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Cheverus stays unbeaten, rolls to 21-0 win over South Portland

Sports

Cheverus stays unbeaten, rolls to 21-0 win over South Portland

PORTLAND—On the heels of its stirring upset win over Windham, the Cheverus Stags football team avoided a letdown Saturday afternoon, producing yet another strong performance in a 21-0 victory over visiting South Portland at Boulos Stadium.

The Stags improved to 3-0 behind a dominating rushing game and staunch defense, holding the Red Riots (1-2) to just 133 yards of offense while confirming their status as a top Western Class A contender.

"It was huge," said senior Matt Place, who rushed for 98 yards on 17 carries. "Coming in, we didn't take these guys lightly. All week,
we got ready for them. Every game is the same. We have the same
attitude in every game."

A solid 48 minutes

Cheverus made the leap a year ago, winning five games while qualifying for the playoffs. Even though the Stags were eliminated in the quarterfinal round by eventual state champ Bonny Eagle, they earned an abundance of confidence and have built on it early in 2009.

Cheverus opened with an eye-opening 30-6 victory at Gorham, then dazzled with a 27-13 home victory over preseason darling Windham.

South Portland, meanwhile, coming off a 2-6 campaign, hoped to turn the corner in 2009, but hasn't yet delivered the goods this fall. After losing 40-13 at Windham, the Red Riots barely held on for a 7-0 win last week over Westbrook in their home opener.

Last year, Cheverus enjoyed a 20-12 triumph at South Portland. Two years ago, the Red Riots snapped a two-plus season winless streak with a 14-6 win at the Stags, but history wasn't about to repeat on Saturday.

The visitors got the ball first. After a Cheverus too-many-men on the field penalty gave South Portland one first down, the Red Riots were forced to punt. After a 15-yard punt, the Stags took over at South Portland's 36, but on the second play of the drive, Place fumbled and Red Riots senior Tanner Kierstead recovered at Cheverus' 34. The visitors weren't able to take advantage, however, as senior quarterback Jon DiBiase was intercepted by Stags senior James Rutter on first down.

Cheverus then drove 44 yards on seven plays, eating up three minutes to take the lead for good.

The Stags got close on a 22-yard burst from Place, then found the end zone when on fourth-and-3 at the 4, junior quarterback Peter Gwilym found junior Liam Hobbins for the touchdown. The extra point failed, but the hosts were up 6-0.

South Portland appeared primed to answer when senior Mike Foley rode a great individual effort to a 55-yard kickoff return to the Cheverus 44, but after the visitors picked up one first down, the Stags' defense stiffened and the Red Riots had to punt from the 32. Junior Cal Skillins' boot was blocked by Cheverus senior Joseph Falconieri and the first period ended with the hosts up 6-0.

"We had some special teams fiascos early, from mishandling the opening kickoff to a couple of punts that kept the defense out there way too long," said South Portland coach Steve Stinson. "The defense faced a short field."

Early in the second quarter, after driving to the South Portland 5, the Stags gave the ball up on downs.  South Portland went three-and-out and Cheverus got the ball back at midfield. The Stags then took seven plays and 3 minutes, 25 seconds to drive for another score. Place got it started with a 19-yard burst.  On third-and-3 from the 8, senior Matt Ball raced into the end zone. Gwilym then ran in the two-point conversion and Cheverus was up 14-0 with 3:55 to play in the first half.

DiBiase was intercepted again on South Portland's next play, but the ensuing Stags' drive ended at the Red Riots' 19. The visitors ran out the clock on the first half and still had hope, down 14-0.

Cheverus drove into South Portland territory early in the third, but again the visitors' defense held, forcing a punt. Unfortunately for the Red Riots, the offense couldn't answer, giving the ball up on a senior Ryan Curit fumble. The Stags then drove from the South Portland 42 to the 4, but on fourth-and-goal, Gwilym was thrown for a loss and Cheverus turned the ball over on downs.

The Red Riots could do nothing offensively and to punt the ball away again. With 5.1 seconds left in the third period, Cheverus took over at its 47. After senior Patrick Chadbourne caught a 41-yard pass from Gwilym, a personal foul put the Stags on the South Portland 6 as the third period gave way to the fourth.

