Portland rallies to clip Cheverus in a rainy instant classic

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Portland’s football team celebrates at the final horn of Saturday’s 35-27 win over Cheverus in a memorable showdown in the rain. The Bulldogs improved to 4-1 after rallying from deficits of 14- and 13-points.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.


Portland 35 Cheverus 27

P- 7 7 0 21- 35
C- 14 7 6 0- 27

First quarter
C D. Casale 20 pass from J. Casale (Hartigan kick)
C D. Casale 34 pass from J. Casale (Hartigan kick)
P- Bolduc 1 run (Clarke kick) 

Second quarter
P- Bolduc 3 run (Clarke kick)
C- Watson 10 run (Hartigan kick) 

Third quarter
C- Benedict 4 run (kick failed) 

Fourth quarter 
P- Bolduc 5 run (Clarke kick)
P- Bolduc 15 run (Clarke kick)
P- Bachelder 1 run (Clarke kick) 

PORTLAND—Portland and Cheverus have been meeting on the gridiron since Calvin Coolidge was in the White House and silent movies were still in vogue.

Saturday evening, with a steady rainfall serving as a backdrop at Deering’s Memorial Field, the ancient rivals produced one of their most memorable chapters, one which produced 48 minutes of drama, twists and turns.

The defending Class A North champion Bulldogs were expected to roll to an easy win, but just over five minutes in, they were down by two scores, as Stags senior quarterback Jack Casale twice hooked up with senior receiver Dominic Casale, his cousin (from 20 and 34 yards out), to produce a stunning 14-0 lead.

Portland then settled down and after momentum turned with an interception from junior Vinny Pasquali, the Bulldogs got on the board thanks to a 1-yard TD run from senior Dylan Bolduc.

Bolduc would be the workhorse for Portland and his 3-yard run early in the second period tied the game, but before halftime, Cheverus produced another impressive scoring drive, one which was punctuated by a 10-yard touchdown run from junior Griffin Watson, and made the score 21-14 Stags at the break.

The rain picked up in the second half and so did the intensity.

Cheverus recovered a fumble in the third quarter and that led to a 4-yard TD run from senior Rylan Benedict, but the Stags missed the extra point and that gave the Bulldogs life.

On the first play of the fourth period, Bolduc’s 5-yard scoring run cut the deficit to 27-21.

Then, after an interception from senior Jake Knop, Portland took the lead for the first time, as Bolduc scored from 15 yards out with 9:19 to play.

Cheverus drove into Bulldogs’ territory, but gave the ball up on downs and after Bolduc somehow eluded numerous defenders on a 56-yard scamper, senior quarterback Issiah Bachelder scored on a 1-yard dive with just 2:11 remaining.

The Stags had one final chance to answer, but Pasquali’s second interception slammed the door and Portland went on to the 35-27 victory.

The Bulldogs beat Cheverus in consecutive seasons for the first time in a decade, won their fourth game in a row, improved to 4-1 and dropped the valiant and vastly improved Stags to 3-2 in the process.

“It means a lot to beat Cheverus as a senior,” said Bolduc, who ran for a career high 222 yards and four touchdowns on 33 carries. “My sophomore year, we got smacked. I wanted us to have a better outcome tonight. Sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot with stupid plays, but when we have to dig deep, we do.”

Tougher than expected

Last fall, Portland snapped a seven-game skid at the hands of Cheverus when it held on for a 16-14 home victory en route to the regional title.

That gave the Bulldogs a 46-35-5 all-time lead in the series, which dates to 1924.

In the offseason, Cheverus bid adieu to legendary coach John Wolfgram, who retired. Longtime assistant Mike Vance took over the program and started with a 33-18 win at Oxford Hills, then the Stags were blanked at home by two-time defending Class A champion Thornton Academy, 65-0. Cheverus responded and prevailed at Lewiston (28-20) and Edward Little (17-14). 

After falling, 14-13, to visiting Scarborough in its opener, Portland hit its stride with wins at Edward Little (40-14) and Windham (42-21). Last week, the Bulldogs downed visiting Oxford Hills, 36-7.

