The high school football regular season has come to a close and all three city teams are primed to make a playoff run.
Portland capped its perfect regular season, its first such campaign in a decade, with a 31-0 home win over South Portland in the “Battle of the Bridge” and locked up the top spot for the Class A North postseason and a bye into the semifinals.
Deering put a bow on its best season since 2010, improving to 6-2 with a 27-7 win at Scarborough, as it clinched the No. 2 seed in Class A South and also earned a quarterfinal round bye.
Cheverus had its eye on a bye as well, but the Stags shot themselves in the foot during a gutwrenching 19-15 loss at recent nemesis Windham, finishing 5-3 and third in Class A North, meaning they’ll have to play a home quarterfinal against No. 6 Lewiston Saturday.
Portland entered the season as one of the favorites in Class A North, but few expected the Bulldogs to navigate a challenging schedule without a blemish.
Friday, Portland started slowly against visiting South Portland, but gradually pulled away for its eighth win in a row.
The scoring started in the second quarter with a 29-yard field goal from kicker John Williams. Quarterback Issiah Bachelder then hit Joe Esposito for a 50-yard scoring pass to produce a 10-0 halftime lead. In the third period, Bachelder hit Esposito for a 61-yard score, then found Williams from 4-yards out for a 24-0 lead. The final TD came courtesy a 91-yard interception return from Esposito in the fourth quarter and the Bulldogs prevailed, 31-0.
“(South Portland) played a different defense than we planned for,” said Portland coach Jim Hartman. “It threw us off. We figured it out, then we were off the races.”
Portland finished 8-0 and first in Class A North.
“Going 8-0 was the goal, but we didn’t know what to expect,” Hartman said. “I knew we’d be good, but I wasn’t sure how good. Coming in, I knew our special teams were strong and we returned so many key, core guys on defense. We had to put an offensive line together and grind out some games, which we did against Windham and Cheverus.”
The Bulldogs will next take the field Friday, Nov. 6 against either No. 4 Edward Little (3-5) or fifth-ranked Bangor (2-6). Portland beat the visiting Red Eddies, 33-0, Sept. 12 and romped at Bangor, 59-0, Oct. 16. The Bulldogs’ only previous playoff meeting with Edward Little is a fond memory, a 41-6 victory in the 2002 state final. Portland lost to the Rams in the 2001 state game, 20-14, in the only prior encounter.
“I’ve been on both ends of it and I think I’d rather have the bye,” Hartman said. “We have guys who are sick, I’m sick, and the stress of prepping for games wears on you. We were mentally tired. The pressure to go 8-0 was high.
“We’ll stay focused on our final goal. We haven’t focused on anything but winning a Gold Ball. Everything is a step and now we can’t fail. This is a bright bunch of kids. They’re close-knit. They play for each other. It won’t be hard to keep them focused. I haven’t coached a closer group or a smarter bunch of kids.”
Deering lost the 2010 regional final to Cheverus by a point in an instant classic on a field goal that missed by inches at the end of the game. Since then, the Rams have been in disarray, with frequent coaching changes and disappointing results on the field.
That all changed this fall, however, as new coach Jason Jackson and a determined group of seniors has elevated Deering back to prominence.
The Rams entered Friday’s finale with a lot on the line and they stepped up huge.
After a scoreless first period, quarterback Max Chabot scored on a 5-yard run for a 7-0 lead. After forcing a pair of turnovers, Deering took a 21-0 lead at halftime behind a 14-yard touchdown pass from Chabot to Pat Viola and a 12-yard run from Nate Richards. After recovering a fumbled punt early in the second half, Chabot scored on a 2-yard run and while the Rams let up a touchdown later in the third quarter, they went on to a decisive 27-7 victory to finish 6-2.
Chabot wound up completing 9 of 14 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. He also had two rushing TDs, gaining 31 yards on eight attempts. Richards had 70 yards and a score on 10 rushes. Viola caught five passes for 47 yards and a touchdown. Viola, Rob Dacey and Ben Williams all had interceptions, Dom Bernard and Raffaele Salamone had sacks and Salamone, Joe Burke and Keegan Stanton recovered fumbles.
When Thornton Academy beat Bonny Eagle Saturday, Deering locked up the No. 2 seed in Class A South and a bye into the semifinals.
“It was a great birthday weekend for me,” said Jackson. “We beat Scarborough and Thornton beat Bonny Eagle to give us a bye. Having some rest is great for us.
