PORTLAND—It wasn’t about revenge, the Stags said.
It was about making a statement.
And after the sixth referendum of the 2013 season, the verdict is in.
Whatever the motivation, without a doubt, the Cheverus football team is once again truly amazing.
Saturday afternoon at Boulos Stadium, the Stags hosted Thornton Academy, the one team to beat them since the start of the 2010 season, a loss which came last year in the regional final, snapping Cheverus’ Class A state record 34-game win streak.
But while the Stags were clearly fired up to play this one, it wasn’t because of what happened last November, instead it was played with an eye toward the championship Cheverus hopes to win this November.
After a sluggish start, the Joe Fitzpatrick Show began midway through the first quarter, as the standout junior back broke free for a 65-yard touchdown run to put the Stags ahead to stay.
Another Fitzpatrick TD run, this time from just 2-yards out, with a little extra flair thrown in for good measure, made it 14-0 Cheverus after one quarter.
The Stags then ended all doubt in the second period, scoring four touchdowns, two on short Fitzpatrick runs and two more from unheralded junior Liam LaFountain, who scored on a 23-yard rush and was the beneficiary of a perfectly placed 38-yard scoring pass from senior quarterback Ethan Jordan, to make it 42-7 at halftime.
The will of the defending Class A champions had long been broken by that point and Cheverus put its win on ice in the second half, as Fitzpatrick ran for two more scores and the Stags went on a mindbogglingly easy 56-7 triumph.
Fitzpatrick had a day to remember, rushing 30 times for a whopping 265 yards and six touchdowns, but he was only part of the story.
Senior backfield mate Cody O’Brien had 114 yards rushing and spearheaded a defensive effort with his devastating hits.
Cheverus played its best game to date this fall, produced 477 yards of offense (464 on the ground), improved to 6-0, extended its regular season unbeaten streak to 31 games, made it 40 victories in its last 41 outings and dropped the Golden Trojans to 4-2 in the process.
“We’re more into statements about 2013 than we are about payback for 2012,” said legendary Stags coach John Wolfgram. “(The Golden Trojans) were a good team last year, but it’s not last year. We did a good job making a statement of who we are this year. We played more consistently today than any other game. In all phases, defense, kick game and offense, we executed well.”
While those on the outside will focus on the revenge angle, Cheverus won’t even entertain discussion of it, treating Thornton Academy as just the latest team on the schedule.
Of course, human nature being human nature, you have to believe the Stags had Saturday circled on the calendar from the moment the schedule was released.
Because Thornton Academy came to Cheverus last November and not only ended the Stags’ two-year reign as Class A champion with a 20-13 victory in the Western A Final, but the Golden Trojans also ended Cheverus’ win streak.
The teams also played in the regular season last fall for the first time in over a decade and the Stags prevailed in Saco, 28-14.
This season, Cheverus, to the surprise of some, has remained its dominant self, while Thornton Academy, for good reason, hasn’t been the juggernaut it was predicted to be.
The Stags won at Portland in the opener, 35-25, then embarked on a run of blowouts, decimating visiting Lewiston, 67-8, visiting Oxford Hills, 54-0, host Windham, 57-22, and visiting Edward Little, 48-0, giving Cheverus a composite advantage of 261-55 over its opponents so far.
The Golden Trojans were heavy favorites to repeat and senior standout Andrew Libby was the odds-on favorite to win the Fitzpatrick Trophy, but in the opener at South Portland, Libby suffered a season-ending knee injury and Thornton Academy was upset by the Red Riots, 26-13. The Golden Trojans bounced back with wins over host Noble (38-0), visiting Scarborough (19-15), visiting Sanford (25-9) and host Massabesic (55-12).
Saturday, while Thornton Academy entered as the defending champion, it didn’t take Cheverus long to show that it has no peer.
The Stags got the ball first, but after picking up one first down, O’Brien fumbled and Golden Trojans senior Cody Lynn recovered at the 48, seemingly giving the visitors a golden opportunity.