Saturday’s game was originally scheduled to be played at 12:30 p.m. on Cheverus’ grass field, but a combination of SAT testing, predicted rain and the lack of lights at Boulos Stadium forced the contest to be moved to Deering’s home turf under the lights.

The game began under overcast conditions, then the skies opened before halftime.

By that juncture, the Stags had delivered an opening salvo that almost staggered the Bulldogs.

Cheverus got the ball first and in just over four minutes, drove 60 yards in nine plays to strike first.

Starting at their 40, the Stags immediately moved the chains as Watson ran for seven yards and junior Max Coffin picked up five more into Portland territory. After a fumbled exchange backed up Cheverus seven yards, Jack Casale completed his first pass, a 17-yard connection with Watson, to set up a first down at the 38. Benedict then broke free for 17 yards and a Portland facemask penalty tacked on five more, giving the Stags a first down at the 16. Coffin gained a yard, but an illegal procedure penalty backed Cheverus up to the 20 and when Casale threw incomplete, it faced third-and-14. Casale completed a pass to senior Kieran Conley in the flat, but Bolduc tackled him for no gain, setting up fourth down.

Where the Stags came up with a big play.

Casale dropped back to throw and lofted a pass to the right corner of the end zone where Dominic Casale caught the ball behind the secondary for a touchdown with 7:37 to go in the first quarter. Senior Chandler Hartigan added the extra point for a quick 7-0 lead.

Cheverus wasn’t done as its defense got the ball right back.

After Bolduc ran for four yards on the first play of the Bulldogs’ next series, an incomplete pass led to a third-and-6 situation, where Bachelder couldn’t handle the shotgun snap, fumbled and Stags junior Nathan Dunn fell on the ball at the Portland 34 with 6:51 to go in the first.

Seven seconds later, Cheverus doubled its lead.

Again, the Casale cousins did the damage through the air, as Jack Casale threw to Dominic Casale down the left side and Dominic Casale got behind his defender and ran into the end zone for the touchdown. Hartigan’s PAT made it 14-0 with 6:44 to go in the quarter.

“We weren’t expecting that,” Bolduc said. “We weren’t ready defensively for what they ran.”

The Bulldogs almost gave the ball away on the ensuing kickoff when Knop pitched the ball to Pasquali, who fumbled it, but Pasquali picked the ball up and brought it back to the 31. Portland then started to drive, as Bolduc ran for five yards, four yards and two more to move the chains. Bachelder passed to junior Griffin Foley for three yards and Bolduc gained one, but on third-and-6 from the 46, Bachelder threw incomplete and the visitors had to punt.

The Stags started at their 28 and immediately went for a home run ball to open up a commanding lead, but Jack Casale’s deep pass down the left sideline was intercepted by Pasquali at the Bulldogs’ 46. Pasquali picked up 10 yards on the return and a Cheverus facemask penalty produced 15 more yards, putting Portland in business at the Stags’ 29 with 3:29 to go in the quarter.

“That was big, but it wasn’t all me,” Pasquali said. “‘Rudy’ (Defensive coach Mike Rutherford) told us what to do before the play and I just happened to be in the right spot.”

“That was a huge interception because it allowed us to stay in our offense,” Portland coach Jim Hartman said.

It took the Bulldogs just seven plays and 3:21 to get back in the contest.

After Bolduc ran for two yards on first down, Knop moved the chains with an eight-yard burst. Bachelder kept the ball for four and Bolduc gained one and on third-and-5, Bolduc bulled his way forward for six yards, setting up a first-and-goal at the 8. After Bolduc ran to the brink of the goal line, getting tackled at the 1, Bolduc scored on a 1-yard rush and with just 8.3 seconds showing in the frame, Portland was on the board. Junior placekicker Quinn Clarke added the extra point to cut the deficit to 14-7.

