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Portland senior Ben Stasium, left, is congratulated after his first quarter punt return for a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ 37-7 home win over rival Cheverus Friday night.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
C- 7 0 0 0- 7
P- 21 9 0 7- 37
P- Levine 10 run (Vumpa kick)
P- Stasium 63 punt return (Vumpa kick)
P- Elowitch 63 run (Vumpa kick)
C- Lindstedt 10 pass from Reali (Harris kick)
P- Elowitch 1 run (Vumpa kick)
P- Safety, Reali tackled in end zone
P- Moriba 10 run (Vumpa kick)
PORTLAND—Last weekend, Portland’s football team showed just how potent it could be on offense.
Friday evening at Fitzpatrick Stadium, the Bulldogs’ special teams and defensive units took center stage.
Hosting longtime rival Cheverus, Portland quickly built on last week’s decisive season-opening win at Windham by driving 60 yards to start the game, taking a 7-0 lead on a 10-yard run from senior Ben Levine.
Then, after the Bulldogs’ defense forced a Stags’ three-and-out, senior Ben Stasium returned the ensuing punt 63 yards for another touchdown.
On the following Cheverus drive, Portland junior Jamal Moriba intercepted a pass, which wouldn’t be his last, and moments later, senior Zack Elowitch broke free for a 63-yard touchdown run for an apparently commanding 21-0 lead.
But Cheverus, coming off a big win of its own in its opener, got on the board when junior quarterback Marc Reali hit senior Teigan Lindstedt from 10-yards out to make it 21-7 after one frenetic quarter.
In the second period, the Stags twice drove into Bulldogs’ territory with a chance to draw closer, but after fumbling the first time, Reali was intercepted by Moriba, who returned the ball 60 yards to set up a 1-yard Elowitch run to restore the three-touchdown lead.
Then, just before halftime, Elowitch pinned Cheverus inside its 1 and on the next play, Reali was tackled in the end zone for a safety, giving Portland a 30-7 advantage at the break.
The Stags couldn’t muster a second half rally, finishing with negative yardage in the final two quarters, and the Bulldogs added one more score, as Moriba scored on a 10-yard burst in the fourth period, and Portland went on to a 37-7 victory.
The Bulldogs improved to 2-0 on the young season, dropped Cheverus to 1-1 and set up a compelling showdown at perennial powerhouse Bonny Eagle next week.
“Special teams sets the tone,” said Stasium. “It’s such a good way to change momentum.”
Cheverus, which lost to Windham in last year’s quarterfinals, started with a flourish, handling visiting Massabesic, 43-6, in its first outing last Saturday.
Portland, meanwhile, coming off a four-win season which ended with a loss to Windham in the regional final, got a measure of revenge from that game last Friday when it rolled at the Eagles, 49-0, behind a 327-yard rushing attack.
Portland and Cheverus have played their share of entertaining contests over the years, including last fall, when the Stags built an early lead and held off the visiting Bulldogs, 31-21, to cut Portland’s all-time lead in the series, which dates to 1924, to 47-36, with five ties.
Friday evening, under comfortable late-summer skies (65-degrees at kickoff), the Bulldogs controlled all three phases in starting 2-0 for the first time since 2015.
Cheverus won the opening coin toss, but deferred possession to the second half.
Stasium then returned the opening kickoff 27 yards to the Portland 40 and 10 plays and 5 minutes, 5 seconds later, the Bulldogs were on top to stay.
Levine got things started with a four-yard run, but a bad pitch on the next snap led to a nine-yard loss, setting up third-and-15.
That’s where Stasium made his first big play.
Portland junior quarterback Sam Knop dropped back and launched a deep pass down the left sideline that appeared too long for Stasium to catch, but he got past the defender, dove and came up with the ball for a 34-yard gain a first down at the Stags’ 31.
“I ran a route where I went inside, then came back out and I was fortunate to get the cornerback to bite a little bit,” said Stasium. “‘Knopy’ put it in my reach. I laid out. It almost slipped out, but I was able to hold on to it.”
