SCARBOROUGH—Heading into Friday night’s regular season opening showdown, Portland’s football team was hearing too much for its liking that it was ripe for an upset when it went up against the high-powered Red Storm of Scarborough at the Kippy Mitchell Sports Complex.
And the Bulldogs went out and delivered a big “I told you so” to their detractors.
In one of week one’s most highly anticipated contests, Portland made timely big plays in all three facets of the game and served notice that it intends to be reckoned with from start to finish this fall.
The Bulldogs made a huge defensive stand to start the game, then drove 78 yards to take the lead for good when junior Jake Knop scored on a 1-yard touchdown run.
A 2-yard scoring scamper from senior Joe Esposito stretched the lead to 13-0 after one period and after Portland came up with another key defensive stop, a 1-yard TD sneak from junior quarterback Issiah Bachelder gave the visitors a seemingly commanding 20-0 advantage at halftime.
But Scarborough is nothing if not prolific on offense and to no one’s surprise, the Red Storm battled back in a high-flying, seemingly never-ending third period.
After senior Jack Hughes scored on a 31-yard touchdown run, Esposito countered with a 31-yard TD scamper of his own, but Hughes hit senior Griffin Madden for a 43-yard score to make it 27-13.
The Bulldogs again countered as Bachelder showed he can throw the ball, hitting junior Nick Archambault on the run for what proved to be a 38-yard score.
Scarborough then got a 70-yard strike from Hughes to sophomore Connor Kelly and after recovering a fumble, the Red Storm drew within a single score when Hughes and sophomore Reese Lagerquist hooked up for a 5-yard TD early in the fourth period.
But just when it appeared Portland might let victory slip away, junior Dylan Bolduc stepped into the fray, returning the ensuing kickoff 86 yards to the house for some breathing room. Scarborough, which shot itself in the foot all night with penalties and turnovers, couldn’t answer and another Knop TD run, this one from 21-yards out, brought the curtain down as the Bulldogs went on to a 47-26 victory.
Portland produced nearly 400 yards of offense, forced five turnovers and won their opener for the first time since 2012, dropping Scarborough to 0-1 in the process.
“It was a shootout,” Esposito said. “We were both tired. I think we kept our head in the game. Big plays gave us energy.”
Both teams qualified for the playoffs a year ago and were both ousted in the semifinals.
The Bulldogs reached the Eastern A semifinals, but couldn’t hold a late lead and lost to eventual regional champion Windham, 21-17. Portland lost some key players, but is still viewed as a top contener this fall.
The Red Storm overcame an 0-4 start in 2014 and got to the Western A semifinals, but a 50-20 loss to eventual state champion Thornton Academy brought the curtain down. Scarborough has a lot of firepower and could be the team best equipped to dethrone the Golden Trojans this autumn.
Portland and Scarborough haven’t played often over the years, just five times dating to 2003 (see sidebar, below). The last meeting came during the 2012 campaign, when the Bulldogs eked out a 25-20 home decision.
Friday, on a chilly evening (kickoff temperature was 65 degrees and it plummeted to 59 by game’s end), the Red Storm hoped to give their fans a victory, but Portland instead improved to 6-0 all-time in the series.
Scarborough got the ball first and sophomore Owen Garrard returned the opening kickoff 38 yards to the Bulldogs’ 35.
After junior Aren Dickman ran for four yards, Hughes hit senior Jake Gardner for 21 yards, setting up a first-and-goal at the 10, but Portland’s defense would rise up.
On first down, Hughes dropped back to pass, but Esposito and senior Joe Fusco blitzed, forcing the quarterback to throw the ball away. Dickman was thrown for a yard loss by Fusco and senior George Chaison-Lapine, but Hughes scrambled for seven yards on third down, setting up a fourth-and-goal from the 4.
After a Bulldogs’ timeout, the visitors came up huge, as Archambault sacked Hughes, forced a fumble and Fusco recovered it and returned it to the Portland 22.
“Defensive stands get you in the game,” said Esposito. “It’s a big game- and momentum-changer. We’re confident on defense.”
After their defense made a game-altering play, the offense followed suit.
In a drive which took nine plays and 3 minutes, 30 seconds to traverse 78 yards, Portland showed off its myriad weapons.
