SCARBOROUGH—It took nine years for the Scarborough and South Portland football teams to meet in a countable game.
I think it’s safe to suggest that it was worth every second of the wait.
Friday evening at the Kippy Mitchell Sports Complex, in a palpitating passion play that can only be described as an instant classic, the Red Storm and Red Riots produced 48 minutes-and-then-some of some of the most dramatic football action of this or any other season.
For 24 minutes, however, it looked like it would be a Scarborough romp, as the Red Storm, desperate for a signature victory in a season dwindling away, rode the unstoppable rushing of senior Dan LeClair and the multi-dimensional skills of senior quarterback Ben Greenberg to a seemingly safe 27-6 halftime lead.
Then, proud South Portland roared to life.
In just over six minutes of the third period, the Red Riots scored three TDs, thanks to the passing and throwing of their talented senior signal caller, Duncan Preston, and the rushing of senior Joey DiBiase, and suddenly, the game was deadlocked, 27-27.
A long Red Storm drive culminated in a 7-yard Greenberg run with 6:57 to play to put the hosts back on top 34-27, but back came South Portland and with 3:31 to go, Preston found senior Jordan Susi for a 21-yard score to create another deadlock.
Not to be outdone, Greenberg led a 70-yard drive in just three plays, capping it with a 20-yard run and when Greenberg added a two-point conversion rush with 2:30 left, Scarborough was ahead again, 42-34.
Preston and his teammates then said, “anything you can do, I can do better,” rising off the deck once more, and with just 32.5 seconds left in regulation, DiBiase scored on a 6-yard run and Preston found his big tight end, junior Jaren Muller, for the two-point conversion and the game would, fittingly, go to overtime.
Scarborough got the first chance and it took just one play for LeClair to score on a 10-yard run. Red Storm coach Lance Johnson opted to go for two points and LeClair scored on the rush to make it 50-42.
South Portland, again, responded, as Preston, after a dazzling individual effort, hit junior Hayden Owen from 5-yards out and Preston barely got into the end zone on the two-point conversion to tie the score for the final time, 50-50, and force a second OT.
There, the Red Riots went on top for the first time all evening, as Preston found a wide-open Muller in the end zone for a 10-yard score. South Portland coach Steve Stinson elected to go for the safe extra point and a 57-50 advantage.
Scarborough had one final chance and it appeared to be for naught, when on third-and-goal, Greenberg couldn’t handle the snap and the Red Riots appeared to recover the ball to end the game, breaking out in a wild celebration in the aftermath.
It was premature.
Greenberg was ruled to be down by contact and on fourth down, LeClair barely broke the plane from the 1 and this game for the ages came down to a two-point try.
With South Portland understandably keying on Greenberg and LeClair, the handoff, surprisingly, went to Red Storm senior Chris Cyr, who dragged a tackler into the end zone, barely, and at last, Scarborough could celebrate arguably the most exciting victory in program annals, 58-57.
The Red Storm evened its record at 3-3 and dropped the Red Riots to 4-2 in the process.
“It’s right up there (with the best games I’ve ever been involved with),” said Johnson. “You don’t play a lot of overtime games in high school. It was an exciting game if it went to overtime or not. It was a lot of fun. Some parts of it were more fun than others. It really was amazing.”
First time, long time
Prior to Friday, the teams hadn’t met in nine years. In Scarborough’s first Class A season, 2003, South Portland came to Scarborough and dominated, 37-0. The following autumn, the Red Riots held off the Red Storm at home, 13-7.
Since then, nothing.
This fall, both squads have had their moments and even in defeat have been competitive.
South Portland, which missed the playoffs last fall with a 2-6 record, made the local football world sit up and take notice on Opening Night, when it upset visiting defending Class A champion Thornton Academy, 26-13. After letting a 14-0 lead slip away in a 46-21 loss at Bonny Eagle, the Red Riots handled visiting Massabesic (40-7) and Noble (41-14) before rallying from a 10-point deficit to win at Sanford last week, 21-10.
Scarborough dropped its opener, 21-6, at Sanford, then made a statement with a 34-7 home victory over Bangor. The Red Storm then gave host Thornton Academy and Bonny Eagle fits, but fell to both, 19-15, at the Golden Trojans and 34-26 at the Scots. Last week, Scarborough handled visiting Biddeford, 41-14, in its Homecoming contest.
Friday, the Red Storm looked like the hungrier and more desperate team in the first half, but the Red Riots dug deep into the reservoir of their pride and what resulted was a thriller that local fans will be talking about for years to come.
It took just five plays and just under two minutes for Scarborough to drive 70 yards for a touchdown as its opening statement.