Instead, they squandered it and their best chance to make things interesting.
After sophomore quarterback Austin McCrum hit Lynn for six yards, senior Jess Meikle ran for two yards, then fumbled (he was injured on the play and wouldn’t return) and Cheverus senior Will Hilton pounced on the loose pigskin to end the threat.
The Stags went three-and-out and punted, but after gaining one first down, Thornton Academy had to punt as well and with 6:11 to go in the first period, Cheverus took over at its 23.
Two plays later, the Stags were in the lead for good.
In a theme that would repeat all afternoon, O’Brien set the stage for a Fitzpatrick touchdown, as he ran for 12 yards on first down. Fitzpatrick then got the handoff, burst through a hole on the right side of the line and soon was running free with several Golden Trojans’ defenders fruitlessly in pursuit. Fitzpatrick didn’t stop until he crossed the goal line 65 yards away and although usually dead-on junior placekicker Patrick Mourmouras missed the extra point, Cheverus had a 6-0 lead with 5:42 left in the stanza.
Three plays into the ensuing Thornton Academy drive, McCrum’s pass went through a receiver’s fingers into the hands of Stags sophomore Isaac Dunn, who returned the interception 32 yards before finally being brought down at the Golden Trojans’ 3.
It took just two plays for the hosts to strike again, as Fitzpatrick ran for a yard, then took it in from the 2, only after a dazzling spin move left a defender grasping for air.
“I just sort of go with the flow,” said Fitzpatrick. “I see the blocks and go the opposite way. Once I’m in the open field, I try to never get caught from behind. The spin move was kind of an accident. A great accident. I try not to think a lot. I just try to have fun out there.”
Cheverus went for the two-point conversion and Jordan found senior Noah Stebbins open in the end zone and with 3:16 left in the quarter, the lead was 14-0.
It took less than nine minutes for the hosts to exceed the point total they managed in the regional final loss a year ago.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Stags got the ball back on the Thornton Academy 47 and as the first period (which saw Cheverus enjoy a 119-39 edge in yardage) gave way to the second, they marched 47 yards in nine plays for another score.
The steady running of Fitzpatrick and O’Brien set the table and three plays after Fitzpatrick gained a yard on fourth-and-1 from the Golden Trojans’ 28, LaFountain got to touch the football for the first time and on a counter play, burst through a big hole up the gut and completed a 23-yard scoring jaunt. This time, Mourmouras nailed the point-after and with 10:06 left in the first half, the Stags enjoyed a 21-0 advantage.
Cheverus’ defense, after allowing one first down, held again and with 6:38 left before halftime, after just a 14-yard wind-blown punt, took over at its 46, setting the stage for another touchdown.
This drive took eight plays and culminated with a 2-yard Fitzpatrick run. With 3:54 remaining in the half, Mourmouras’ extra point pushed the lead to 28-0.
The Thornton Academy offense then produced its one big highlight on the first play of its next series, as junior Demel Ruff took a handoff at the 20, broke a tackle, then ran free down the left sideline. The Stags’ pursuit couldn’t catch him and he completed an 80-yard run to get the Golden Trojans on the board. Junior Chris Camire added the extra point to cut the deficit to 28-7 and give the visitors a glimmer of hope.
It was quickly dashed.
The Stags needed just three plays to push the lead back to 28 points, as Fitzpatrick ran for 14 yards on first down and O’Brien ran free for 51 yards to the Thornton Academy 1. Fitzpatrick did the honors, bulling in on the next snap and Mourmouras’ extra point made it 35-7 Cheverus with 2:38 to play in the half.
The hosts would get one more TD, as they forced a punt, then converted a brilliant pass play.
With only 25.4 seconds to go before the break, Jordan, who hadn’t completed a pass to that point and wouldn’t attempt another, perfectly dropped a bomb into the hands of LaFountain, who was closely defended by Lynn. LaFountain fell into the end zone, putting the finishing touches on a 38-yard score. Mourmouras drilled another point after and the Stags were fully in control at the break, 42-7.