The march began inauspiciously, as Bachelder ran into Chaison-Lapine before handing off. Chaison-Lapine was quickly thrown for a 3-yard loss. Chaison-Lapine then gained a yard, setting up 3rd-and-12, but Bachelder rolled to his left, found some room and gained 15 yards to move the chains. Chaison-Lapine gained 3 and a facemask penalty (the first of many flats on the hosts) moved the ball ahead to the 43. After Chaison-Lapine ran for a dozen yards, Esposito picked up nine. A 3-yard Chaison-Lapine run set up a first down at the 33 and Chaison-Lapine broke free on the next snap, getting taken down at the 1. Knop then capped the march with a 1-yard plunge and the tone was set.
Senior John Williams’ extra point was ruled no good, but Portland was up, 6-0, with 5:38 to go in the first quarter.
And there would be 67 points still to come.
Scarborough hoped to answer, but a holding penalty on the kickoff backed the Red Storm up to their 10. A 7-yard run by Garrard and a Bulldogs’ offsides penalty produced a first down, but two Garrard runs, good for five yards, and an incomplete pass by Hughes forced a punt.
Portland started at its 49 with 3:10 to go in the first quarter and by period’s end had extended its lead.
Esposito got things started with a 7-yard scamper. A Scarborough offsides penalty produced a first down. Esposito then broke free for 21 yards down the right sideline for a first down at the 18. After Archambault was held for no gain, the Bulldogs committed a false start and Chaison-Lapine was held for no gain, the visitors faced a 3rd-and-15, but Bachelder came up huge, rolling out and hitting Esposito, who rambled to the 2. Esposito took it in from there and his 2-yard score with 24.1 seconds to go in the quarter capped a six-play, 51-yard, 2:46 drive. Williams added the PAT and Portland had a 13-0 advantage.
The Red Storm gave the ball right back to the Bulldogs, as on the first play of the next drive, a fumbled snap was pounced on by Portland senior Jake Hunnewell at the Scarborough 16.
On the final play of the first quarter, Esposito ran for a yard. On the first play of the second period, Bachelder threw a short pass to Archmbault on the right sideline. Archambault raced inside the 5 and dove for the pylon, but was stopped at the 1. Bachelder kept it and scored on the third play of the drive to cap a 16-yard, 32 second march. Williams again connected on the PAT and with 11:47 to go in the half, the Bulldogs were seemingly in command, up, 20-0.
Portland wouldn’t score the rest of the half, but its defense continued to come up big when it had to.
On the ensuing kickoff, Madden raced 60 yards to the Bulldogs’ 31 and the hosts were in business. After a 3-yard run by Dickman, Hughes hit Kelly for 10, then for 12 more to set up a first-and-goal at the 6. Senior Charlie Kovarik sacked Hughes for a yard loss on first down, then Hughes threw three straight incomplete passes, as once again Scarborough had nothing to show for a great opportunity.
Starting at its 7, Portland moved the ball, but this time couldn’t finish.
After Chaison-Lapine gained a yard on first down, Bachelder broke free for 10 and got the Bulldogs out from the shadow of their end zone. Esposito rambled for 15 yards to move the ball to the 33, but on a broke play, Bachelder lost a pair. That play was negated, however, as a late hit penalty on the Red Storm gave Portland a first down at the 46. After Chaison-Lapine ran for two, he got free for 17 down to the Scarborough 35. Just when it appeared the Bulldogs were going to break it open, however, they stalled, as Chaison-Lapine was held for no gain, ran for five, then after Bachelder threw incomplete and Portland committed a false start penalty, Archambault attempted to punt, but a low snap led to him being tackled for a loss, giving the Red Storm possession at their 38 with 5:34 to go before halftime.
Scarborough’s next drive began inauspiciously, as Hunnewell dropped Dickman for a 7-yard loss. Hughes and Madden then hooked up for 30 yards down the left sideline, to put the ball at the Bulldogs’ 39, but Knop tipped a Hughes pass on first down, Hughes threw incomplete on second down, Hughes was tackled for a yard loss by Chaison-Lapine on third down, then on fourth down, Hughes threw incomplete, giving Portland the ball in good field position, at its 40.
