Fast start leads to Deering to 21-7 win over Windham, 3-1 mark
PORTLAND — The Deering Rams were seeking vengeance when the defending Class A state champion Windham football team rolled into town Friday night.
Almost exactly a year ago, Deering and Windham, both 2-1, met on the Eagles’ home field, with the Rams surging to an early 13-point lead, only to have Windham reel off 29 unanswered points en route to a 35-19 victory. The game was a turning point for both teams, as the Eagles ran the table and claimed their first-ever Gold Ball, while the Rams did not win again the rest of the way, finishing a disappointing 2-6.
Deering again brought a 2-1 record into this year’s contest after opening the season with a thrilling 21-14 victory over rival Portland, rolling over Gorham (41-6), then falling last week to perennial power Bonny Eagle (34-12). The Eagles (1-2) opened with losses to South Portland and Cheverus before beating Gorham last week.
From the outset, it was clear that the Rams were determined not to let history repeat itself. Again, they started fast, scoring twice in just over six minutes to start the game, but this time there was no Windham rally. The Deering defense stood firm as the Rams overcame three turnovers and some costly penalties to win, 21-7.
Deering is positioned well with a 3-1 record entering a tough second-half schedule that includes Thornton Academy, South Portland and Cheverus. Windham, meanwhile, dropped to 1-3 and is in danger of missing the postseason one year removed from its title run.
“It was definitely big to get out to a fast start,” said Deering senior quarterback Jamie Ross, who ran for two touchdowns and threw for the other one. “We knew coming in that they were going to be tough. We knew we had some payback to give them. We came out strong last year at their place, but came up short. We just laid an egg in the second half. This time, we got up, but we knew they weren’t out, so the biggest thing was just tightening up and not letting them score any more.”
The Rams started the game with an impressive opening drive, marching 80 yards in seven plays. It began with Ross connecting with senior tight end Devon Fitzgerald on back-to-back screen passes for gains of 19 and 26 yards. Junior running back Nick DiBiase carried for four yards, Ross passed to senior wide receiver John Hardy for another for another four, and junior Renaldo Lowry carried for 11 yards and a first down.
A penalty pushed the Rams back to the Windham 21, but DiBiase covered 17 yards on his next carry to set up first-and-goal from the 4. From there, Ross went left on a keeper, cut back, and dove into the end zone for the touchdown. He added the first of his three successful point-after kicks and Deering led 7-0 with 9:34 left in the first quarter.
Deering forced the Eagles to punt after just three plays on their ensuing possession and Hardy returned the punt 65 yards for an apparent touchdown, but a penalty for a block in the back on a player Hardy was already past brought the ball back to the Windham 35.
After three plays netted 9 yards, Ross converted a pivotal fourth-and-1 from the 26 with a 2-yard gain. On the next play, he threaded a tight spiral between two Windham defenders to connect with Hardy at the goal line in the middle of the field for a touchdown. The kick made it 14-0 with 5:39 left in the first quarter.
On the next Windham possession, senior quarterback Cody Laberge gave his team some life when he heaved a 45-yard pass to senior Drew Gagnon with Deering senior Mike Coombs draped around his waist, but the drive fizzled at the Deering 18 when the Rams halted the Eagles on fourth-and-3.
After the teams traded punts, Deering turned the ball over on its first possession of the second quarter. Ross had his pass tipped by Eagles sophomore Damien Sheppard, which allowed Laberge to pick it off, setting Windham up at the Deering 35.
From there, the Eagles turned to some trickery, with sophomore running back Colby Waterhouse taking the pitch then tossing a halfback pass to senior Nicholas Burton, who made the catch before getting tripped up inside the 1. The Deering defense held on first and second down, but Laberge took in a 1-yard keeper on third down to put Windham on the board. The PAT by sophomore Shawn Francoeur made it 14-7 with 7:16 left in the opening half.
Deering ended up with good field position after the teams traded punts again, as a 15-yard return by Hardy gave the Rams the ball at the Windham 32 with just under three minutes to go in the half. A 10-yard gain by Ross followed by two 6-yard carries from DiBiase gave Deering first-and-goal from the 10, but a sack, two penalties and two incompletions resulted in the Rams turning the ball over on downs. Windham was content to run out the final seconds of the half following its defensive stand.
Windham had its opening drive of the second half extended thanks to a roughing-the-punter penalty on Deering, but was forced to punt again four plays later.
“Defensively, we always go after the punt,” said Deering coach Greg Stilphen. “We don’t like it (when there’s a penalty), but we have to live with the results sometimes. We’re just trying to make plays.”
After Ross hit Hardy for a 9-yard pickup, then scrambled for 6 more, he was intercepted again, this time by senior Nathan Hjelm, who was able to snatch the ball just before it hit the turf after it deflected off multiple players. Three plays later, Windham returned the favor, with Coombs picking off a Laberge pass, giving Deering the ball at midfield. Ross threw to Fitzgerald for 7 yards and sandwiched runs of 4 and 13 yards around a 12-yard carry by DiBiase. A personal foul on Windham gave Deering first-and-goal from the 7. Ross took it in from there, added the kick and gave the Rams a 21-7 lead with 5:01 left in the third quarter.
Windham kept its next drive alive with a successful fake punt, but could not convert a fourth-and-1 from the Deering 41. The Rams drove to the Windham 34 after Ross hit Hardy for a 32-yard gain, but an offensive pass interference penalty two plays later pushed Deering back out near midfield. On third-and-22, Ross was again picked off by Laberge, this time at the Windham 9.
After gaining two first downs, the Eagles punted again. Deering then ate up more than four minutes of clock before having to punt it back to Windham with 3:46 to play. The Eagles, pinned at their 6 after a 50-yard punt by Ross, got 30 yards on a Laberge keeper, but ultimately turned the ball over on downs, allowing Deering to run out the clock.
“We did a great job playing defense, getting stops,” Stilphen said. “Then we were able to move the ball offensively. That’s what good football teams do.”
Ross finished with 102 yards and two TDs on 23 carries. He was 10-of-20 in the air for 145 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
“I missed a lot of open receivers tonight,” Ross said. “It’s definitely something we have to look at on film. Definitely something I’ve got to work on.”
Ross said it was reassuring to know that despite some miscues, the Rams were still able to prevail in a decisive fashion.
“As tough as Windham is, as hard as they played, it’s a great feeling knowing that it was 21-7,” he said. “We didn’t let them score in the second half. The defense played outstanding. Nobody’s perfect, but they played about as perfect as it could get. Offense, starting with me, can use some improvement."
DiBiase ran for 56 yards on 10 carries. Lowry left the game with an injury in the second quarter.
For Windham, Laberge carried 15 times for 73 yards, while Waterhouse ran 16 times for 60 yards. Laberge was 9-of-23 passing for 69 yards with an interception.
“They were state champions last year,” Stilphen said. “They’re playing some young guys and they’re building a tradition. Tradition does not graduate. We talk about that all the time. We’re not happy that we were 2-6 last year. These players want to make their statement at Deering. They want to put their mark in history, in the ledger, that they’re a good football team.”
The Rams (fifth in the latest Western A Crabtree Points standings) go to 4-0 Thornton Academy Saturday at 1:30. Last year, Deering lost at home to the Golden Trojans, 30-0.