The march was spearheaded by a 43-yard burst down the right sideline by LeClair. Two plays later, Greenberg completed his first pass, hitting senior Brendon Smith for 21 yards to the 1, and LeClair took it from there, bulling in to break the ice. Senior Cam Langlois added the point after for a 7-0 lead.
The visitors got a first down on a 17-yard run by DiBiase, but Scarborough’s defense held and LeClair fair caught the ensuing punt at the 5, meaning the Red Storm had to traverse 95 yards to get back in the end zone.
It took 14 plays and nearly seven minutes to do so, but as the first quarter (in which Scarborough outgained South Portland, 156 yards to 22) gave way to the second, the Red Storm struck again.
A 10-yard pass from Greenberg to Cyr got Scarborough out of the shadow of its end zone. A defensive hold then kept the drive alive. Greenberg and LeClair gradually matriculated the ball down the field and on the first play of the new period, Greenberg ran to his left and didn’t stop until he crossed the goal line, completing a 9-yard scamper. Langlois’ point-after made it 14-0 with eight seconds gone in the second quarter.
On the second play of the next Red Riots’ series, DiBiase fumbled and Red Storm senior Alec Cohen recovered at the South Portland 30.
That set the tone for another scoring drive, this one much shorter and quicker.
After LeClair ran for seven yards, the Red Riots jumped offsides. On the next snap, LeClair took the ball at the 18 and burst into the end zone. Langlois’ extra point with 9:49 to go before halftime made it 21-0 Scarborough.
When South Portland went three-and-out on its next series (consecutive Preston passes were batted down by senior Ben Garrard and Cyr), its prospects looked even more dire, but LeClair muffed the punt and Susi recovered at the Red Storm 13, giving the visitors some life.
A Scarborough facemask penalty helped the Red Riots get closer and with 7:35 to play in the half, DiBiase got his team on the board with a 2-yard run. Sophomore Nick Mezzanotte’s extra point was no good, wide left, but South Portland was back within 15, 21-6.
Not for long.
The Red Storm remained unstoppable on its next drive, marching 90 yards in just six plays, as Greenberg hit Smith for 11-yards, LeClair ran for 12-, then 19-yards and Greenberg finished it off, as he rambled 53-yards down the left sideline for another touchdown. This time, Langlois’ extra point was blocked, but Scarborough was up, 27-6.
On the first play of the next Red Riots’ drive, Preston was intercepted by senior Matt Fosler, but despite starting at the South Portland 48, the Red Storm wasn’t able to deliver what might have been the coup de grace, instead going backwards due to a holding penalty before having to punt.
The visitors went three-and-out and Scarborough was content to take its 27-6 advantage to the half.
The first half stats were staggering in the Red Storm’s favor, as it held a 284-44 advantage in offense and ran 34 plays to the Red Riots’ 20.
LeClair ran for 154 yards and two TDs on 16 carries, while Greenberg gained 91 yards on eight rushes, also scoring twice.
Stinson was not pleased.
“It was very discouraging at halftime,” Stinson said. “We weren’t responding to being punched in the face. You can’t give teams 24 minutes to do what they want and think you’ll win. We didn’t match their intensity early. They got after our running game, LeClair did a great job and Ben was amazing. He’s a great football player. He took it to another level tonight and was more than we could handle. The scoreboard wasn’t our focus at that point. It was effort and how we were playing.”
As for the Red Storm, it knew it would see a different South Portland squad in the second half, but no one expected such an emphatic rally in so short a time.
As if they flipped a switch, the Red Riots’ offense suddenly began to cut through the Scarborough defense in effortless fashion.
South Portland got the ball to start the second half and marched 66 yards in just seven plays, as a 23-yard pass from Preston to Owen was the big blow. A 14-yard run by DiBiase got the Red Riots close and Preston capped the drive with an 8-yard run. Mezzanotte’s extra point cut the deficit to a manageable 27-13 with 9:18 left in quarter number three.
Greenberg then helped South Portland get even closer as his pass downfield was tipped and intercepted by DiBiase, who returned it 29 yards. A facemask penalty tacked on 15 yards and the Red Riots began at the Red Storm 46.
Johnson second-guessed that play call.
“Danny was a little nicked up in the second half, so I tried to take a shot and it got intercepted,” he said. “I didn’t have to do that. We could have run the ball down the field.”
Seven plays later, Preston ran in from the 5 and Mezzanotte’s point after made it a 27-20 game with 4:56 still to go in the third.
South Portland’s defense then stood tall, forcing a three-and-out and after a high snap led to just an 11-yard punt from Greenberg, the Red Riots’ offense began at the Scarborough 31.