The Bulldogs went nowhere, as Archambault was held to no gain, Chaison-Lapine rushed for 4-yards and Bachelder gained four more. Archambault then pinned the Red Storm at their 18 with 1:43 remaining in the half.
Scarborough got a first down on a 14-yard Hughes scamper, but a holding penalty set the hosts backwards. Hughes completed passes of 9-yards to senior Evan Gage and 22-yards to Kelly, who made a terrific diving catch, but after throwing incomplete, Hughes was intercepted by Bolduc as time expired and Portland went into the half up, 20-0.
The Bulldogs outgained the Red Storm, 206 yards to 102 in the first half, forced two turnovers and on two other occasions, forced Scarborough to give the ball up on downs deep in Portland territory.
“We were inside (their territory) three times in the first half and didn’t score,” lamented Red Storm coach Lance Johnson. “It could’ve been different.”
There would be plenty of fireworks in the second half, but ultimately, the Bulldogs countered every Scarborough haymaker.
Portland got the ball first in the third quarter, but after Chaison-Lapine picked up a first down on an 18-yard burst, two Knop carries and another by Chaison-Lapine only gained seven and the Bulldogs had to punt. Again, the snap was low and Archambault was dropped by senior Josh Reed for a 14-yard loss, giving the Red Storm the ball at the Bulldogs’ 31.
And this time, Scarborough took advantage.
On first down, Hughes went back to throw, couldn’t find a receiver, then noticed a big gap up the middle. He burst through and outran the Portland defense into the end zone to cap a 31-yard score. Senior Wyatt Tanner added the PAT and with 9:35 to play in the third, the Red Storm had pulled with 20-7.
As would be the case virtually the whole half, the Bulldogs answered.
After Esposito ran for 4-yards and Bachelder picked up five more, Scarborough looked like it had a stop as Simoneau threw Bachelder for a 7-yard loss, but there was a personal foul called on the play and Portland got a new set of downs at the Red Storm 40. After Esposito gained six, Chaison-Lapine appeared to put his team on the doorstep with a run to the 1, but a personal foul call on the Bulldogs behind the play moved the ball back to the 31. It didn’t matter as Esposito broke free and didn’t stop until he’d crossed the goal line for a 31-yard score, matching his uniform number. The drive needed six plays and 2:20 to traverse 63 yards. Williams kicked the extra point and with 7:09 left in the third period, Portland was up by 20 again, 27-7.
Madden again gave the hosts great field position with a 48-yard return to the Bulldogs’ 43. After Garrard lost a yard, then ran for one, on third-and-10, Hughes hit Madden with a perfect strike down the right side. Madden got behind the secondary and waltzed into the end zone to complete a 43-yard score. The drive needed just three plays and 80 seconds to chew up 43 yards. Tanner’s PAT was no good and with 5:36 still to go in the quarter, Scarborough was again within 14 points, 27-13.
Bolduc returned the ensuing kickoff 11 yards to set Portland up at its 47. Again, the Red Storm looked to make a stop and get the ball back, but again, they were their own worst enemy.
After Chaison-Lapine ran for a yard and Esposito picked up five more, Bachelder threw incomplete to apparently bring up fourth down and force a punt, but a roughing the passer penalty was called, giving the Bulldogs a first down at the Scarborough 33.
Portland capitalized on that golden opportunity, as Chasion-Lapine twice ran for five yards to move the chains and after an illegal block in the back penalty and a 3-yard Esposito loss appeared to stymie the Bulldogs, Bachelder threw his best pass of the night, a 38-yard strike on a rollout to Archambault down the left sideline. Archambault, who was wide open, took the ball to the end zone for the touchdown. The drive took seven-plays and 1:55 to traverse 53 yards. A bad snap prevented Williams from kicking the extra point and with 3:37 to go in the frame, Portland was back up by three scores, 33-13.
Now clicking on all cylinders, the Red Storm offense bounced right back.
Starting at its 20 after a touchback, Scarborough needed only three plays and 1:05 to march 80 yards for a score.
