Portland rides Z-train to long awaited win over Deering
PORTLAND—For the past decade, which is a veritable eternity in this ancient rivalry, the Deering Rams had their way with the Portland Bulldogs on the gridiron.
Now, it looks like Portland is swinging the pendulum back its way.
Saturday evening at Memorial Field, in one of the most impressive individual performances in the long and storied history of Bulldogs football, senior bruiser Justin Zukowski had himself a night and got plenty of help as Portland, coming off a season-opening home loss to Cheverus, jumped on Deering early and never looked back.
Zukowski set the tone on the game's first series, rushing four times for 42 yards and a score as the Bulldogs took the lead for good. A long touchdown run from senior quarterback Jordan Talbot made it 13-0 less than five minutes in.
While the up-and-coming Rams hung tough in the first half and twice crept within a touchdown, Portland pushed its advantage to 27-13 at halftime.
It took awhile, but the Bulldogs finally pulled away in the second half, as two more touchdowns from Talbot and another from Zukowski produced a 45-19 victory, Portland's first over Deering in a regular season game since 2005.
Zukowski stole the show, rushing for a mind-boggling 305 yards and two TDs on 21 carries, pacing a Bulldogs' ground game that produced 523 yards and seven scores overall.
Portland balanced its record at 1-1 and dropped Deering to 0-2.
"(Winning this game) means a lot," said Zukowski. "Deering's always a great team. Very well coached. We played Cheverus tough, but mistakes just killed us. We knew if we got rid of the mistakes, big things will happen."
The teams didn't meet a year ago in the regular season, but Deering took care of business on Thanksgiving Day, 28-14, its 10th Turkey Day win in 11 years (the Bulldogs' lone victory in that span came in 2009).
The last regular season meeting was a 28-7 victory for the Rams during the 2011 season. Portland last vanquished Deering, 13-9, way back in 2005, in a game played at Fitzpatrick Stadium. The Bulldogs hadn't won at the Rams in over a decade.
Overall, Portland came into Saturday's contest with a 61-29-10 overall record in a series which dates to 1891.
Both teams came in hungry for a win, as the Bulldogs fell at home to Cheverus in their opener, 35-25, and Deering, in its first game under new coach Scott Parsons, lost at Windham, 28-6.
The game was originally scheduled to be played Thursday due to the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, but nasty weather pushed it back to Saturday evening.
If you like offense and big plays, it was worth the wait.
The tone was set immediately as Portland took over at its 48. Zukowski got the first handoff and gained four yards. He then picked up a six and a Rams' facemask penalty moved the ball to the Deering 27. Zukowski then broke free and wasn't brought down until he reached the Rams' 1. After a false start penalty on the Bulldogs, Zukowski, no surprise, got the call and barreled in from the 6 to break the ice. Junior Ryan Ruhlin's extra point attempt was no good (wide left), but just 1 minute, 37 seconds into the game, Portland had a 6-0 lead it wouldn't relinquish.
Deering went three-and-out on its first series and the Bulldogs took over at their 40. Again, Zukowski got the first carry, gaining seven yards. Senior Ronald Hargrove ran for five and a first down. Talbot then kept the ball, sweeping to the right, breaking through the Rams' line and finding daylight. Talbot didn't stop until he crossed the goal line for a 48-yard score. This time, Ruhlin made the kick and with 7:07 still to play in the first quarter, Portland had a 13-0 advantage.
On their second possession, the Rams showed that they have a pretty potent offense as well, as they marched 76 yards on seven plays.
Promising sophomore quarterback Max Chabot completed passes of six yards to senior Ricardo Delgado and 27-yards to senior Caleb Angell. Those plays, combined with a roughing the passer call on the Bulldogs, put the ball at the Portland 28. Three plays later, Chabot found senior Mike Marzilli for an 18-yard completion down to the 5. After an incomplete pass, the Bulldogs jumped offsides, putting the ball at the 3. Chabot then handed off to freshman Anthony Pruitt, who scored on a run to the left side. Junior Jacob Coon's extra point was no good, but Deering had pulled within 13-6 with 4:52 to play in the first.
Portland didn't score on its next possession, but that's only because the Bulldogs turned the ball over.
Zukowski got the ball into Rams' territory with a dazzling 43 yard run, in which, instead of going out of bounds, he cut back and literally ran over Rams sophomore Sambath Sao. A block in the back penalty chopped 30 yards off the run, moving the ball back to the Deering 48. On the next snap, Hargrove gained 13 yards, but fumbled, and the hosts recovered to dodge the bullet.