Cheverus hoped to answer as it started from its 23, but sophomore Richard Farnsworth dropped Watson for a five-yard loss. The Stags got a reprieve as a Bulldogs’ facemask penalty gave them a first down at the 33, but senior Ethan Hoyt threw Benedict for a three-yard loss on the final play of the first period and sophomore Zach Elowitch dropped Benedict for a one-yard loss on the opening snap of the second. Casale threw incomplete on third down and for the first time, Cheverus had to punt.

Pasquali then came up huge, returning the kick 48 yards to the Stags’ 7.

“(Vinny’s) a very good return guy,” Bolduc said. “He gets us good field position when he gets his hands on the ball.”

“Every week, Vinny becomes more and more of an All-Conference player,” Hartman said. “He gives us great field position. He’s a great kid and a wonderful football player.”

This time, it took the Bulldogs a mere two plays and 36 seconds to score, as Bolduc ran for four yards, then scored on a three-yard burst with 10:25 to go in the half.

Clarke’s PAT forged a 14-14 tie.

To its credit, Cheverus responded, driving 64 yards in nine plays and 4:57 to retake the lead.

Starting at their 36, the Stags got runs of four and 10 yards to set up a first down at midfield. An eight-yard burst from Elowitch moved the ball into Portland territory. Bolduc then threw Benedict for a two-yard loss, but on third-and-4, the Casales again connected, this time for 21 yards for a first down at the 23. After Coffin ran for five yards, Benedict ran twice for four, setting up first-and-goal from the 10. On the next snap, Watson got free through the left side of the line for the touchdown. Hartigan added the extra point to make it 21-14 with 5:23 to go before halftime.

The Bulldogs returned to the attack and drove into Cheverus territory, but this time, couldn’t finish.

Starting at its 36, Portland got a 14-yard run from Bolduc on first down, then runs of eight yards by Bolduc and four by Bachelder moved the chains to the 38. After Bolduc ran for three yards, then seven for another first down, Bolduc picked up two yards and on second-and-8, Bachelder, under pressure, threw a pass to Bolduc, but he was tackled for a two-yard loss by Dunn, setting up third-and-10, where Bachelder threw incomplete. Bachelder then threw incomplete again and with 1:28 to go in the half, the Stags got the ball back on downs at their 28.

Cheverus was content to run out the clock, however, as Benedict gained two yards and Watson ran for six and the Stags took a 21-14 lead to the half.

In the first half, Cheverus had a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in yardage (172 yards to 90 for Portland) and got 92 yards on 5-of-8 passing from Casale, who threw for two TDs and one interception.

The Bulldogs got 74 yards and two scores from Bolduc on 17 carries, but they had to regroup.

“(Cheverus) scouted us well,” Hartman said. “That’s a good football team. We had to make some adjustments at halftime. For some reason, the kids were a little helter-skelter and we had to reel them back in at halftime. We’re a second half team, so when someone gets out on us like that, we know we can come back.”

Portland would eventually rally, but not before its deficit again grew to two touchdowns.

The Bulldogs got the ball at their 22 to start the second half, but after Bolduc gained six yards, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty backed them up to their 13. Bachelder threw incomplete on the next snap, but a pass interference penalty on the Stags set up second-and-four from the 28. Bolduc ran for six yards, then for 15 to the 49, but on the next play, Hoyt was held to no gain and he fumbled with Cheverus recovering at its 45.

The Stags would take advantage of Portland’s largesse, driving 55 yards in nine plays and 5:12 for another score.

Bachelder dropped Benedict for a three-yard loss, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave Cheverus a first down at the Bulldogs’ 43. Casale threw incomplete, Benedict was held to no gain by sophomore Ben Levine and Casale ran for six yards, setting up fourth-and-4. Portland then jumped offsides, giving the Stags a first down at the 32. With new life, Cheverus marched for the score, as Casale found Conley for eight yards, Benedict ran for four, Jack Casale hit Dominic Casale for 16 yards and after being held to no gain, Benedict bulled in from 4 yards out for the touchdown with 5:40 left in the third period.

The Stags weren’t able to add the PAT, however, and instead of going up by 14, their lead was 27-14.

And that would prove to be Cheverus’ highwater mark.