“I think the season went very well. I feel like the team worked hard and earned it. I surrounded myself with guys who are good coaches. We proved you don’t have to have a lot of varsity experience. It’s been an honor to coach against some of the best. The kids needed somebody to let them know they’re a good football team. It’s been motivating to have so many people doubting us.”
On Friday, Nov. 6, the Rams will host either No. 3 Bonny Eagle (5-3) or No. 6 South Portland (2-6). Deering won at the Red Riots, 27-14, Sept. 26, then lost at home to the Scots, 42-7, six days later. The Rams are 3-3 all-time in the postseason versus Bonny Eagle, with a 35-28 overtime victory in the quarterfinals four years ago the most recent meeting. Deering has never faced South Portland in the postseason.
“Bonny Eagle beat us pretty good the last time,” Jackson said. “They taught us a lesson. They’re very good team and they’re very well coached. Mentally, we’ll have to take a different approach. The first game was 13-7 in the third quarter, then heads went down and some old habits reared their heads and we flat out quit. We didn’t handle adversity. We’ll prepare the best we can and come out strong.”
Cheverus feels like it should have lost just once this regular season, but the Stags, who were dominated in a 57-0 setback at defending Class A champion Thornton Academy back in week two, lost a close decision at Portland in week five and took a 5-2 mark into Friday’s showdown at defending regional champion Windham for a game that ended in agony.
Last year, Windham triumphed twice at Cheverus, snapping the Stags’ 36-game regular season win streak and stopping their regular season home win streak at 20 with a shocking 35-7 decision in the regular season, then rallying from a 14-3 fourth quarter deficit to stun the Stags in overtime, 21-20, in the Western A Final, a win that was secured on a blocked extra point.
Friday, Cheverus shot to a 7-0 lead when freshman Tre Fletcher scored on a 35-yard run, but the Eagles bounced right back and tied the game on a 2-yard TD run from junior quarterback Desmond Leslie. In the second period, Leslie hit senior Mitchell Eskilson for a 53-yard score, but the extra point was blocked, then Stags senior Justin Johnston scored on a one-yard dive, only to have the PAT blocked, sending the game to halftime tied at 13-13.
The Stags’ special teams and defense came up huge in the third period, as senior quarterback Isaac Dunn booted a 57-yard punt to pin Windham at its 1 and three plays later, senior Frankie Curran tackled Eagles junior Kyle Houser in the end zone for a two-point safety and a 15-13 lead. Cheverus could have opened things up in the quarter, but it shot itself in the foot three different times with fumbles, the last coming after the safety when the Stags appeared to be driving for a touchdown which could have provided a healthy working margin.
Windham took advantage of Cheverus’ largesse and drove 81 yards on nine plays to go on top as Leslie scored on a 5-yard run. A two-point conversion pass failed, but the Eagles were up four with 8:34 to go. Again, Cheverus drove into Windham territory, this time looking to answer and regain the lead, but with 4:21 to go, Fletcher fumbled at the Eagles’ 14. The Stags held on defense and appeared primed to get the ball back with one final chance to win it, but on the punt, Cheverus was called for roughing the kicker. That gave Windham a new set of downs and the Eagles managed to run out the clock and prevailed, 19-15.
Cheverus had 234 yards of offense, but four fumbles and the untimely roughing the kicker penalty sealed its doom.
“I think it shows where we are as a team,” said Stags coach John Wolfgram. “They’re a good team, but we were right there and should have won the game. Too many physical errors killed us. “
The Stags wound 5-3 and third in Class A North and will host No. 6 Lewiston (2-6) in the quarterfinals Saturday afternoon. The Stags had no trouble with the visiting Blue Devils Sept. 19, putting up 68 points in a 52-point victory. The teams played twice previously in the playoffs. The first was one Cheverus will long remember, a 65-13 romp in the 1985 Class A state final. The Stags also prevailed, 27-21, in the 1990 semifinals.
Cheverus will look to take care of business, then make a return trip to second-ranked Windham (6-2) for the semifinals either Friday, Nov. 6.
“We have some work to do,” Wolfgram said. “I wish we could have gotten the bye.”
Cheverus’ Max Coffin blocks an extra point during the Stags’ 19-15 loss at Windham Friday night.
Cheverus’ Kenny Drelich fights for extra yardage after catching a pass in Friday’s loss at Windham.