One play later, the game was improbably tied.
It would be DiBiase doing the honors, breaking tackles, then racing free into the end zone. Mezzanotte kicked the extra point and with 2:34 left in the third, the scoreboard read, 27-27.
In a mere 6:44, the Red Riots had erased a 21-point deficit.
“They adjusted to our defense,” LeClair said. “We knew (Preston) could throw, so we adjusted and they adjusted back.”
The Red Storm was reeling, but Greenberg wasn’t about to give the ball back without hanging seven points on the board.
Late in the third period, Scarborough began at its 25 and embarked on an impressive march which would chew up 17 plays and 7:30.
After LeClair gained three yards on third-and-2, the Red Storm faced third-and-2 at its 44 to start the final period, where Greenberg moved the chains with a four-yard run. Three plays later, on third-and-2 from the South Portland 44, Greenberg appeared trapped in the backfield, but fought off Preston’s tackle and managed to gain 10 yards before being brought down. Three plays later, it was third down again (and 3), but Greenberg wouldn’t be denied, as he managed to pick up eight to move the chains once more. After a 9-yard pass to Smith, Greenberg threw incomplete and ran for a yard, setting up fourth-and-inches from the 9. To the surprise of no one, Greenberg kept the ball and bulled forward for two yards. He then kept it again and this time didn’t stop until he crossed the goal line, completing a 7-yard score. Langlois added the PAT for a 34-27 lead with 6:57 to play.
South Portland, having already erased a 21-point deficit, treated a seven-point Scarborough lead as if it was swatting aside a gnat and drove 77 yards for the tying score.
Only after getting a big break.
On the first play, Preston appeared to be intercepted by LeClair, who returned the ball deep into Red Riots’ territory, but a roughing the passer penalty was called on the Red Storm, allowing the Red Riots to retain possession.
A 16-yard scramble by Preston moved the ball into Scarborough territory. A 25-yard pass to Owen set up first-and-10 at the 19. After Preston was thrown for a two-yard loss by Cyr, Preston hit Susi on the left sideline and Susi did the rest, turning the corner on a defender before speeding into the end zone. Mezzanotte’s extra point tied the game again, 34-34, with 3:31 left on the clock.
At this point, it was clear that neither defense was going to make a stop and that whoever had the ball last would probably win.
As it turned out, each prolific offense got to strut its stuff once more.
The Red Storm began at its 30 and on first down, Greenberg and Smith hooked up for 42 yards through the air. After Greenberg ran for eight yards, he took off again, up the middle, broke tackles and found the end zone from 20-yards out and with 2:30 to play, Scarborough was ahead again, 40-34.
The Red Storm was going to have Langlois kick the extra point, but South Portland jumped offsides, putting the ball at the 1 and Johnson reconsidered, having his charges go for two, and Greenberg carried the ball in for a 42-34 lead.
That meant the Red Riots had to drive for a touchdown and a two-point conversion to extend the game.
Piece of cake.
A 24-yard pass to Owen got the team moving. Preston then found Muller for 19. Preston scrambled for three more and with 57.3 seconds showing, South Portland called timeout.
DiBiase then broke free for 15 yards to the 12 and after Preston threw incomplete, Preston found Muller for six yards to the 6, setting up third-and-four.
Instead of passing, the Red Riots gave the ball to DiBiase and he wouldn’t be denied, scoring on a 6-yard run up the gut and with 32.5 seconds to play, South Portland was a two-point conversion away from tying the score for the third time.
After the coaches traded timeouts, Preston dropped back, appeared on the verge of being sacked, then threw to a surprisingly wide open Muller just over the end line.
Scarborough got the ball back at its 20 after a touchback and the way it had moved the ball all night, Johnson gave Greenberg the green light to try and make something miraculous happen, but after the quarterback ran for five yards, a delay of game penalty short-circuited the drive and the Red Storm settled for overtime.
In Maine high school football overtime, each team gets one untimed series from the opponent’s 10 and if they both score the same amount of points, it’s on to another OT.
On a magical night like this one, it was only right that we doubled our pleasure.
Scarborough had the first crack and LeClair scored immediately on a 10-yard burst. Eschewing the extra point, the Red Storm went for two and LeClair took care of that as well with a rush and the Red Storm led, 50-42.
“It reminds me of the movie ‘The Longest Yard,’ when they say, ‘We’re convicts. We always go for it all.'” Greenberg said. “That was coach’s mentality, to go for two points.”
“I told our guys (going into OT) that they hadn’t stopped us at our own 10-yard line and they wouldn’t stop us going in from their 10,” Johnson said.