The Bulldogs got the ball back at their 40 with 5:33 to play in the third and would embark on their longest drive of the night, one which took 12 plays and carried into the final period.

Bolduc ran for eight yards, then seven to set up first down at the Stags’ 45. After Knop was held to a yard on a jet sweep, Bolduc ran for five and Bachelder moved the chains by scrambling for six yards to the 33. After Bolduc gained four yards, a holding penalty backed Portland up to the 42. Bachelder ran for two yards and Knop gained six, but the Bulldogs faced a fourth-and-11 at the 34, where the visitors came up with a clutch conversion. Bachelder dropped back and with Cheverus covering deep, he threw short to Hoyt, who ran for 15 yards and a first down at the 19. Bolduc ran twice for 14 yards, setting up first-and-goal from the 5 as the third period gave way to the fourth.

On the first snap of what would be a very productive final quarter for Portland, Bolduc ran to his right and was tripped, but managed to keep his balance, then fell into the end zone to complete a 5-yard touchdown run with 11:55 to go. Clarke’s PAT cut the deficit to 27-21.

The Bulldogs’ defense needed a stop and they came up big.

After Casale fell on a bad snap and lost two yards, an illegal procedure penalty backed the Stags up five more yards. Watson lost a yard and on third-and-18, Casale’s pass was intercepted by Knop after Dominic Casale fell down and Knop returned the ball 25 yards. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Cheverus tacked on 15 more yards and with 9:51 remaining, Portland started at the Stags’ 8.

After a Bolduc touchdown run was negated by a holding penalty, Bolduc scored again and it counted, this time on a 15-yard burst to the left, where the elusive back weaved through several tacklers before breaking the plane. Clarke’s extra point put the Bulldogs ahead for the first time and to stay, 28-27, with 9:19 left.

Suddenly trailing, Cheverus hoped to answer, but it couldn’t finish its next drive.

Starting at their 25, the Stags started inauspiciously, as Coffin was tackled by Levine for no gain, but the Casales combined for nine yards and Watson picked up a first down at the 45 with an 11-yard scamper. After Watson gained two yards, Casale hit Coffin with a 14-yard flare out of the backfield for a first down at Portland’ s 39. Benedict gained a yard, but an incomplete pass set up third-and-9. Jack Casale then scrambled and appeared to have a lane to a first down, but Knop stopped him cold for just a three-yard pick-up. Casale then threw incomplete, as Bulldogs sophomore Ben Stasium knocked the ball down, and with 4:20 remaining, Portland took over at its 35.

The Bulldogs needed only four plays and 2:09 to extend their lead.

Bolduc ran for two yards on first down, but a late hit penalty out of bounds gave Portland a first down at Cheverus’ 48. A holding penalty sent the visitors backwards, but Bolduc got those yards back and a lot more, as he cut through the defense, made several Stags look helpless and wasn’t stopped until he reached the Cheverus 3. Bolduc got the ball again on the next snap, but was denied paydirt, stopped just inches short of the goal line. Bachelder then capped the drive with a 1-yard TD run with 2:11 to play and Clarke’s PAT made the score 35-27.

The Stags had a chance to rally and tie with a touchdown and two-point conversion, but that dream was dashed in one play, as Jack Casale’s deep pass down the left sideline to Dominic Casale was overthrown and Pasquali ran it down for an interception at the Portland 30.

“I was really happy to get the offense back on the field to run down the clock,” Pasquali said. “We treated it like it was 0-0 until the end of the game.”

After Bolduc gained four yards on first down, Cheverus took a timeout and Bolduc was dropped for a loss, but the Stags committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to essentially end it. Bachelder ran for eight yards, then twice took a knee and at 7:49 p.m., the passion play was complete.

Portland 35 Cheverus 27.

“I grew up watching up these two teams playing against each other and I got to finally get on the field to play,” said Pasquali. “My best friend plays on the other team and I got to guard him the whole game. That was a fun experience.”