Four plays into the final period, Cheverus padded its lead when Ball scored from the 1. Sophomore Cameron Olsen added the extra point for a 21-0 advantage. 

The Red Riots gained a first down on their next possession when DiBiase found Foley on an 11-yard pass, but that was as far as they'd progress. South Portland got the ball twice more, but on the first series, DiBiase was intercepted by Olsen and the second picked up a pair of first downs before time expired on the Stags' 21-0 victory.

"We did some nice things controlling the ball and we played with maturity," said Cheverus coach John Wolfgram.
"We really stayed focused. That's what we're trying to do, play games
each week. I thought we played with
good emotion. We were very good on defense. We play well on the line of
scrimmage and run well to the ball. Good teams have solid defenses. I
think we're pretty good."

Cheverus rushed for over 200 yards and mustered 301 yards of offense. In addition to Place's production, Ball had 62 yards and two TDs on 15 carries. Sophomore Spencer Cooke gained 36 yards on 15 rushes. Gwilym ran for 17 yards on two carries and passed for 70 on three-of-seven attempts with a TD.

"We played well," said Place, who missed most of the second half with an ankle injury. "We stepped up big. Spencer ran well and so did Matty
Ball. I heard that they were one of the most physical teams in the
league."

For South Portland, Curit ran for 112 yards on 19 carries. DiBiase completed just 3-of-9 passes for 12 yards and was intercepted three times. The Red Riots struggled on offense, but their defense stepped up on several occasions to keep the final score respectable.

"For us to keep it 14-0 into the fourth quarter was a big testament
and a confidence builder," Stinson said. "Offensively, we weren't able to be physical
enough. We were lined up where they were supposed to be lined up, but
the more physical team controlled the line of scrimmage. We couldn't
get our offensive rhythm established early. We didn't make the plays
when we had a chance to. Cheverus dictated and controlled the game.
They're a physical team and they didn't make mistakes. They
controlled all three aspects of the game. They're a good football team.

"We're beyond getting positives out of losses. That would have been
good a couple years ago. Now, we're disappointed and embarrassed. It's
not the best coaching we could have done and not the best playing we
could have done. It was just a poor showing for South Portland
football. We're better than that."

Midway point

Week four of the eight-week regular season arrives next weekend. Cheverus is sitting prettier than it has in years, while South Portland has a lot of work to do make the postseason.

The Stags travel across town to Fitzpatrick Stadium Friday night to meet Portland (1-2), which features former Stag running back Willie Walsh.

"We'll go enjoy this one for the weekend and go back to work on Monday," said Place. "It'll be fun to see Willie again."

"We're growing," Wolfgram added. "It's a nice place to be. We have a long way to go. We have another tough game next week."

The Red Riots have the daunting task of going to defending champion Bonny Eagle (3-0).  Despite the challenge, South Portland is still confident.

"The conference and year is pretty screwy," Stinson said. "We can't get a bead on how good or bad anyone is. There's a lot to be done in this year. We have all the opportunities we need. We still play Bonny Eagle, Deering, Portland. We have to make sure we come to play football. We can't waste a play on game days."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net

Photo: Jason Veilleux
Cheverus sophomore Spencer Cooke was corralled by South Portland senior Mike Foley (24) and junior Cal Skillings during the Stags' 21-0 win Saturday.

Photo: Jason Veilleux
Cheverus senior Matt Ball (who rushed for 62 yards and two TDs on 15 carries) found a hole during Saturday's action.

Photo: Jason Veilleux
South Portland senior running back Ryan Curit (112 yards on 29 carries) tried to elude Cheverus senior Matt Ball Saturday. The Red Riots fell to 1-2 after the 21-0 loss.

Photo: Jason Veilleux
South Portland sophomore Brendan Horton was tackled by Cheverus sophomore Cameron Olsen for no gain on a pass play in the first half.

Photo: Jason Veilleux
South Portland senior receiver Mike Foley was held in check by the Cheverus defense all day.