After Chabot hit sophomore Dominick Bernard for 11 yards, Pruitt ran for a yard, but fumbled the ball right back to the visitors (Hargrove made the recovery and returned it 17 yards to the Rams' 33).
This time, Portland capitalized, as Zukowski ran 21 yards, then picked up seven. A facemask penalty was tacked on, setting up first-and-goal at the 2. Hargrove did the honors, scoring on a 2-yard run and while the PAT was no good, the Bulldogs had a 19-6 advantage with 2:13 still to play in a marathon first quarter.
As the first period gave way to the second, Deering drove for a second score, this time traversing 65 yards of real estate in 10 plays.
An unnecessary roughness penalty on Portland sparked the march. Chabot hit Marzilli twice for 10 yards, then scrambled for six more. On the first play of the second quarter, the quarterback threw a screen pass to Marzilli that was good for seven. Pruitt did the rest, running for three yards, then taking a screen pass from Chabot and racing in for a 7-yard score. Coon made the extra point and with 11:11 to go in the first half, the Rams were only down six, 19-13.
They would draw no closer, as it took Portland all of 37 seconds to answer.
Hargrove almost broke the enusing kickoff return, but was finally brought down at the Deering 26. Zukowski then gained 12 yards, setting up senior Jayvon Pitts-Young, who took a handoff and beat the defense to the left pylon for a 14-yard scoring run. The Bulldogs lined up to kick the extra point, but it was a fake and Pitts-Young ran it in to push the lead to 27-13 with 10:34 remaining before halftime.
That would end the frenetic scoring phase of the first half, but both teams had chances before the break.
The Rams drove to the Portland 28 before a Chabot pass went through the fingertips of Delgado and was intercepted by Hargrove.
The Bulldogs then had to punt and despite being deep in their territory, attempted a fake, which backfired when Talbot's pass was dropped by senior Matt Talbot, giving Deering the ball at the Portland 25.
The Rams got as close as the Bulldogs' 12, but on third-and-8, Matt Talbot atoned for his drop, sacking Chabot and on fourth down, Hargrove registered another interception.
A 33-yard Zukowski scamper set up Portland up on the Deering side of the field once more, but on fourth-and-3 from the 40, Zukowski was stymied for no gain and the Rams got the ball back. They would go three-and-out, however, and the Bulldogs did the same, bringing the curtain down on a first half which saw the teams combine for 470 yards (258 for Portland, 177 from Zukowski alone).
The Bulldogs probably would have enjoyed a bigger lead, but they committed seven penalties for a whopping 91 yards.
Portland let Deering hang around in the third quarter before finally delivering the knockout blow.
The Rams marched to the Bulldogs' 27 on the first series of the second half, but gave the ball away on downs. Deering's defense then forced a punt and Jordan Talbot again attempted a fake, but his pass was picked off by Sao.
The Rams could do nothing with that gift, however, going three-and-out and despite a 24-yard run from Hargrove, Portland again stalled in Deering territory as Hargrove fumbled at the 16 and Rams sophomore Dan Marzilli made the recovery.
The hosts went three-and-out, but Coon pinned the Bulldogs at their 22 with a 63-yard punt.
With 3:19 left in the third quarter, Portland began a drive that would give it some breathing room.
The Bulldogs marched 78 yards in six plays, as Zukowski had runs of 11- and 31-yards (on which a facemask penalty was tacked on), setting up the highlight play of the night, one which ultimately didn't count.
On second-and-8 from the 9, Pitts-Young got the ball, started to his left and when confronted by a Deering tackler, simply hurdled him. With the crowd at a fever pitch, Pitts-Young continued into the end zone for an apparent 9-yard score, but in Maine high school football, you're not allowed to leap over a defender like that and the TD was wiped out with the ball coming back to the 15.
"It was pretty frustrating, but it's the rule," Pitts-Young said. "I didn't understand it completely. He was going at my ankles all night, so I set up to hurdle him. I thought the rule is you could do that if he left his feet, but it wasn't."
No matter, Portland scored on the next play, as Jordan Talbot kept the ball and ran in for a 15-yard TD. The PAT failed, but with 1:12 to play in the third, the Bulldogs had opened up a 33-13 advantage.
As the third quarter gave way to the fourth, Deering got to the Portland 29, but an incomplete pass on fourth down gave the ball back to the Bulldogs, who drove for the score which ended the competitive phase of the contest.
Portland began at its 29, but needed just four plays to score. Pitts-Young broke free for 37 yards and Zukowski rambled for 31. After a false start, Joe Esposito gained two yards, then Zukowski finished it off, scoring on a 6-yard run. The extra point failed, but the Bulldogs had tripled up their rival, 39-13, with 9:33 to play.
