Portland refuses to lose, rallies to topple Windham in regional final

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Portland senior captain Nick Archambault shows off the championship plaque and his teammates celebrate after the Bulldogs’ 27-14 win over Windham in Friday’s Class A North Final. Portland advanced to meet Bonny Eagle in the state final next Saturday.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Portland  27 Windham 14

W- 0 7 7 0- 14
P- 0 6 8 13- 27

First quarter
No scoring

Second quarter
P- Bolduc 14 run (kick blocked)
W- K. Houser 2 run (Medina kick)

Third quarter
W- Hebert 39 pass from Leslie (Medina kick)
P- Foley 13 pass from Bachelder (Bachelder rush)

Fourth quarter
P- Knop 23 pass from Bachelder (Clarke kick)
P- Bolduc 35 run (kick failed)

PORTLAND—With its season and its legacy on the line, Portland’s football team rose off the deck in historic and memorable fashion Friday evening at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Battling upset-minded Windham in the Class A North Final, the Bulldogs’ expected coronation faced a serious test, but thanks to a special core group of seniors who have unfinished business, Portland answered the bell and played like the champion it hopes to soon become.

Unlike recent meetings against the Eagles, the Bulldogs, ranked first in the region, weren’t able to open things up early and had to play from behind for much of the game.

After a scoreless first period, Portland did hit paydirt first, as senior Dylan Bolduc scored on a 14 yard run, but the extra point was blocked and second-ranked Windham drove to take the lead on a 2 yard run from senior Kyle Houser and a successful extra point from sophomore Claudio Medina.

The Bulldogs’ first halftime deficit of the season soon turned into an even bigger hole, as early in the third quarter, Eagles senior quarterback Desmond Leslie found senior Griffeth Hebert for a 39 yard score, making it 14-6.

Portland had to find an answer and did so, thanks to a wise and timely decision to open up the offense.

After throwing just once in the first half, the Bulldogs went to the air three straight times on their initial second half possession and turned momentum when senior quarterback Issiah Bachelder hit junior Griffin Foley for a 13 yard TD. Bachelder ran in the two-point conversion to tie the score, 14-14, and that’s how the game stayed into the fourth period.

After Portland’s defense held Windham in check, the Bulldogs got the ball back with a chance to go ahead, but they appeared to be stopped before Bachelder was run over while punting and that critical penalty allowed Portland to keep possession.

The Bulldogs took advantage of that good fortune and with 5:03 to play, on a fourth down play for the ages, Bachelder hit senior Jake Knop and Knop fought his way into the end zone to complete a 23 yard catch and run, putting Portland on top to stay.

The Bulldogs forced an Eagles’ punt and with 1:13 remaining, Bolduc broke free for a 35 yard score and that finally clinched it.

Portland sophomore Ben Stasium intercepted a pass to start the party and the Bulldogs went on to celebrate their 27-14 victory.

Portland won its ninth straight game, improved to 9-1, ended Windham’s season at 6-4, won a regional title in successive years for just the second time in program history and advanced to meet undefeated, preseason favorite Bonny Eagle (10-0) in the Class A state final Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium at a time to be announced.

“I didn’t do anything, the guys just worked their tails off,” said Bulldogs coach Jim Hartman. “They’re very smart and we’ve had a lot of help from great assistant coaches. It’s not easy to win a regional title. You have to have a lot of work ethic. It’s a great bunch of kids. I haven’t bothered them at all.”

The favorites

It’s no surprise that Portland and Windham squared off in the regional final.

Only Cheverus had a chance of crashing the party and the Eagles made sure that didn’t happen when they blocked a last second field goal and held on for a 9-7 victory over the Stags in last week’s semifinal round.

Windham stumbled three times during the regular season, losing at home to Portland and Bonny Eagle and at Thornton Academy, but as always, the Eagles were at their most formidable in November.

The Bulldogs stumbled in their opener, losing by a point to visiting Scarborough in a result that looked like a fluke at the time, but became more legitimized by the week as the Red Storm reached the Class A South Final. Portland then won its final seven games of the regular season and had no trouble with No. 4 Oxford Hills in last week’s semifinals, rolling, 55-7 (see sidebar for previous game stories).

