Portland soars past Windham for critical victory

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Portland sophomore Ben Levine, left, senior Nick Archambault and senior Dylan Bolduc celebrate a big play during Friday night’s showdown at Windham. Levine’s steady play on the line and Bolduc’s heroics in relief of the injured Archambault helped the Bulldogs earn a pivotal 42-21 victory.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Portland 42 Windham 21

P- 14 0 7 21- 42
W- 0 7 0 14- 21

First quarter
P- Archambault 2 run (Clarke kick)
P- Bachelder 1 run (Clarke kick)

Second quarter
W- Watson 11 run (Medina kick)

Third quarter
P- Bachelder 1 run (Clarke kick)

Fourth quarter
P- Bolduc 5 run (Clarke kick)
W- B. Hosmer 95 kickoff return (Medina kick)
W- Leslie 1 run (Medina kick)
P- Foley 4 pass from Bachelder (Clarke kick)
P- Hoyt 60 fumble return (Clarke kick)

WINDHAM—Portland’s football team has faced its share of adversity in the early going of the 2016 season and Friday evening at halftime of its showdown at regional rival Windham, the Bulldogs, the reigning Class A North champions, appeared to be in dire straits.

But Portland, as it did so often a year ago, dug deep into its reservoir of championship-caliber heart to produce a signature victory.

Thanks in large part to a trio of seniors who in the second half, simply wouldn’t be denied.

The Bulldogs appeared en route to an easy win when they twice drove for touchdowns in the first period, a 2-yard run from senior Nick Archambault, who was the lead back early in the game, and a 1-yard dive from senior quarterback Issiah Bachelder, to take a 14-0 lead.

But late in the quarter, Archambault suffered a knee injury and had to leave the game. Portland’s offense suddenly went stagnant and after they benefited from a pass interference penalty, the Eagles cut their deficit in half in the second period when junior Nate Watson scored on a 11-yard TD run to make it anyone’s game, 14-7, at halftime.

The Bulldogs needed someone to fill the void and they turned to senior Dylan Bolduc, who turned 18 Friday and carried the ball 24 times in the second half and more importantly, carried his team into the win column.

Bolduc rushed 10 times on a 14-play, 7 minute, 19-second drive in the third quarter which culminated in a 1-yard Bachelder scoring run to give Portland a 21-7 lead.

Then, with 7:14 to play in the fourth, Bolduc capped an 11-play march with a 5-yard TD scamper to make it 28-7 and seemingly put the victory on ice.

But proud Windham refused to buckle and after sophomore Blake Houser returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, the Eagles struck again after a poor punt and pulled within 28-21 with 3:19 still to play, when senior quarterback Desmond Leslie scored on a 1-yard run.

Portland wasn’t about to let the win slip away, however, and after eschewing the pass nearly the whole night, Bachelder hit junior Griffin Foley for a key conversion, then on 4th-and-goal from the 4 with 1:17 showing, Bachelder found Foley again for a touchdown and some breathing room.

With less than a minute remaining, Bulldogs senior Ethan Hoyt, whose defensive effort was stellar and whose blocking helped pave the way for Bolduc, got his moment in the limelight, as he snared a loose ball and returned it 60 yards to paydirt, capping a palpitating 42-21 victory.

The Bulldogs made it seven wins in their last eight games against Windham, improved to 2-1, dropped the Eagles to 2-1 in the process and secured the inside track on homefield advantage in the region, even though the playoffs are six weeks away.

“We had to calm some boys down at halftime,” said Portland coach Jim Hartman. “Guys were thinking more about Archie (being injured) than playing football. We told them to run some plays and relax.”

Much at stake

It isn’t often that a mid-September game is viewed as crucial, but Portland went to Windham Friday knowing that if it wanted to be the top seed and have homefield advantage for the playoffs for the second straight season, it needed to come away victorious.

That’s because the Bulldogs stumbled in their opener, falling, 14-13, to visiting Scarborough. While Portland righted the ship a bit last weekend behind a second half surge en route to a 40-14 victory at Edward Little, it had little margin for error entering Friday’s contest.

Windham rolled in its first two games, but wasn’t really tested, as it downed visiting Lewiston (41-8) and host Bangor (37-0).

The teams have created a pretty intense rivalry in recent seasons, meeting in the playoffs four years running.

Entering play Friday, the Bulldogs held an 8-6 all-time lead, thanks to a pair of wins a year ago, 10-3 in the regular season, thanks to Bolduc’s long interception return for a touchdown just before halftime, and 24-7 in the Class A North Final, as eventual Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Joe Esposito rushed for 194 yards and a score.

This time around, on a great night for football, the 2016 Bulldogs forged their identity, which could result in great things down the road.

