PORTLAND — The whipping was thorough and shocking.
With a new look offense and a challenge issued by coach Mike Bailey, the Portland Bulldogs decimated the previously unbeaten Cheverus Stags with a remarkably convincing 28-0 victory in a Western Class A game Friday night at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
After a lackluster effort last week forced the Bulldogs to come from behind and fight off winless Westbrook, Bailey dialed up the intensity this week in practice and installed a new offensive scheme that simply worked like a charm.
Portland (2-2) inserted senior Gordon Parker at quarterback, a move that allowed it to seamlessly switch to the Wildcat offense on any given play. In the interest of getting the football into the hands of their best player, the Bulldogs alternated junior tailback Imadhi Zagon into the mix at quarterback and split Parker to the outside where he had been playing to begin the season.
The switch at quarterback gave a new dimension to the Portland offense and added flexibility for a team determined to win the game with its three biggest weapons. Zagon, junior Will Walsh and senior Jake Alexander responded with a combined 416 yards rushing and four touchdowns, two from Zagon in the first half when Portland completely controlled the action en route to a 14-0 lead at intermission.
“We definitely made some changes this week to try and get (Zagon) in there at quarterback,” said Bailey. “The plan was to get the ball in our best athletes’ hands and try and beat them with our three best players. Still, nothing changes. Football always comes down to the line of scrimmage and I thought we dominated on both sides of the ball. It was a great team effort and one we really needed. We didn’t play that well last week and I was not a nice man in practice. They responded to my challenge.”
Zagon, perhaps the league’s most talented individual, carried 29 times for 186 yards, scoring on a four-yard power run to cap the Bulldogs 15-play, 70- yard, 6-minute, 32-second opening drive that set the tone for what would follow. Zagon carried six
times for 38 yards and the score, while Walsh carried eight times for
The Bulldogs second drive was more of the same, as they went 53 yards
on 11 plays before Zagon virtually walked in from the 3. Junior Feliks
Cobanovic added one of his four PAT kicks and it was 14-0 Portland with
4:58 left in the half.
Still, it was the Bulldogs third-scoring drive that began with 2:48
left in the third and ended with Walsh’s 37-yard scamper that may have
been their finest series. Portland thundered 93 yards on nine
consecutive running plays, four each from Walsh and Zagon, and one from
Alexander in just 2:58.
Walsh, a Cheverus transfer, carried 19 times for 137 yards. For his efforts, which included outstanding play at his outside linebacker position, Walsh earned the 2009 John Duffy Trophy awarded annually since 1986 to the Bulldogs most outstanding player in the Cheverus game.
“It’s a nice award but this was a total team effort,” said Walsh. “This is a great win for us. We put in a tough week of practice and hopefully we can keep rolling from here. We showed that we can compete against any team in the league.”
Adding to his offensive exploits, Walsh played a central role in taking the tight end option away from Cheverus junior quarterback Peter Gwilym. The Stags (3-1) had found success this season lulling the defense asleep with the running game, then attacking downfield with the tight end slipping out and often getting open in the flat.
Alexander, with a rare combination of size and speed, rushed only four times, all in motion behind the formation on the jet sweep. He still totaled 93 yards on the ground and scored the Bulldogs’ final touchdown with 5:43 left in the game on a 55-yard run down the Cheverus sideline.
At 6-foot-4, 196 pounds, Alexander’s relentless, hard-hitting style also fueled a Portland defensive attack that put the clamps on a Cheverus offense averaging 24 points in three consecutive wins. The Stags had problems handling Portland’s athletic and quick defensive front, anchored by senior tri-captains Joe Zukowski, John Wescott and Nolan Hellen, along with junior nose tackle Carl Szanton.
“This was a big win for us,” said Alexander. “We had to show the city of Portland that we are for real. The coaches put in a lot of time and had us prepared. It showed.”
The Stags, playing without senior tailback Matt Place (injured ankle), were woefully inefficient on offense against a Portland team that needed a big win to get back in the mix at the midway point of the season. Cheverus gained just 18 yards on 16 plays in the first half on three possessions.
After mustering just one first down in the first half, the Stags fared only marginally better the rest of the way. Cheverus managed five first downs in the second half, picking up 67 yards on 28 snaps, including 28 of them by Gwilym on a botched punt attempt that he turned into a fresh set of downs.
“(Portland) came out and played with a lot of emotion on defense,” said Cheverus coach John Wolfgram. “They’ve got some good athletes and they deserve the credit. We didn’t execute on offense and just didn’t play well.”
The Stags made their only venture inside the red zone trailing 21-0 with 10 minutes remaining in the game. After going three-and-out on their first possession of the fourth quarter, Gwilym launched a high punt that was misplayed by Portland and recovered by the Stags inside the 50-yard line at the 32.
Filling in for the injured Place, sophomore Spencer Cooke picked up a pair of yards on first down, and Gwilym hit senior Pat Chadbourne for a big gain of 16 yards down to the Bulldogs’ 14. On first down, Gwilym threw incomplete to senior Matt Ball, the winner of the Bob Duffy Trophy as the Stags’ most outstanding player. Junior Evan Jendrasko then rushed for six tough yards inside the 8 before disaster struck on third down.
Running out of real estate on the scramble to the home sideline, Gwilym lofted an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by Portland senior Jason Strauss at the goal line with 8:49 left.
Strauss returned the interception to the 20-yard line. Four plays later, Alexander came in motion right and took an inside handoff from Zagon 55 yards to the house to cement the Bulldogs’ impressive 28-0 win, which also snapped a two-year losing streak to Cheverus.
The Bulldogs will look to stay on a roll Friday night at Biddeford (4-0).
Cheverus could possibly get Place back when they’ll look to get back on track at home Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against the Kennebunk Rams (2-2).
Portland senior Jake Alexander broke into the free with Cheverus junior Evan Jendrasko giving chase. Alexander was part of a three-prong Bulldogs rushing attack that led to an easy victory.
Portland senior Will Walsh (a transfer from Cheverus) fought to break the grip of Stags junior Jack Bushey Friday night. Walsh and the Bulldogs improved to 2-2 on the year with a 28-0 win.
Cheverus junior quarterback Peter Gwilym was under pressure all night and was sacked on this play by Portland senior Jake Alexander.
Cheverus junior Peter Gwilym and Portland junior Imadhi Zagon got up close and personal during a short Zagon gainer Friday.