After Elowitch ran for eight yards, he was held to no gain, but on third-and-2, Elowitch moved the chains with a three-yard pickup to the 20. After Levine ran for nine- and three-yards to set up first-and-goal at the 8, another bad snap led to a two-yard loss. That proved to be a momentary hiccup, as on the next snap, Levine got the ball and bulled up the gut into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown with 6:47 on the first quarter clock.
Freshman kicking revelation Cristo Vumpa added the extra point for a 7-0 advantage.
Cheverus took over at its 29 and after junior Sean Tompkins ran for two yards, Reali twice threw incomplete and the Stags had to punt.
Levine received Tompkins’ punt at the Portland 37 and ran to his left, avoided some traffic on the sideline, then cut back and turned on the jets into the end zone to complete a 63-yard return.
“I thought they were going to wrap me up or trip me up, but I was able to kind of hop and step over some legs and get some open space,” Stasium said. “I got some good blocks. That was huge.”
“Stasium is a great player,” said Bulldogs coach Jim Hartman. “I’m glad he’s getting credit as a senior. He’s been a model kid. Punt returns like that are always back-breakers.”
Vumpa added the PAT for a 14-0 lead with 5:42 to go in the first quarter.
Cheverus started its next possession at its 37, but junior Ian Trafford was held to no gain, Trafford ran for three yards, then Reali attempted to hit senior Akera Oryem deep, but Moriba got in front of him, leaped and intercepted the ball at the Portland 28.
That set the stage for another Bulldogs’ touchdown, as they drove 72 yards on three plays in 92 seconds.
After Levine ran for six yards, then three and after a Portland timeout, Elowitch got a pitch, ran to the left, turned the corner, then blew past the defense for the 63-yard score with 2:33 still to play in the frame. Vumpa’s extra point pushed the lead to 21-0.
To the Stags’ credit, they refused to buckle and in a five-play drive that navigated 65 yards in 92 seconds, they got back in the game.
After throwing incomplete, Reali rolled right and found Oryem behind the defense for 50 yards and a first down at the Bulldogs’ 15. After another incomplete pass, Lindstedt ran for five yards, setting up third-and-5. After a Cheverus timeout, Reali rolled left, got pressured, then flipped the ball forward to Lindstedt, who caught it and ran into the end zone to complete the 10-yard scoring play with 53.1 seconds left on the first period clock. Senior Cam Harris’ PAT cut the deficit to 21-7.
Portland started its next drive at its 21 after a penalty and after Elowitch lost a yard, Levine ran for two yards on the final play of a first period which saw the Bulldogs out-gain the Stags, 133 yards to 70.
On the first play of the second quarter, Levine ran for six yards, but that set up fourth down and Elowitch punted the ball back to Cheverus, which began at its 41.
The Stags looked to drive and draw closer, but would turn the ball over.
After Lindstedt rushed for two yards and Tompkins gained seven, Trafford ran for seven yards and a first down at the Portland 43. Tompkins ran for 12 more yards on a sweep to the right, but on the next snap, Cheverus fumbled and even though Lindstedt wound up on the ball, possession was given to the Bulldogs.
Portland started at its 33, but a holding penalty short-circuited the drive. After Levine ran for five yards, Knop lost two , then Elowitch was dropped for a two-yard loss by sophomore Anthony Pacitti necessitating another punt.
After a short Elowitch punt and a Bulldogs’ penalty, the Stags took over at the Portland 42 with 6:47 to go in the half, but again were stymied.
After Tompkins ran for 12 yards and Lindstedt picked up seven, Reali fell on a bad snap to set up third-and-3 from the 23. Reali then threw a pass to the left sideline which Moriba not only intercepted, but he ran it back 60 yards, all the way to the Cheverus 15 to turn the tide for good.
“I thought they were running the ball, but luckily I was in the right place when he lobbed it over,” Moriba said.
“Jamal is a heck of a football player,” Hartman said. “He did a lot of things for us tonight.”
Four plays and 2:19 later, Portland had another touchdown.