Deering would enjoy one last scoring drive, marching 66 yards on five plays, as Pruitt broke free for a 56-yard TD run with 7:13 remaining. A two-point conversion pass was no good, leaving Portland with a 39-19 advantage.
The Bulldogs then embarked on their final touchdown drive, this one 62 yards in seven plays. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Rams and a 21-yard Zukowski run (combined with a 15-yard horsecollar tackle penalty on Deering) got Portland close and with 4;54 showing, Talbot ran in from 10-yards out, his third TD of the day. Pitts-Young again tried a fake on the PAT, but was stopped short, keeping the score 45-19.
With both teams playing several reserves, neither threatened again and the clock soon expired on the Bulldogs' long-awaited victory.
"This means a lot," said Pitts-Young. "We knew it would be a tough game."
"We sure did need this," said Portland coach Jim Hartman. "Sometimes it's hard to get the kids to believe. We had an emotional week last week and a horrid week this week. The rain killed us. We didn't know what (Deering would) do. Until tonight, they hadn't run up the middle and tonight they ran up the middle. We thought they'd have something new, but the kids played well."
Zukowski was the star of the night, bulling through tacklers, breaking free and wearing down the Deering defense to the tune of 305 yards.
"It was all up front," said Zukowski, deflecting praise to the offensive line. "The linemen did their jobs. They have a good D line, but our guys were tough, like they always are. It worked out for me to run the ball."
Suffice it say, he made an impression on both sidelines.
"I love blocking for (Justin)," said Pitts-Young. "He gets long runs. It gets us excited."
"He's absolutely amazing," Hartman said. "I tried hard not to make him the crutch."
"He's killed everybody," said Parsons. "He runs hard. Teams overplay the wing side and he beats you to the back side. I hope he has a great season and I hope he has a great post-high school career is well."
Pitts-Young finished with 82 yards and a TD on eight rushes.
"We came out and hit hard and pounded the ball," Pitts-Young said. "The line brought us to 500-some-odd yards."
Talbot had seven carries (three which wound up in the end zone), good for 73 yards and Hargrove gained 60 (with one score) on eight attempts.
Portland didn't complete a single pass (Talbot wound up 0-for-5 with one interception).
The Bulldogs finished with a 547-385 advantage in total yardage.
"We ran the ball well," Hartman said. "Jordan handled the offense well tonight. It's just his second game running the offense."
Despite all those impressive statistics, Portland has to play cleaner going forward. Ten penalties for 107 yards and three turnovers will spell doom at some point.
"The only things beating ourselves are penalties," Pitts-Young said. "We'll figure it out and be there."
"We have to knock off the penalties," Hartman said.
Deering was led by Pruitt, who had 110 yards and two TDs on nine carries and also six yards on two receptions (one for a touchdown). Chabot completed 16-of-25 passes, good for 111 yards and a score. Mike Marzilli caught six balls for 34 yards. Angell had three receptions for 38, Delgado three for 16 and Bernard a pair for 17.
The Rams committed three turnovers and were flagged 11 times for 117 yards.
Parsons took the glass-half-full approach in the postgame.
"We're continuing to get better," he said. "We prepared well this week. Tackling continues to be our main issue. I think as the season prgoresses, the guys will have a better idea of what we want. We just have to keep enjoying the preparation. We have to put in the time. We have the athletes to do it. The coaches are in place. It's just growing pains right now.
"Max played a heck of a game. Anthony Pruitt will be a force to be reckoned with. The guys showed a lot of heart running the football. Caleb Angell and Dom Bernard fought hard for first downs. Mike Marzilli. Those kids are out there giving the effort.
"I know Portland had our number today. They were licking their chops. They got this one. Tip your cap to them. They have a lot of good athletes. We struggled to stop the downhill run game. When you can't stop a team from running, you can't control the football."
Each squad faces a foe next week it's not used to seeing.
Deering makes the long trip north to 1-1 Bangor (coming off a 34-7 loss at Scarborough Friday).
"We'll get ready for Bangor," Parsons said. "We have to get better as a team. That's what it boils down to. It's not so much a matter of the matchup with them, it's us getting better. I feel our athletes can match up with any other athletes in the state. It's just a matter of making them better football players."
Portland is home against Edward Little (0-2, after a 23-12 home loss to Windham).
"I haven't seen EL yet," Hartman said. "I have to look at the tape."
He might want to watch this one again first.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
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