After Garrard had runs of 7-yards and 3-yards to move the chains, Hughes hit Kelly with a bomb down the right sideline. Kelly caught the ball at the Bulldogs’ 40 and outran the pursuit to complete the 70-yard scoring play. Tanner’s PAT with 2:32 to go in the never-ending quarter made it 33-20.
Portland then gave the Red Storm a gift, as a fumbled exchanged was recovered by senior defensive stalwart Mahlon Glidden at the Bulldogs’ 27.
As the third quarter finally gave way to the fourth, Scarborough made things very interesting.
Garrard ran for 17 yards on first down to set up first-and-goal at the 10. Again, the Red Storm would have trouble completing the drive, as Garrard was held to 3-yards, then to 2-yards, before the teams switched sides for the start of the final stanza.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Hughes rolled left and threw into the end zone. Knop appeared to have a bead on an interception, if not a chance to knock the ball down, but out of nowhere, Lagerquist leaped and snared the ball first for a touchdown. It took four plays and 1:35 to march 27 yards. The extra point was no good, but Scarborough was within a score, down, 33-26, and appeared to have all the momentum.
Then, then game changed suddenly and for good.
Bolduc, who just began returning kicks this year, fielded the kickoff at the 14 and raced up the middle where there was suddenly plenty of room. Bolduc broke into the free and while a defender gave chase and appeared on the verge of bringing him down, Bolduc found an extra gear and reached paydirt to complete a breathtaking 86-yard kickoff return to return momentum to his side.
“We’re told to go up the middle (on returns), “Bolduc said. “They made a great wall. I didn’t know he was on my tail. I was just running as fast as I could. It felt good.”
“Dylan led us last year in interceptions,” Hartman said. “I expect big things from him. He’ll just keep getting better.”
Scarborough could only shake its head.
“Just when we thought we were back in it, we gave up the kickoff return,” Johnson said. “It seemed like whenever it seemed like we got momentum, they made a big play.”
The Red Storm had time to rally again, but would hurt their own cause. Again.
After Simoneau ran for a yard, then ran for seven and five to pick up a first down, a holding penalty and a false start backed up the Red Storm. Hughes hit senior Kyle Russo for 32 yards into Portland territory, but he fumbled and Esposito recovered at the Bulldogs’ 45.
Portland went three-and-out and had to punt, but after Scarborough gained one first down on an 8-yard Kelly run, Hughes was intercepted by Bachelder, who returned the ball to the Red Storm 37 with 5:36 left.
In four plays and 2:39, the Bulldogs drove 37 yards for the clinching score.
Two Esposito runs gained nine yards, then Scarborough gave Portland a gift first down by jumping offsides. Esposito ran for 2-yards, then Knop broke free and crossed the end zone from 21-yards out with 2:57 to play. Williams’ extra point extended the lead to 47-26.
The Red Storm’s final offensive series produced one first down, a 13-yard pass from Hughes to Kelly, but the Bulldogs’ defense stiffened from there, Scarborough took one more penalty (a false start) and on fourth-and-8, Hughes threw incomplete.
Portland got the ball back with 2:20 showing and after Chaison-Lapine moved the chains with a 7-yard run on third-and-5, the Bulldogs ran out the clock on a 2 hour, 40 minute marathon and left town with a 47-26 victory.
“We never panicked,” Bolduc said. “We just did what the coaches told us to do. We tried to not let up a big play. We gave up a couple, but we didn’t put our heads down and kept going. People doubted us, so this feels good.”
“(Lance) is a great coach and he had a great game plan,” Hartman said. “Hughes is one heck of a quarterback. They made adjustments and we had to readjust. Our kids had a lot of guts out there tonight. ”
Portland was paced by Chaison-Lapine, who had 146 yards on 22 carries.
Esposito wasn’t far behind, rushing for 115 yards and two TDs on 17 attempts. He also had a reception for 21 yards.
“Espo was the heart of the team tonight,” Hartman said. “I knew he’d be good. I didn’t realize he’d have that much of an impact on both sides.”
Knop had 29 yards and two scores on four rushes.
Bachelder completed 3-of-5 passes for 73 yards and a TD and also ran for 23 yards and a touchdown on eight attempts.
“It was exciting,” Bachelder said. “It’s always been a dream. We have great backs. I trust our system. The line got the job done. We stood tall.”