The Bulldogs and Eagles had met four straight seasons in the playoffs with Portland winning on three occasions, including last year’s 24-7 victory in the regional final.

Back on Sept. 16, the Bulldogs doubled up host Windham, 42-21.

Friday, on a breezy (18 mph) and chilly (41 degree) evening, Portland had to dig deep, but it found a way to prevail and advance.

The Eagles won the opening coin toss, but deferred possession to the second half and the first quarter proved to be a defensive stalemate.

The Bulldogs, after getting a nice 24 yard kickoff return from junior playmaker Vinny Pasquali, started at their 37, but went three-and-out, as Bachelder was thrown for a one yard loss by Windham sophomore Grant Jacobson, Bolduc picked up two yards and Bachelder gained just five on third-and-9.

The Eagles started their first possession at their 27, but also had to punt, as Leslie hit junior Nazari Henderson for no gain, then twice threw incomplete.

Pasquali returned the ensuing punt to the Windham 36, but after Bachelder gained a yard, Bolduc ran for four before fumbling and the Eagles recovered at their 31.

Windham moved the chains, as sophomore Blake Houser caught a pass for two yards, Leslie ran for three and Portland jumped offsides. Leslie ran for four more, then threw incomplete, but on the play, Knop was called for pass interference even though he appeared to slip on the throw and the Eagles had another first down at the Bulldogs’ 40. On the next play, Leslie hit Hebert for 22 yards, but Portland held, as Leslie ran for three yards, a hold backed up the visitors, Blake Houser caught a pass for seven yards, Leslie threw incomplete, and Medina was just wide to the left on a 35 yard field goal attempt.

The Bulldogs got the ball back at their 20, but again gave the ball away, as after Bolduc was held to no gain, a fumbled exchange put the ball on the ground and Windham junior Nate Watson fell on it at the Portland 18.

The Eagles had a golden chance to go ahead, but they squandered it, as Bulldogs sophomore Koa Farnsworth threw Blake Houser for a two yard loss and Leslie threw a pass that was picked off by Pasquali at the 5 and returned 35 yards. Compounding matters, Windham was called for a late hit and Portland started at the Eagles’ 45 with 2:04 to go in the opening stanza.

Nine plays and 4 minutes, 36 seconds later, after a drive which spanned the end of the first quarter and the start of the second, the Bulldogs broke the scoring ice.

Bolduc was held to no gain on first down, then ran for eight yards. Senior Ethan Hoyt was stopped for no gain, setting up fourth-and-2, but Bolduc moved the chains with a three yard rush.

On the first play of the second period, Knop ran for two yards, then Bachelder, on his lone pass of the half, hit Hoyt for a 10 yard gain to the Windham 22. Bolduc ran for three yards, then five, setting up third-and-2 from the 14. Bolduc got the call again, ran left and found some running room, beating the pursuit to the pylon and scoring a touchdown.

Junior Quinn Clarke tried to add the extra point, but Windham continued its recent blocking acumen, getting a hand on the PAT and keeping the score 6-0.

The Eagles then got their offense in gear and took the lead, marching 65 yards in nine plays and 3:41.

Windham did a nice job mixing the pass and the run.

After Leslie hit Hebert for six yards, Kyle Houser was held to a one yard gain, but on third-and-3, Leslie and Hebert hooked up for 38 yards to the Portland 20, as Hebert broke a pair of tackles before Bachelder momentarily saved the touchdown.

Leslie ran for nine yards and a four yard burst from Blake Houser set up first-and-goal from the 7. An illegal procedure penalty backed the visitors up five yards, but Leslie got seven back, Kyle Houser ran for three and on third-and-goal, Kyle Houser capped the drive with a 2 yard touchdown rush to the left. With 5:47 to play in the half, Medina’s PAT made it 7-6 Eagles.

The Bulldogs looked to answer, but despite starting at their 47 after a squibbed kickoff, couldn’t pick up a first down, as Bachelder ran for two yards, Knop picked up four, Bolduc ran for three and on fourth-and-1, Bachelder was stuffed for no gain, giving Windham the ball back at its 44 with 4:02 to play before halftime.