“They ran a different offense on us and we made some adjustments and it worked out,” Bolduc said. “Our defense wasn’t playing great in the first half, but we dug deep and stepped it up in the second half. We’re a second half team.”

Bolduc, who has stepped right in and embraced the lead back role since senior captain Nick Archambault suffered a likely season-ending knee injury against Windham, had his finest hour Saturday, rushing for 222 yards and four touchdowns on 33 carries. On nearly every carry, Bolduc eluded the first tackler. After the game, Bolduc was given the Jack Duffy Award as the Bulldogs’ most valuable player in the annual Portland-Cheverus game.

“We ran the plays that worked well and I had good blocking in front of me,” Bolduc said. “It’s hard not to get good yards when you have good blocking in front of you. 

Bolduc turned heads on both sidelines.

“Dylan’s a great leader,” Pasquali said. “He’s stepped up big time. He’s a great player and a great captain.”

“Dylan is becoming a super back,” said Hartman. “Having Hoyt in front of him to block and the line coming around helps. We need to do a better job passing to take pressure off of him. He’s a great football player. 

“We couldn’t stop him,” lamented Vance. “We did a good job in the first half, but in the second half, he got loose a couple times and hurt us.” 

Bachelder completed 3-of-7 passes for 16 yards and ran for six times for 25 yards and a TD.

Portland finished with 272 yards of offense, overcame eight penalties for 86 yards in large part due to forcing three turnovers.

For Cheverus, Jack Casale completed 9-of-17 passes for 139 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He was named the Robert Duffy Award as the Stags’ MVP of the game.

“Jack made me think we could throw on them,” Vance said. “When it started raining, that took away a significant amount of our passing punch.”

Dominic Casale had five receptions for 100 yards and two TDs. Conley caught two balls for 8 yards, Watson had one catch for 17 and Coffin’s reception resulted in a 14-yard gain. 

Watson gained 38 yards and had a touchdown on nine rushes. Benedict also had a TD and picked up 41 yards on 15 rushes. 

The Stags finished with 259 yards of offense, but were penalized five times for 55 yards and committed three costly turnovers.

“It was a strange environment today,” Vance said. “It felt like a practice at first. Both teams competed hard. They just had a little too much in the end, but I’m proud of my kids. We’re getting better. We’ll move forward and build on this. We’ve definitely grown as a team. What I like about this group is that they stay together.”

Possible rematch

If Cheverus and Portland meet for a second time this season, it would come in November, but both teams have work to do first.

The Stags (third in the Class A North Crabtree Points standings) return home Saturday to meet 0-5 Bangor. After playing at Scarborough, Cheverus closes the regular season at home versus Windham.

“The season’s a journey,” Vance said. “This was just one night. We’ve got Bangor coming to town and that’s all we’re worried about right now. We’ve got to find out what they’re all about we have to get better as a team. I really like this group of kids. They’re fun to work with every day.”

The Bulldogs, who for all intents and purposes have the top spot in the region locked up, welcome 1-4 Lewiston Friday, then host Bangor on Senior Night before closing at South Portland in the Battle of the Bridge.

“We just have to relax and play our game the rest of the way,” Bolduc said.

“We need to improve in a lot of aspects,” said Pasquali. “We’re not doing everything as well as we could be doing.”

“We have to get back to the drawing board,” Hartman added. “We have to do a better job as coaches and do a better job in practice. We have a short week next week. Lewiston is getting better also. We’ll take them seriously. We have to pay attention to business.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Cheverus senior Dominic Casale hauls in a touchdown pass behind Portland junior Terion Moss to give the Stags a 14-0 first quarter lead.

In the play that turned the game around, Portland junior Vinny Pasquali intercepts a pass intended for Cheverus senior Kieran Conley.

Portland senior quarterback Issiah Bachelder gets past a Cheverus defender.

Portland senior Dylan Bolduc hurdles a tackler at the line en route to a chunk of his 222 yards in the victory.

Portland senior Jake Knop tries to bring down Cheverus junior Griffin Watson.

Cheverus junior Max Coffin is tackled by Portland senior Issiah Bachelder.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.