Portland got the ball first, but went three-and-out, as Archambault rushed  for three yards and after an illegal formation penalty and after Bachelder was sacked for a 10-yard loss by Windham junior Justin Labrecque, Archambault’s seven-yard run forced a punt.

The Eagles began their first drive at their 21 after a block in the back penalty and promptly went three-and-out, as Houser ran for four yards, Leslie gained one and Houser gained two more.

With 7:51 to play in the first quarter, after a nice punt return, the Bulldogs started at the Windham 46 and eight plays and 2:55 later had the lead for good.

Archambault got things started with rushes of seven yards and two yards. Bachelder then kept the ball and ran for six yards to move the chains. After a fumbled exchange moved Portland back a couple yards, Bachelder hit Hoyt for 19 yards over the middle, setting up a first-and-10 at the 14.

After Archambault gained three yards, Bachelder pitched the ball to sophomore Zach Elowitch for nine yards on an option, setting up first-and-goal, where Archambault bulled in from the 2  to break the ice with 4:56 remaining in the quarter. Junior Quinn Clarke added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.

The hosts hoped to answer, but this time went backwards, as Leslie gained a yard, then threw incomplete and on third down, Bulldogs sophomore Ben Levine threw junior Nazari Henderson for a four-yard loss on a jet sweep. An illegal procedure penalty backed the Eagles up five more yards and Houser’s 23-yard punt gave Portland the ball at the Windham 40.

Again, the Bulldogs drove for a touchdown, but this time, it came at a hefty price.

Archambault ran six straight times for 35 yards, but on his final carry, which set up third-and-goal from the 5, he was felled by a knee injury and had to come to the sideline.

Archambault would be down on the turf for several minutes, being looked at by medical personnel, then stayed on the sidelines on crutches the rest of the evening.

Back on the field, Bachelder capped the drive by picking up four yards to set up fourth-and-goal, then scoring from the 1 as time expired in the first period, capping an eight play, 3:21 march. Clarke’s PAT extended the lead to 14-0.

Portland appeared primed to put the game away, but instead, the Bulldogs suffered an emotional letdown without Archambault and the Eagles got a second life.

Windham started its next drive from its 14 after a chop block penalty, but Leslie connected with Houser for 16 yards. After Portland sophomore Ben Stasium snuffed out a Henderson jet sweep and held him to no gain, a bad snap resulted in a 10-yard loss. Leslie found Houser for 10 yards on third-and-20, but that forced another punt.

Starting from their 33, the Bulldogs’ offense began to slow and they had to punt after Bolduc ran twice for eight yards and Elowtich gained one.

With 6:51 left in the half, the Eagles started at their 30 and began to move the ball, even though they consistently shot themselves in the foot.

Senior Kyle Houser saw his first action, racing for 10 yards, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved the ball back from the 40 to the 25. Kyle Houser then raced free up the middle for 56 yards, but another personal foul brought the ball back from the Portland 19 to the 45. After Levine and sophomore Richard Farnsworth combined to sack Leslie for a five-yard loss, Leslie ran for two yards, setting up third-and-13. Leslie then came up big, connecting with senior Griffeth Hebert for 14 yards to move the chains. After Leslie ran for four yards, he was sacked for a five-yard loss by senior Nick Giaquinto, then found Watson for six yards, but that set up fourth-and-5 from the 29.

Windham then got a break, as Leslie’s deep pass fell incomplete, but a pass interference penalty on the Bulldogs gave the Eagles a first down at the 14. After Kyle Houser ran for three yards, Watson raced up the gut for an 11-yard touchdown to get the hosts on the board with 1:40 to go before halftime, capping an 11-play, 70-yard, 5:17 drive. Sophomore Claudio Medina added the extra point to cut the deficit to 14-7.

A 34-yard kickoff return by Pasquali and a horsecollar penalty on Windham started Portland at the Eagles’ 41, but after Bachelder ran for a yard, he was intercepted on the far sideline by Blake Houser.

Windham didn’t have time to do anything with the ball, as Elowitch’s sack brought the clock to zero, but despite being outplayed much of the first two periods, the Eagles were only down, 14-7, and seemingly had all the momentum entering the break.

The Bulldogs then regrouped.

Windham got the ball to start the second half and had a chance to draw even, but Hoyt tipped a Leslie pass incomplete, Kyle Houser was held to no gain and under pressure, Leslie threw incomplete to force a punt.

Portland took over at midfield with 11:09 remaining in the third quarter and didn’t give the ball back until striking paydirt 7 minutes, 19 seconds later.

The scoring drive was almost all Bolduc.

Bolduc moved the chains by rushing twice for 11 yards. Hoyt then got the ball twice for seven yards and after Bolduc ran for two yards on third-and-3, Bachelder kept the ball for a yard to set up first down at the Windham 29.