The Eagles went backwards, due to a holding penalty, and after Leslie ran for three yards, then hit Henderson for six, Blake Houser was held to two yards on a reverse and the visitors had to punt.

Portland got one more chance before halftime, starting at its 31, but Bachelder lost two yards, Bolduc ran for five and on the final play of the half, Knop rushed for nine.

Windham, thanks to a 118-85 advantage in yardage, took a 7-6 lead to the break.

Portland had some work to do and things got dire when the Eagles started the second half by driving 70 yards on eight plays for another score.

Starting at the 30, Leslie started the half by rushing for four yards, but Windham then took an illegal procedure penalty. After Blake Houser ran for six yards, the Bulldogs had a chance to get off the field, but but they allowed Blake Houser to break a couple tackles and gain six yards for a first down at the 41. Henderson ran for nine yards, but Leslie was held no gain, only to have that turn into a footnote as a facemask penalty gave the Eagles a first down at the Portland 35.

After Bolduc and Stasium held Kyle Houser to just one yard on a reception, a false start backed Windham up five yards and Leslie threw incomplete, but Leslie returned to the air on third down and found Hebert wide open behind the secondary on a post pattern for a 39 yard score with 8 minutes to go in the third. Medina’s PAT stretched the Eagles’ lead to 14-6 and with it, doubt began to creep in along the Bulldogs’ sideline.

But with the prospect of an agonizing loss staring it in the face, Portland came to life and controlled the remainder of the game.

The offense kicked into gear thanks to something that was legalized in 1906 but was largely ignored in the first half, the forward pass.

Starting at the 30 after Bolduc recovered a loose ball on the kickoff, the Bulldogs went right to the air, as Bachelder hit Foley for seven yards. A second down throw was incomplete, but Bachelder found Knop for five yards on the next snap, as Knop eluded two tacklers to move the chains. Portland returned to the ground, as Bolduc gained nine yards, then two to pick up a first down at the Windham 47. After Bachelder was sacked for a seven yard loss by Kyle Houser and junior Tanner Bernier, Bolduc ran for three to set up third-and-14. Bachelder then found Hoyt, who made a momentum-turning, sliding catch for 15 yards to the Eagles’ 36, allowing the Bulldogs to keep their drive alive.

After Bolduc ran for two yards, Hoyt got the ball and ran for one, but a facemask call tacked on five more. Bachelder lost a yard, setting up third-and-3, but another quick hitting pass, this one to senior Dante Hamilton, gained 14 yards for a first down at the 15. After Bolduc gained two yards, Bachelder faked to Bolduc, dropped back again, fired a bullet to Foley just in front of the goal line and Foley took the ball across the plane for a touchdown with exactly 1 minute to go in the quarter.

Trailing by two, Portland chose to go for the two-point conversion and it proved to be a wise call, as Bachelder, out of the shotgun, took the snap, ran right and danced into the end zone to make it 14-14.

“We were tight in the first half, but we calmed down at halftime,” Hartman said. “We were a little too conservative and they were stacking the box. We didn’t have great field position to throw the ball around. There were some plays we wished we could have had back. That (third quarter) drive was huge and that two-point conversion was phenomenal.”

The Eagles ended the third period with a two yard run by Leslie, then started the fourth with a block in the back penalty. Hoyt then sacked Leslie for a loss and a short Leslie run forced a punt.

With 10:07 to go in the game, the Bulldogs started at their 41 and thanks to some help from their foe, drove for the go-ahead score.

The march began auspiciously as Bolduc ran for six yards, then for six more and a first down at the Windham 49. After Bolduc ran for five yards, then two, the Eagles jumped offsides, moving the chains to the 37. The visitors’ defense then stiffened, forcing Bachelder to throw incomplete and after a bad pitch resulted in a five yard loss, Bachelder missed a wide open Foley in the end zone, forcing a punt.

Bachelder dropped back to kick and got it off, but a split second after his boot, Bachelder was run over by a Windham rusher, who barreled into the punter. A flag was thrown and the roughing the kicker penalty gave Portland an automatic first down at the Eagles’ 27.

“I punted it and I got hit,” Bachelder said. “I don’t remember much because I got hit hard, but it got us the first down, so it’s alright by me.”

