Portland stays red-hot, pulls away for 35-14 win at Biddeford

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BIDDEFORD —The Blue raised their helmets high in unison and gathered at the fence that separates the playing field from the fans.

In a moment as impromptu as it was heartfelt, Portland football fans demanded the team deliver an a cappella rendition of an ancient battle cry. And while some may have mumbled through a great deal of the “Blue and White” middle stanzas, the ending echoed crystal clear across Waterhouse Field: “It was a victory for Portland High.”

In fact, it was the third straight victory for the Bulldogs and it was the second time in two weeks they had dominated a previously unbeaten team.

Friday night, a week after blanking Cheverus 28-0, Portland would not be intimidated by Biddeford, or the electric atmosphere that exists at every Tigers’ home game, breaking a 14-14 halftime tie with 21 unanswered points for a 35-14 victory against its York County foe in crossover week for Western Class A, improving to 3-2 and remaining smack dab in the middle of the playoff picture in the process.

“That was a great win for us,” said Portland coach Mike Bailey. “I think we came out with a little too much emotion and we didn’t take care of our responsibilities early. We had too many penalties. But to come down here and beat a good team like this at this place is no easy task. That’s two straight wins over undefeated teams. These guys drive me nuts, but it’s a very close group. They practice hard every single day.”

Junior hybrid-back Imadhi Zagon rushed 15 times for 174 yards and a pair of 40-plus yard touchdowns, gathering 113 of those yards in the second half after being pressed into action as the full-time quarterback in the wildcat offense.

When senior quarterback Gordon Parker was injured fielding the first punt return for Portland in the second half, Zagon stepped in, like he has on occasion each game, and directed the Bulldogs’ version of the “Wildcat” on three scoring drives including his improbable 59-yard score after recovering his own fumble in the shotgun formation.

With the Tigers (4-1) geared up to slow Zagon and junior fullback Will Walsh, the Bulldogs handed to junior wing back Caleb Kenney for a pair of second half touchdowns on the designed counter-trap against play-action.

Kenney went in untouched to score the Bulldogs’ first touchdown of the second half for a 21-14 lead, and then caught the Tigers napping for a 20-yard touchdown run on the same play for the final score of the game with just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

“We have been working on that play the last few weeks in practice,” said Kenney. “The last two weeks the jet sweep has been working real well for us, so we haven’t needed to use it.”

Walsh, a bruising runner, carried 15 times for 98 yards, as Portland had another big game on the ground. Zagon, Walsh, Kenney and senior Jake Alexander combined to rush for 313 yards and four touchdowns, with a 27-yard Parker to senior Adam Gould pass that gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 first quarter lead accounting for the other score.

Not to be lost in the splash created by Zagon, Walsh and the potent ground attack, the Bulldogs defensive unit has been downright oppressive in all three wins. Led on the line of scrimmage by senior tri-captains Joe Zukowski, Nolan Hellen and John Wescott, with Alexander and Walsh as linebackers often in the down position, Portland posted back-to-back shutouts over Westbrook and Cheverus, then held the Tigers scoreless for the entire second half.

Portland gave up a total of 205 yards and 11 first downs to the Tigers, but only a mere two first downs and 39 yards in the second half. Portland was stingy upfront, but the hard-hitting play of senior safety Ted Volger must not be overlooked. Volger put several major licks on Biddeford receivers over the middle, before finally knocking himself senseless on another big hit and leaving with two minutes left in the game.

Defensive plays by the Bulldogs led directly to a pair of touchdowns against Biddeford. Hellen deflected a pass by Tigers quarterback Travis Vigneault that was intercepted by Zukowski and led to the first Portland touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Zukowski also knocked Vigneault from the game on the Tigers’ last scoring drive of the second half that tied the game at 14-14.

In the fourth quarter, Alexander, one of the league’s top defensive players, surprised Biddeford fullback Nick Gagne on a screen pass, stripped the ball free and watched as Hellen pounced on it at the Biddeford 20. That turnover led to Kenney’s second touchdown and a 35-14 Portland lead that would stand.

“This is a very special group,” said Alexander. “We’ve got a great group of guys. We went through some tough years together but we gained experience. We like to play football and knock off undefeated teams.”

After Zukowski’s interception gave the Bulldogs possession at the Tigers’ 31-yard line, Parker hit Gould with a beautiful floating spiral for a 27-yard touchdown with 54 seconds left in the first quarter. Feliks Cobanovic, perfect all night, added one of his five PAT kicks and it was 7-0.

On the ensuing kickoff, Biddeford fielded a short kick at its own 36-yard line and went 64 yards on six plays to tie the game at 7-7. Vigneault needed just 1:46 to hit senior Tyler Parker in the flat for a 16-yard touchdown reception.

Portland returned the favor on its very next drive, taking just five plays to go 80 yards and take a 14-7 lead with 5:16 left in the second quarter.

Walsh ran twice for 25 yards, and Zagon ran twice for 54 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown run that capped a 2:18 second scoring drive.

Biddeford had one more surge left before running out of gas in the second half, putting together an 11-play, 74-yard march to tie the score at 14-14 with 32 seconds left in the second.

Zukowski knocked Vigneault out of the game on the seventh play of the drive, but was flagged with a 15-yard personal foul on the play. Biddeford wide receiver Tyler Audie stepped in and hit Gagne for 14 yards to the 9, and two-plays later Gagne powered it in from the 1 for the Tigers final score.

Kenney added his first touchdown run on Portland’s second drive of the third quarter, before Zagon turned in the play of the game in shotgun with Parker out.

This particular snap bounced off Zagon’s shin and went forward toward the feet of his blocking linemen. Zagon kept his cool and shuffled up to collect the loose ball, spinning into a sea of orange-and-black to protect his prize. Seemingly down for no gain, he suddenly appeared spinning out of the pack and went 59 yards for the score.

Zagon’s touchdown gave the Bulldogs a 28-14 lead, and Kenney added his second touchdown run after Alexander forced the Tigers to fumble it away in the early moments of the fourth quarter.

Portland returns to Fitzpatrick Stadium Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff against the Gorham Rams (2-3). The Bulldogs then go to Windham and host South Portland. Two more victories would likely solidify Portland’s first playoff berth since 2006.