186 yards on 18 carries. He had four TDs on the ground and a fifth on the interception return.
"(Shain's) an exceptional Class A football player," said Stinson. "No question about it. He certainly had a big night tonight. He's been a special kid for a couple years. He was a tough kid to wrangle tonight, in all phases of the game."
Schroder ran for 109 yards and a TD on 17 carries. He also caught three passes for 37 yards. Mooney wound up 4-for-6 for 56 yards passing.
DiBiase led the South Portland offense with 76 yards on nine carries. He also had two receptions for 23 yards. Preston rushed 12 times for 68 yards. He was 3-of-14 passing, good for 30 yards, and was intercepted twice.
The Spartans finished with a 475-177 advantage on offense, forced three turnovers and didn't give the ball away. Sanford was penalized four times for 62 yards. South Portland was flagged four times for 56 yards.
The Red Riots played hard throughout, but simply couldn't keep up.
Stinson continues to be pleased with his team's effort, however.
"Our numbers are very lean," Stinson said. "We lost a senior class of 20 and we have a small senior class this year. We have a lack of depth. There's nine new starters on each side of the ball. They hadn't played any varsity football before. I feel we've taken steps at times. The best part about it is the kids have been phenomenal. The kids haven't missed practice. They're attitudes are great. If they're willing to learn, that makes life good."
Sanford's playoff hopes will hinge on how it does Friday against visiting Windham and its game Oct. 19 at Massabesic. At press time, the Spartans were ninth in the Western Class A Crabtree Points standings (only eight teams make the postseason).
The Red Riots (12th in Western A) face two must-win games to close the season, next Friday night at 2-4 Deering and Oct. 20 at home versus 4-2 Portland in the "Battle of the Bridge."
"They're two very good teams," Stinson said. "We hope to finish strong."