Three more Bolduc rushes gained 14 yards and set up first down at the 15. Bolduc ran for seven yards, gained two, then on third-and-1, ran for three more for a first-and-goal at the 3.

Bolduc got the ball again, but was stopped at the 1 and on second down, Bachelder saw something that made him audible out of the called play and he kept the ball and snuck in for the 1-yard touchdown with 3:50 to go in the quarter. Clarke’s PAT extended the lead to 21-7 and restored momentum to the Bulldogs’ side of the field.

Portland’s defense kept the momentum, as Levine and Giaquinto combined for a sack and a six-yard loss, Kyle Houser ran for five yards and Leslie threw incomplete, forcing another punt.

With 1:57 left in the third, the Bulldogs began at their 48 and embarked on another 7-plus-minute drive to seemingly put the game away.

Hoyt got things started by rushing for five yards and Bolduc ran twice for five more, setting up fourth-and-inches as the third period gave way to the fourth.

Bachelder then kept the ball for a yard and after a false start penalty, Bolduc ran for three yards and two yards and Hoyt picked up six, but that created a fourth-and-4 from the Eagles’ 35.

Portland went to the line to go for it, but before the ball was snapped, Bachelder drew Windham offsides, moving the chains again. Bolduc then ran for seven yards and eight more for a first down at the 15. After running for 10 yards, Bolduc this time got to cap the drive with a 5-yard scoring burst, his first offensive TD of the season (Bolduc returned an interception for a score at Edward Little last week), capping an 11-play, 52-yard, 7:14 march.

With 6:37 left, Clarke added the extra point to make it 28-7.

Windham appeared down for the count, but perhaps inspired by Portland’s touchdown celebration (which saw several Bulldogs mock the Eagles’ Nest student section), it roared right back.

Kyle Houser took the ensuing kickoff from the 5 and roared up the field. On a couple occasions, Houser appeared corralled, but he broke several tackles before completing a dazzling 95-yard scoring return. Medina added the PAT to make it 28-14 with 6:18 left.

Portland hoped to take some time off the clock, but after Hoyt ran for a yard, Bolduc couldn’t handle a pitch from Bachelder and while he pounced on the loose ball, the play resulted in an eight-yard loss. On third-and-17, Bolduc gained six yards, but the Bulldogs had to punt.

After an illegal procedure penalty moved Portland back five more yards, Hoyt only managed seven yards on a punt and senior Cam Hoffses astutely caught the ball at the 21 and brought it back 20 yards to set up first-and-goal from the 1.

Kyle Houser was held to no gain on first down, but with 3:19 to go, Leslie kept the ball and crossed the goal line to make things very interesting. Medina’s extra point cut the deficit to a mere seven points, 28-21.

The Bulldogs went from celebrating a lopsided win to having to run out the clock and they again rose to the occasion.

Starting from its 35 with 3:12 left, Portland drove for a clinching score.

On first down, Bolduc ran for five yards, but the Bulldogs then dug into their bag of tricks, faking a run and having Bachelder drop back to hit Foley for 40 yards down the right sideline for a first down at Windham’s 20.

With under two minutes to go, Bolduc ran for a yard, then he was seemingly stopped at the line of scrimmage, but keeping his legs moving while running backwards, Bolduc wasn’t stopped until going out of bounds at the 5.

“A couple defenders were behind me and a couple people were in front of me and no one stopped me, so I kept going,” Bolduc said.

After Bolduc ran for a yard, followed by an Eagles’ timeout, he ran for two more yards, as Windham coach Matt Perkins used his final timeout. Bachelder kept the ball and lost two yards on a keeper, setting up fourth down from the 4.

Portland initially planned to send Clarke on for a field goal, but called a timeout and decided to put the offense back on the field. With 1:17 left, the Bulldogs passed up the run as Bachelder dropped back and threw to a wide open Foley in front of the left pylon for a 4-yard touchdown, capping an eight-play, 65 yard, 1:55 drive. Clarke’s PAT made it 35-21.

There was still one round of fireworks remaining.

The Eagles started at their 41 and got a 19-yard pass from Leslie to Henderson. Leslie then connected with Blake Houser, but Bolduc knocked the ball loose and Hoyt caught it in the air at the 40 and raced up the right sideline. He didn’t stop until he crossed the goal line 60 yards away and with 46.3 seconds to go, Portland finally had its clinching score.

“I didn’t even know what was happening,” Hoyt said. “It just came into my hands, I ran down the field and scored. It felt great.”

“I thought the clock would run out before he got there,” Bachelder joked.

Clarke’s extra point made it 42-21.

In the waning seconds, Leslie hit Henderson for 12 yards, then threw a pair of incomplete passes before rushing for seven yards. Kyle Houser ran for 11 more, but that was the final play of the game and the Bulldogs got to celebrate their victory.