“That was a really big penalty and that helped us out a lot,” Bolduc said.

“That was a big game-changer,” Knop said. “I was happy about that. Everybody was.”

“Those are killer plays,” Hartman added. “The punt game is huge. You have to control yourself.”

The Bulldogs took advantage, even though it appeared Windham would stop them in their tracks.

After Bolduc gained a yard, Bachelder kept the ball and was thrown by Jacobson for a two yard loss. Bachelder scrambled on the next play and gained six, but that set up fourth-and-six from the 23.

Enter Knop.

Knop, who missed the regular season meeting with injury and who earlier this week signed his National Letter of Intent to attend and play baseball at Manhattan College, made his biggest play in a Portland football uniform with the game and the season on the line.

Bachelder went back to throw, stayed in the pocket, then hit Knop at the 10. Knop had to dance away from three tacklers, then put his head down and carried one more into the end zone with him as he completed a 23 yard TD catch with 5:03 to play.

“We ran a hitch,” Knop said. “I faked outside, went inside and I had to score. I hadn’t done anything all game. I had to get in the end zone. Coach likes to pound the ball down their throat, but once we threw the ball, you saw what happened.”

“We’ve had great backs all year and we started the game trying to run, but they stuffed us, so we had to go to the air,” Bachelder said. “Jake’s a great receiver. He’s my favorite receiver. He’s a great athlete.”

“It was really nice to see Jake score,” Bolduc said. “He hasn’t gotten the ball that much, but he’s a terrific player.”

“Jake was drooling for this game after not playing in the first game,” Hartman added. “He’s a big time player. He was determined and just wore them down.”

Clarke’s PAT split the uprights and put the finishing touches on a 12 play, 59 yard, 5:04 drive and Portland led, 21-14.

The Eagles had ample time to answer, but again, the Bulldogs’ defense wouldn’t be denied.

After a low snap led to a six yard loss on first down, Leslie handed to Blake Houser, who was stuffed for no gain by Farnsworth. Farnsworth then sacked Leslie for a loss and Windham had to punt.

Portland got the ball back at its 46 with 3:43 to go, knowing a couple of first downs would essentially run out the clock and salt away the victory.

Instead, the Bulldogs ended all doubt with another score.

Three straight Bolduc runs gained 11 yards for a first down at the Eagles’ 43.

After Bolduc carried twice more for eight yards, Windham called timeout, but couldn’t get the stop it needed, as Bolduc took a pitch, ran to his left and he not only picked up the first down, he found room down the left sideline and wouldn’t be caught, completing a 35 yard scoring run with 1:13 to play.

“We had to change some blocking assignments we weren’t expecting,” Bolduc said. “The coaches noticed and we tweaked a few things and it worked out in our favor. I just had to find a hole and took it. It felt good.”

“I was on his side, sealed my block and watched him walk into the end zone,” Knop said. “It was an outstanding feeling.”

“Dylan deserved to score the clinching touchdown,” Bachelder said. “He got beat up all night. Good for him.”

While Clarke’s extra point missed to the right, Portland had a 27-14 lead and was close enough to taste victory.

That taste turned into a downright smorgasbord moments later, as after Farnsworth and Hoyt combined to sack Leslie for a six yard loss, Leslie threw incomplete, then was intercepted by Stasium at the Windham 41 with 33.7 seconds to play.

One Bachelder kneel down later did the trick and at 9:18 p.m., the Bulldogs were able to celebrate their 27-14 triumph and a repeat regional championship.

“It was a gut check,” Bolduc said. “They were a tough team. We had to rearrange some things, calm ourselves down and pick it up. We seem to be a second half team. We knew we could come back. We weren’t going to go home.”

“They really gave us everything we could handle,” Knop said. “It was surprising. We went up to the line and they were yelling out what we were going to run. We had to switch it up. It was a gut check for our line and skill players and we put our heads down and got the win. We had to stay positive. We had to pick each other up and know we’re going to win and that’s what happened tonight.”

“We found a way,” Bachelder said. “In the locker room at halftime, we dug deep. We had to bring back the Portland attitude on defense. We executed on offense and we got the ‘W.'”