Cheverus had 310 yards of first half offense, while surrendering just 138 (80 on one play). Fitzpatrick had 141 yards and four scores on 18 carries (an impressive total in a complete game), while O’Brian had 101 yards on nine rushes.
The competitive phase of the game had long been decided, but Wolfgram kept the Stags starters on the field, mainly because they hadn’t played a full game since Opening Night.
After a Thornton Academy three-and-out to start the third period, the Stags took over at their 44 and marched 56 yards on six plays for a 49-7 lead. Fitzpatrick capped it with a 35-yard scamper.
After trading punts, the Golden Trojans appeared to be on the verge of scoring as the third quarter gave way to the fourth, but after getting as far as the Cheverus 21, a false start penalty, a four-yard loss (McCrum was tackled behind the line of scrimmage by junior Matt O’Leary) and three incomplete McCrum passes forced a loss of downs.
Then, in their final series, the Stags’ starters embarked on a 70-yard drive, chewing up almost five minutes. Runs of 14- and 27-yards by Fitzpatrick got Cheverus close and with 4:20 to play, Fitzpatrick scored from 26-yards out, again employing a fancy spin move en route to paydirt. Mourmouras added one final extra point.
After another Golden Trojans’ punt, Cheverus went to its bench, where one more player had an impressive showing, as sophomore Justin Johnston rushed five times for 38 yards, draining the clock and putting the finishing touches on the 56-7 victory.
“There was a lot of lingering emotion, but it wasn’t about payback, more about making a statement for this year,” O’Brien said. “This was a long time coming and it feels very good. We had a great week of preparation and we played our hearts out.
“Preparation this week was the same as any other week,” said Fitzpatrick. “It went extremely well. That was the biggest key to how we performed today. We were mature in practice so we could be mature today. We treat each team the same. We knew it was a big game just because of what happened last year, but we never get too ahead of ourselves.”
“I felt we prepared well this week,” added Wolfgram. “We executed very well. We played well on the line of scrimmage. Kids ran well. Ethan, when he had to, threw the ball well. It’s definitely the best game we’ve played this year. We were physical and disciplined. We played like we wanted to play. They’re a quality opponent. They’re a good team with great athletes, but we came to play. We know as we go down the stretch we’ll have to play 48 minutes, so it was good we got to play 48 minutes.”
The final statistics were as emphatic as you would expect considering the final score.
Total yardage read, 477-195, in the Stags’ favor. Almost all of that came on the ground.
Fitzpatrick continue to prove himself a worthy heir to Spencer Cooke and Donald Goodrich with his consistent excellence every time he takes the field. This time, his 30 rushes resulted in nearly nine yards a carry and a touchdown on every fifth attempt.
Fitzpatrick paid tribute to his teammates.
“Our lead blocking and our line were really big,’ said Fitzpatrick. “They took care of business. They knew their assignments and executed well. It was a great day for us mentally. I thought that their defense is very good, but we knew what we could do to get them off their tempo. We just switched it up so they couldn’t keep up. That was key today.”
While Fitzpatrick wouldn’t toot his horn, his backfield mate was happy to do so.
“I knew he’d be good, but I know idea it would be to this magnitude,” O’Brien said. “He’s an amazing athlete. Some of his moves are moves you see in video games.”
O’Brien had 114 yards on 15 rushes and really deserved to reach the end zone at least once, but it wasn’t to be.
“It’s not about me,” O’Brien said. “I’m just glad we got the touchdown afterwards. I got it down there and we got it in eventually. It was persistence. The line does a great job up front. All five of them.”
“Cody ran well,” said Wolfgram. “He played well on both sides of the ball.”
LaFountain had 47 yards and a score on two rushes and Johnston made an impact in his limited time.
Jordan only threw five passes and only completed one, but it was a nice one, good for 38 yards and a score to LaFountain, who had his team’s lone reception.