“We came together as a team and did what we had to do,” Hoyt said. “It was heart and we wanted it more.”

“At halftime, we got it figured out, put new people in new positions and calmed down,” Bachelder said. “We took care of the ball and did our best to control the clock.”

Portland finished with a 252-128 advantage in yardage. The Bulldogs only turned the ball over once and limited their penalties to four flags for 30 yards.

Bolduc was the workhorse, gaining 109 yards and scoring a TD on 26 carries.

“I had to calm myself down at halftime,” Bolduc said. “The coaches calmed us down and filled spots. We just had to go do it. Usually, Nick is the lead rusher. He went down, so it was ‘Next Guy Up.'”

“I played against Dylan in Little Lad and all I heard was, ‘Go, Dylan, Go,'” Bachelder said. “He’s always been capable of running great and he showed it tonight when it was his turn.”

“Dylan ran great,” Hoyt said. “He just followed me. That’s all he had to do. He drove the ball and got first downs.”

“We had to get Dylan used to being the lead back,” Hartman added. “I think he’s great. Once he gained confidence, he’s a hell of a back.”

Archambault had 59 yards and a touchdown on 12 rushes before being injured.

Bachelder only threw four times, but completed three for 63 yards and a TD, while also throwing an interception. Bachelder scored two TDs on eight rushes and gained 13 yards.

Hoyt rushed five times for 19 yards and caught one pass for 19.

Foley had two receptions for 44 yards and a TD.

Ultimately, the normally unheralded big boys in the trenches earned plenty of praise.

“The line did a great job,” Hoyt said, “They got the game ball.”

“The line was terrific and Ethan was great too,” Bolduc said. “They had to push every play and didn’t stop until the clock hit zero.”

“Our line played perfect,” Bachelder said. “We have the best line in the state and the best backfield in the state.”

“There’s an old idiom that four 13-play drives, you can’t lose,” Hartman said. “I told the line before the game that they’re the best line in the conference and they’re the best line I’ve had at Portland. (Senior) Dante Hamilton, (junior) Charlie Egeland, Giaquinto, Levine and Farnsworth are great and they’re all driven by (senior) Dylan Wike, who has come out and become a really good center who controls everything. It’s just a great line.”

Defensively, Portland got the fumble return for a score from Hoyt, 1.5 sacks from Giaquinto, one from Levine and a half sack from Farnsworth.

Windham committed a turnover, was flagged seven times for 82 yards and was on defense much of the second half.

Leslie completed 8-of-15 passes for 95 yards and ran seven times for 6 yards and a TD.

Big picture

Windham is in the midst of a brutal four-week stretch which continues next Saturday, when it goes to two-time defending Class A champion Thornton Academy. Last fall, the Eagles upset the Golden Trojans in Windham, but Thornton Academy has looked close to unstoppable in the early going. After hosting Edward Little, the Eagles welcome preseason favorite Bonny Eagle Oct. 7.

Portland returns to Fitzpatrick Stadium for the first time since Opening Night when Oxford Hills pays a visit a week from Saturday. The Bulldogs then go to Cheverus before finishing with home games versus Lewiston and Bangor and a trip to South Portland.

“This builds confidence for the rest of the year,” Hoyt said.

“This was our best team effort overall,” Bachelder said. “We still need to improve on special teams and work hard and don’t stop.”

“This means a lot,” Bolduc said. “If we keep it up, it means homefield advantage.”

“We needed this for this team to get rid of last year and believe in themselves,” Hartman added. “We want to play at Fitzy in November.”

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

Portland sophomore Zach Elowitch races down the sideline.

Portland junior Vinny Pasquali tries to avoid Windham junior Nazari Henderson.

Windham sophomore Blake Houser is wrestled down by Portland junior Griffin Foley as senior Dylan Bolduc closes in.

Portland junior Vinny Pasquali brings down Windham senior Griffeth Hebert.

Portland senior Nick Archambault gets a block from sophomore Ben Stasium on a return.

Previous Portland-Windham results

2015
@ Portland 10 Windham 3
Class A North Final
@ Portland 24 Windham 7

2014
Portland 12 @ Windham 6
Eastern A semifinals
@ Windham 21 Portland 17 

2013
@ Portland 57 Windham 14
Eastern A semifinals
@ Portland 55 Windham 7

2012
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 35 @ Windham 21

2011
@ Windham 16 Portland 7

2010
Windham 20 @ Portland 14

2009
@ Windham 38 Portland 6

2008
Windham 48 @ Portland 7

2007
@ Windham 14 Portland 2

2006
Portland 25 @ Windham 14

2005
@ Portland 36 Windham 7

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