After Levine ran for nine yards to the six, starting right, going left, then bulling over a tackler, Elowitch set up first-and-goal at the 4 with a two-yard pickup. Elowitch got close with a three-yard run, then ended the drive with a one-yard dive with 2:48 remaining in the half. Vumpa added the extra point for a 28-7 advantage.
The Stags started their next drive on their 30 and it took all of one play for Moriba to record his third interception, this one the most impressive of all.
Reali tried to go deep to Tompkins, but the ball deflected off his fingertips and Moriba stretched out to corral it at the Portland 39.
“Sean Tompkins is a great player who is very fast,” Moriba said. “(The ball) tipped off his hand and I just dove and caught it.”
The Bulldogs got a 26-yard scamper from Knop, but Knop was thrown for a three-yard loss by junior Mitch Cloutier, Knop threw incomplete, then Lindstedt dropped Levine for a one-yard loss to force a punt.
Elowitch dropped the snap, but recovered and punted the ball, which settled inside the 1 with 22.3 seconds remaining.
Cheverus needed to only avoid losing yardage to get to the half without further damage, but on a keeper, Reali was swarmed by seniors Grant Jacobson, Koa Farnsworth and Nate Kapongo in the end zone for a two-point safety, giving Portland a 30-7 advantage at halftime.
“Portland is a good team, but we inflicted more pain on ourselves than they did,” said Stags coach Mike Vance. “Our inexperience really showed tonight. We’re trying to fast-track some young, inexperienced players and you could see the difference between the two teams. They’ve been in this situation before and it was a learning experience for us.”
In the first half, Portland had a slight 171-114 edge in yardage, but its four forced turnovers and two huge special teams plays helped break it open.
Cheverus got the ball to start the second half, but went three-and-out, as Lindstedt had a four-yard run and Reali twice threw incomplete.
With 10:53 on the third quarter clock, the Bulldogs started at their 16 and embarked on a drive that chewed up the rest of the frame, but didn’t result in points.
After a one-yard Levine run and an illegal motion penalty, Knop hit Jacobson for 15 yards and a first down, as Jacobson made a nice diving reception. Moriba got his first carry and gained six yards, Elowitch picked up one, Knop ran for two and on fourth-and-1, Knop kept the ball on a sneak and barely moved the chains.
After Knop threw to Levine for 13 yards to midfield, Elowitch ran for eight and Levine did the same for a first down at the 34. Moriba gained five yards, Stasium caught a pass for nine more, breaking several tackles in the process, Knop gained three yards, Elowitch picked up two and on third-and-5, Moriba rumbled for 13 more and a first-and-goal at the 2.
After Elowitch gained a yard to the 1, an illegal motion penalty backed Portland up to the 5 and Elowitch was held to no gain on the final play of the quarter.
On the first play of the fourth period, Knop, under pressure, attempted to throw and was intercepted by Oryem at the 3, giving the ball back to the Stags.
Cheverus went nowhere, as Lindstedt was held to no gain, Reali threw incomplete and Tompkins ran for a yard.
With 9:56 left in the game, the Bulldogs got the ball at their 46. Elowitch ran for a yard and after Knop threw incomplete, Moriba took off for 26 yards to the Stags’ 27. After Levine ran for two yards, Elowitch gained three and Knop threw incomplete, Vumpa came on to attempt a 40-yard field goal, but Tompkins got around the edge and blocked it.
The Stags quickly went three-and-out again, as Reali threw three straight incomplete passes.
After a punt, with 6:05 remaining, Portland got the ball back at the Cheverus 41 and five plays and 2:41 later, the Bulldogs scored their final points.
Moriba handled the ball on every down, running for eight-, 10-, six- and seven-yards before surging up the middle and scoring on a 10-yard run with 3:24 to go.
“I was excited to run,” Moriba said. “I love running. The line opened big holes for me. I just ran straight through.”
Vumpa’s final PAT stretched the lead to 37-7.
Vumpa, a freshman from Angola, who just started playing football, is 12-for-12 on extra points this season.
“I like to kick,” Vumpa said. “It’s my first time actually enjoying a sport. I just think that I can’t miss. It’s been a great experience.”