Cheverus did have one turnover and was flagged seven times for 64 yards, meaning perfection hasn’t yet been achieved.
For Thornton Academy, Ruff had 133 yards and a score on 17 attempts. The Golden Trojans only managed 17 rushing yards otherwise. McCrum only completed 6-of-18 passes for 29 yards and an interception. Lynn caught four passes for 23 yards.
For most of the day, the defending champions weren’t able to do much of anything with the ball.
“Defensively, it starts up front with our line,” said O’Brien. “Our tackles, (junior) Dan O’Brion and Matt O’Leary, (junior) Matt Drouin at nose, they do a great job. Our ends do a great job as well.”
Thornton Academy turned the ball over twice and had two penalties for 19 yards.
There’s a decent chance Cheverus and Thornton Academy will meet again Nov. 23 in the Class A state final at Fitzpatrick Stadium, but that’s several weeks away and both squads have business to attend to in the meantime.
The Golden Trojans (second to Bonny Eagle in the Western A Crabtree Points standings at press time) look to return to form Saturday, when they host the undefeated Scots in a game critical for playoff positioning. Thornton Academy then closes at home versus rival Biddeford.
The Stags (a solid first in Eastern A) go to Bangor Friday, then close at Deering Oct. 25.
“We’ll watch film tomorrow and focus on what we did good and what we did bad and we’ll focus on that on Monday to prepare for teams down the road,” Fitzpatrick said.
“We have to keep playing our game,” O’Brien said. “As coach says, we have to play with maturity, passion, poise and purpose. We have to continue to do that.”
“We’ll enjoy this one right now and worry about Bangor tomorrow,” Wolfgram added. “The turnaround’s so quick, so we want to take some time to enjoy this.”
It was a very sweet win indeed.
Cheverus senior Noah Stebbins has a pass just slip through his fingertips.
Cheverus junior Liam LaFountain makes a gorgeous 38-yard touchdown reception with Thornton Academy senior Cody Lynn draped all over him to give the Stags a 42-7 halftime lead.
Cheverus sophomore Justin Johnston is brought down by Thornton Academy senior Carter Davis on a kick return.
Cheverus sophomore Isaac Dunn races down the sideline after a first quarter interception.
Cheverus senior Cody O’Brien, who had a stellar game on both sides of the ball, rushing for 114 yards, while also making several bruising hits on defense, turns the corner on Thornton Academy senior Cody Lynn.
Cheverus junior Joe Fitzpatrick, who rushed for a staggering 265 yards and six touchdowns, fights his way through Thornton Academy sophomore Owen Elliott.
Cheverus coach John Wolfgram relays instructions to senior quarterback Ethan Jordan.
Cheverus junior Liam LaFountain (far right) is congratulated by a pair of teammates following a first half touchdown Saturday afternoon. The Stags avenged last year’s regional final loss with a stunningly decisive 56-7 home win over Thornton Academy.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
TA- 0 7 0 0- 7
C- 14 28 7 7- 56
C- Fitzpatrick 65 run (kick failed)
C- Fitzpatrick 2 run (Stebbins pass from Jordan)
C- LaFountain 23 run (Mourmouras kick)
C- Fitzpatrick 2 run (Mourmouras kick)
TA- Ruff 80 run (Camire kick)
C- Fitzpatrick 1 run (Mourmouras kick)
C- LaFountain 38 pass from Jordan (Mourmouras kick)
C- Fitzpatrick 35 run (Mourmouras kick)
C- Fitzpatrick 26 run (Mourmouras kick)
TA- Ruff 17-133-1, Laverriere 5-13, McCrum 4-9, Meikle 1-2, Davis 2- (-7)
C- Fitzpatrick 30-265-6, O’Brien 15-114, LaFountain 2-47-1, Johnston 5-38
TA- McCrum 6-18-29-0-1
C- Jordan 1-5-38-1-0
TA- Lynn 4-23, Davis 2-6
C- LaFountain 1-38-1