PORTLAND—Portland High football coach Mike Bailey made the decision to download the “iMadhi Tailback App” and had it up and running in time for the Westbrook Blue Blazes on Thursday night in a must-win situation after a two-game slide to open the season.
The Bulldogs’ “quartercat” controversy is no more and don’t those Blue Blazes know it. Senior Imahdi Zagon stepped into his cleats as the starting tailback for the first time this year and stomped all over the Westbrook defense with astounding grace and lethal power on his way to piling up 258 yards and three scores on the ground to help the Bulldogs earn a critical 27-16 victory in a persistent coastal rain at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Zagon turned over the full-time quarterbacking duties to junior Matt McInnis and rushed 37 times from a number of different sets in an epic display of his raw power and near-Olympic speed. Zagon patiently drifted behind his blockers and exploded on would-be-tacklers in a breakout performance that puts his name back in the Fitzpatrick Trophy mix, and the Bulldogs back in the win column a week after letting one slip away against Deering and after Bonny Eagle had lambasted them in Standish.
“The plan tonight was to come out and run the ball,” said Zagon. “I’m real proud of my offensive line right now. They were incredible. I could see where I was going. That’s what I like best about just being the running back. I didn’t have to think about handing it off or anything like that. Just run.”
In the second quarter alone, Zagon rushed 11 times for 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Bulldogs ran out to an early 21-0 lead and were never truly threatened.
McInnis, for his part, didn’t light up the stat sheet, but his 24-yard touchdown pass to senior Caleb Kenney on the first drive of the game put Portland ahead 7-0 after the first quarter and gained Zagon an extra fraction of a second from that point on. With Westbrook having to respect the pass, it held the defense honest long enough for Zagon to get behind the defensive backfield and accelerate with full strides. McInnis finished with only 57 yards through the air, but managed the game well and allowed Zagon to move back to tailback full-time, where in a perfect world for Portland he would have always been.
Leading 7-0 still in the second quarter, the Bulldogs defense, behind junior Mike Herrick and senior linebacker Carl Szanton, forced Westbrook junior Terry Webber to throw high incomplete to his left on a fourth-and-9 play from the 48 and the Bulldogs took over.
Zagon took the ball and went 8 yards down to the 40 on first down, and then went off-tackle right for 40 more and Portland’s second touchdown to open a 14-0 lead with 9:03 still left to play in the first half. Portland senior Felix Cobanovich was a perfect 3-for-3 on point-after kicks for the game.
It started to look like Westbrook’s 8-56-1 record all-time against Portland football would be clicking up one more to 57, when the Blue Blazes fumbled the snap out at their own 40 and Portland junior Nate Porter lounged on it for the first of his two fumble recoveries of the night.
Portland took over first-and-10 at the 40 with 7:35 left before the half and marched in for the score on eight plays to take a 21-0 lead on Zagon’s 1-yard plunge with under five-minutes left before the break.
“We came out tonight ready to play and got positive results,” said Bailey. “That’s the message. When you’re prepared it makes a huge difference. We switched things up, obviously, at quarterback. We thought it would open things up for us and give us more options to what we on offense.”
The big play for Portland came on a third-and-9 from the 11, when McInnis moved left with the pocket and dropped a little touch pass out in the bubble to sophomore tight end Tate Gayle at the 5-yard line. Scraping right to left behind the Blue Blazes’ linebackers, Tate had to turn and completely face the opposite goal post to make the catch. Expecting to turn around and get leveled, as he should have, Gale spun with two-hands over the ball and crouched for impact. When no one was there he stumbled for 4-more yards to the 1.
Zagon finished the 8-play, 30-yard drive when he more or less fell forward in for the score with 4:36 remaining before break.
Westbrook would begin to show life and answered this one immediately when senior Manny Vincent started to get it going at tailback. Vincent, small with Kevin Faulk-like skills and speed, rushed for 86 yards in the loss but would have easily picked up over 100 if not for ill-timed penalties throughout.
Vincent broke a third-and-6 counter trap from the 30 all the way inside the 10 for a 27-yard gain to the 3. Winded, Vincent still took the next handoff but was stuffed by the Bulldogs’ defense. On second down, Webber kept it himself and fought his way in for the score to make it 21-6 with 49 seconds left before half.
The Blue Blazes lined up to kick the extra point, but an offsides penalty on Portland at the line moved the ball to the 1-yard line and Westbrook elected to go for the two points down a pair of touchdowns. Junior fullback Graham Strondak powered over the goal and it went to half with Portland on top, 21-8.
Westbrook dodged a major scare to open the second half when Zagon caught a screen pass on the home sideline and went 68-yards for the score which was called back with 8 minutes left in the third, and then took advantage of the blocking penalty to march down and score and make things interesting.
Vincent used his speed and shifty feet to break a counter-sweep right with a nasty cut up the field when he planted his right foot with authority, slashed through the first level and galloped in for the score down the far sideline to pull the Blue Blazes within 21-16 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter.
But Zagon and the Bulldogs would put it together on offense one more time and for all practical purposes put the game out of reach in the third. Westbrook had scored twice to get back in it but still needed to keep Portland off the scoreboard to make any headway.
For Westbrook (0-3), the first win of this season would not be tonight as Zagon and the Bailey boys’ had other ideas.
Taking over first-and-10 at the 44-yard line, the Bulldogs went the distance for the final score on eight plays, five of them Zagon runs, to punch in another one with two minutes left still in the third and leading 27-16, the final score.
Let’s just say it’s on next Saturday afternoon. Portland (1-2) travels just down the road to the Back Bay for a showdown with the Cheverus Stags (3-0) at 12:30 p.m.