“Issiah did really well,” Esposito said. “He made plays that weren’t called in the huddle.”
“Issiah did a really solid job in a kid in his first game,” Hartman added. “He made all the right reads out there.”
Archambault caught two passes for 52 yards and a score.
The Bulldogs, who mustered 367 yards of offense, turned the ball over once and committed six penalties for 38 yards.
Scarborough finished with 337 yards of offense, but was doomed by five turnovers and 12 penalties for a whopping 129 yards.
Hughes wound up 12-of-27 passing, good for 274 yards and three TDs, but he also threw a pair of interceptions. Hughes ran for 51 yards and a score on five attempts.
Kelly had six receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown. Madden had two big catches, good for 73 yards and a score. Lagerquist caught just one ball, but it was for a 5-yard TD. Gardner had just one reception for 21 yards before leaving with an injury. Gage caught a ball for 9 yards. Russo had one catch for 32 yards. Garrard paced the rushing game with 49 yards on 12 rushes.
“I’m glad the kids came out and played a good third quarter,” Johnson said. “They didn’t give up. There were some positives. There are some things we have to work on.”
Scarborough goes to Bonny Eagle Friday. The Scots blew a 14-0 lead and lost late, 18-14, to South Portland in their first game meaning the Red Storm won’t have an easy time of it next week either.
“The kids are hardworking and intelligent,” Johnson said. “We’ll be better next time. It doesn’t get any easier. Hopefully it won’t be easy for the other team too.”
Portland plays its home opener Saturday, Sept. 12 against Edward Little. It will be the Bulldogs’ first game on their new turf at Fitzpatrick Stadium. They look to improve to 2-0 and know they’ll have to clean some things up to remain the top threat to Windham (who they host Sept. 18) going forward.
“I hope we can be one of the better teams,” Bachelder said. “We have a good team and I feel like we can go far. We can’t make these mistakes the rest of the season though.”
“We have to make sure to keep our heads and stay smart on offense,” Esposito said. “On defense, we have to get to the right places and not be clowns out there.”
“We’ll be a contender as the season goes on,” Hartman added. “We have to get stronger and get healthy. We’re going to get tough. Every team gets better, but I really think we’ll jump. We can’t wait to play at Fitzy. It’s not just the new turf. The whole complex is one beautiful place.”
Portland junior Nick Archambault (12) congratulates senior Joe Esposito after Esposito’s first quarter touchdown gives the Bulldogs a 13-0 lead in Friday evening’s regular season opener at Scarborough. Portland held on in the second half to prevail, 47-26.
Mike Strout photos.
Scarborough senior quarterback Jack Hughes looks to throw under pressure from Portland senior Joe Fusco.
Portland senior George Chaison-Lapine, who had a big night on the ground, looks for running room.
Portland junior quarterback Issiah Bachelder eludes Scarborough junior Anthony Simoneau.
Portland senior Joe Esposito breaks free.
Portland junior Dylan Bolduc makes a key interception right before halftime as Scarborough senior Reese Lagerquist looks on. Bolduc later returned a kickoff for a touchdown to help the Bulldogs hold on.
Scarborough senior Griffin Madden catches a long pass behind Portland junior defenders Nick Archambault (12) and Jake Knop.
Scarborough junior Aren Dickman gets dragged down by a Portland defender.
@ Portland 25 Scarborough 20
Portland 13 @ Scarborough 12
@ Portland 14 Scarborough 0
@ Portland 40 Scarborough 14
Portland 46 @ Scarborough 8
P- 13 7 13 14- 47
S- 0 0 20 6- 26
P- Knop 1 run (kick failed)
P- Esposito 2 run (Williams kick)
P- Bachelder 1 run (Williams kick)
S- Hughes 31 run (Tanner kick)
P- Esposito 31 run (Williams kick)
S- Madden 43 pass from Hughes (kick failed)
P- Archambault 38 pass from Bachelder (kick failed)
S- Kelly 70 pass from Hughes (Tanner kick)
S- Lagerquist 5 pass from Hughes (kick failed)
P- Bolduc 86 kickoff return (Williams kick)
P- Knop 21 run (Williams kick)