“They’re a great team with a great coach and they have great players who play with heart and we knew they weren’t going to go down without swinging,” Hartman added. “Our players reached deep down inside to come through.”

Portland mustered 182 yards of offense in the second half and wound up with 263 total. Bolduc gained 135 yards on 26 carries and scored twice. Knop only touched the ball four times, but had two receptions for 28 yards and a TD and ran twice for 6 yards. Bachelder ran 10 times for 17 yards and completed 7-of-10 passes for 87 yards for a pair of scores. Hoyt had two receptions for 25 yards and finished with 1.5 sacks. Foley caught two balls for 20 yards and a TD and Hamilton had one catch for 14 yards.

The Bulldogs overcame two turnovers and four penalties for 45 yards.

Windham, which had 159 yards of offense, was hindered by two turnovers and 10 penalties for 83 yards.

Leslie completed 9-of-15 passes for 121 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He ran nine times for 40 yards. Kyle Houser scored a TD and had 6 yards on three carries. He also caught a pass for a 1 yard. Blake Houser had six carries for 18 yards and caught two passes for 9 yards. Henderson gained 9 yards on one rush and caught two passes for 6. Hebert had four receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Second chance

For just the second time ever, Portland will appear in back-to-back state finals. In 2001, the Bulldogs lost to Bangor, then got back the following year and won the program’s most recent championship, dominating Edward Little.

This year’s team hopes to follow a similar script.

Portland and Bonny Eagle have played four previous times in the playoffs with the Scots prevailing on three occasions. The last meeting came in the 2009 Western A quarterfinals when Bonny Eagle won, 25-19.

The teams met this preseason, but haven’t played in a countable game since Sept. 21, 2012, when the Bulldogs won, 13-7, in overtime, in Standish.

Saturday, Portland can put an ideal cherry on the sundae of its season and its seniors’ careers.

“It’s unbelievable to get back to states,” said Knop. “I’m so thankful to be on the field. I’m so happy to be here. We just have to keep our emotions in check. They’re a tough team and they have size, but I don’t think anyone has as much heart as we do and I think that’s what wins us games.”

“We’ll get in the film room and scout them,” Bachelder said. “We’ll work hard in practice and execute the game plan and hopefully get that Gold Ball.”

“It feels good, but we have to go one step further this year,” Bolduc said. “It means a lot to us, but we know how good Bonny Eagle is and how physical they are. We have experience this year, which will be in our favor.”

“I have to watch film,” Hartman added. “They’re tough. We’ll have our hands full. If we’re going to win, we have to be much more disciplined this week.”

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

Portland senior Dylan Bolduc looks for some running room as Windham sophomore Blake Houser prepares to make a tackle. Bolduc wound up gaining 135 yards and scored two touchdowns in the victory.

Portland junior Vinny Pasquali, right, celebrates with junior Griffin Foley after an interception.

Portland senior quarterback Issiah Bachelder prepares a pass.

Portland junior Griffin Foley completes a touchdown reception in the third quarter.

Portland senior Dylan Bolduc, left, senior Nick Giaquinto and sophomore Koa Farnsworth wrap up Windham sophomore Blake Houser.

Portland senior Jake Knop breaks the tackle attempt of Windham senior Griffeth Hebert.

Portland senior Ethan Hoyt, right, celebrates a sack with sophomore Ben Levine (50) and senior Nick Giaquinto.

There weren’t enough Housers on the field to stop Portland senior Jake Knop on his go-ahead touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. After breaking the tackle of senior Kyle Houser, Knop prepares to get past sophomore Blake Houser en route to the end zone.

Portland junior Vinny Pasquali shows off the championship plaque to the Bulldogs’ student section following the win.

Previous Portland stories

Season Preview

Scarborough 14 Portland 13

Portland 42 Windham 21

Portland 35 Cheverus 27

Class A North semifinal
Portland 55 Oxford Hills 7 

Previous Portland-Windham playoff results

2015 Class A North Final
Portland 24 Windham 7

2014 Eastern A semifinals
Windham 21 Portland 17

2013 Eastern A quarterfinals
Portland 55 Windham 7

2012 Western A quarterfinal
Portland 35 Windham 21

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