On the first play of the next Stags’ drive, the visitors fumbled the exchange and Portland senior Lewis Gaddas pounced on the loose ball.
The Bulldogs took over at the Cheverus 34 and senior Cillo Magno ran three times for a total of seven yards before a bad snap led to a loss of downs.
The Stags snapped the ball more time and that made Portland’s 37-7 victory official.
The Bulldogs managed 261 yards of offense.
Moriba, who was named the Jack Duffy Award winner as Portland’s best player in the annual Portland-Cheverus game, gained 91 yards and scored a touchdown on nine carries, in addition to his three interceptions.
“It means a lot,” Moriba said. “I’ve watched other Portland players win it. I’m happy to win it. Last year, I only played on defense. This year, I’m getting more time on the field. I’m happy to be out there.”
“I’ve never had three interceptions in a game,” Stasium said. “I’m in shock over it. I’m happy for him. I’m glad he got the (Duffy) Award to show for it.”
Levine gained 67 yards and scored a TD on 13 carries. He also caught a pass for 13 yards.
Elowitch ran f0r 92 yards and scored twice on 15 attempts.
“We have several backs who can run,” Hartman said. “They keyed on Elowitch. Levine had a great night running the ball. We have experienced kids and we can run the ball again. We didn’t have the horses to do that last year.”
Knop completed 4-of-8 passes for 71 yards and an interception. He ran seven times for 26 yards.
Stasium caught two passes for 43 yards and a TD.
Jacobson had one catch for 15 yards.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over once.
Cheverus wound up with 110 yards, but had negative-4 in the second half.
Lindstedt, who was named the Bobby Duffy Award winner as the top Cheverus player in the game, caught one pass for a 10-yard TD and gained 18 yards on five rushes.
Tompkins had 34 yards on five attempts.
Reali completed 2-of-15 passes for 60 yards. He was intercepted three times and threw one touchdown pass.
Oryem had one catch for 50 yards.
“We feel good about the physical effort,” Vance said. “We’re just not a mature group yet.”
Cheverus hopes to return to form next Saturday when its hosts 0-2 Lewiston.
“We don’t have a lot of time and we need to mature quickly,” Vance said. “We feel good about our kids. We have high character kids who are working hard. Lewiston will give us all we want. We’ll focus on them.”
Portland, meanwhile, seeks its first 3-0 start since 2015, but it won’t come easily as the Bulldogs have to travel to Standish to battle 2-0 Bonny Eagle.
It will mark the program’s first countable meeting since the Scots’ 34-14 victory in the 2016 Class A state final.
“We have two big wins and we’re looking forward now,” Stasium said. “Bonny Eagle is a great team with a great coach. They’ll be a big test.”
“Everybody is involved and is showing up,” Moriba said. “We’re all getting along. I think it’s going to be a great season. We’re looking forward to it. We know they’re very good, but we’re excited to play them.”
“We’ll have our hands full up there next week,” Hartman added. “I’ve only coached against (Kevin Cooper) twice. He’s a phenomenal coach.”
Portland junior quarterback Sam Knop runs away from Cheverus sophomore Giovanni Fornaro.
Cheverus junior quarterback Marc Reali is pressured by Portland senior Darrian Darling.
Portland senior Ben Levine bowls over Cheverus senior Colt Dumond and lunges for the end zone to score the game’s first touchdown.
Portland senior Zack Elowitch breaks free on a 63-yard touchdown run.
Cheverus junior Sean Tompkins picks up yardage.
Elowitch is congratulated by junior Ryan Howell after reaching the end zone.
Portland senior Chris Vincent wraps up Cheverus freshman Marshall Fowler.
Portland junior Jamal Moriba intercepts a pass in front of Cheverus senior Akera Oryem. Moriba had three interceptions on the night.
Portland 35 Cheverus 27 (game played @ Deering)
Cheverus 26 @ Portland 7
@ Cheverus 35 Portland 0
@ Portland 27 Cheverus 14
Portland 40 @ Cheverus 7
Portland 42 @ Cheverus 7