At this point, it was almost as if South Portland was thriving in the role of comeback kids and after DiBiase gained five yards on first down, Preston scooped up a low snap, rolled to his left, decided to go back to his right, then hit a wide-open Owen, who got behind the defense, for a 5-yard TD, again pulling his team within two.
Again, it came down to a pivotal two-point conversion and again, the Red Riots delivered, as Preston kept the ball and barely got across the end line.
South Portland got the ball first in the second extra session and on first down, Preston zipped a strike to Muller for a 10-yard score and for the first time all evening, the Red Riots led.
Stinson then decided to kick the extra point, which Mezzanotte drilled for a 57-50 advantage.
“We wanted to put a full seven points on the board,” Stinson said. “We wanted to force them to score from the 10 and have to convert a two-point play. Anything else and we’d win.”
Suddenly, the Red Storm had to come from behind.
It did so.
LeClair gained five yards on first down and two more on second.
Then, in a play that will be rehashed in both towns for many years, a bad center exchange landed on the turf. Greenberg went down to get the ball, but in the ensuing scrum, it squirted free into the end zone, where Owen fell on it, seemingly giving South Portland the victory.
After the Red Riots erupted with joy, the officials informed them that they still had one more down to play, as Greenberg was ruled to have fielded the ball with his knee on the turf, automatically ending the play.
“The ball was down and I didn’t see it because I was in the back, but they said it was down,” said LeClair. “It looked like the game was over.”
“Ben came to the sideline and wanted to run the quarterback sneak,” Johnson said. “He got a little nervous. They stepped into the gaps. I think they knew it was coming. He fumbled the ball and dropped right to his knees and covered the ball. The play was automatically dead.”
“I saw a bobbled snap and saw a bunch of humanity, then the ball come into the end zone and Hayden fell on it,” Stinson said. “An official said he had a view of a player with the ball and his knee down.”
So this glorious night came down to fourth-and-goal from the 1.
LeClair got the handoff and with a defender tugging on his jersey, he fought his way forward and stretched the ball into the end zone.
“I knew I just had to keep going,” LeClair said. “I had to lay it on the line. They knew it was coming, I just had to give it my all.”
Johnson could have gone the safe route and kicked an extra point to send the game to a third OT, but that wouldn’t have been much fun now, would it?
Instead, he rolled the dice and went for the win and after the teams traded timeouts, an unlikely hero delivered the exclamation point.
Cyr went in motion to his right, took the handoff and was hit just before the goal line. He kept his legs churning, however, and fought his way across.
“It was incredible,” said Cyr. “The last play was great. We just went for it. We ran a reverse and it paid off. I had to jump for it. I was a little worried, but I knew my teammates would block for me. The credit goes to the line and to Greenberg, who had an incredible game. We’ve got (senior) Noah Nielson back, he’s a big lineman. (Senior) Mike Pino is always a sure blocker. They did great.”
“It was close, but (Chris) gives everything he has every play,” Greenberg said.
“Cyr’s a great athlete,” said LeClair. “We knew he’d get in.”
“We have athletes and Chris Cyr is a special athlete,” Johnson added. “He’s 6-foot-3, 6-4, 210 pounds. He’s very explosive. I felt like if we got him on the run, full speed before that handoff, he wouldn’t be denied.”
As the clock read 9:46 p.m., the game of the year went into legend.
Scarborough 58 South Portland 57.
The Red Storm celebrated like it had won a championship.
“It’s the best game I’ve ever played in,” said Greenberg. “It was fun too. I always love playing in tight games like this. You have to give South Portland credit. We knew they’d come out strong in the second half. We underestimated them, I think, once we took that lead. It kind of looked like the wheels fell off a little bit, but we responded well.”
“It was amazing,” LeClair said. “I loved it. The most exciting game I’ve played in, definitely. The environment was great. Both teams played hard. We were fired up. This was a big game for us. Coach told us we had to lay it on the line.”
“We knew SoPo would come out fired up,” Cyr said. “They played a fantastic game. They have great athletes. It feels great to win against them.”
“We knew at halftime that they’re not done,” Johnson added. “They can score fast, they have such great athletes and Steve’s a great coach. I coached Steve my first three years at Portland (High) when I was an offensive line coach. It means a lot to coach against him. So we knew it wasn’t over. I’m proud of our guys for responding after they came back. We ate some clock and took the lead. We thought we were good, but they came back again. Their kids fought and our kids fought.”
The Red Riots might have fallen short on the scoreboard, but their effort was worthy of awe.
“”It was quite an evening,” said Stinson. “It was good to be competitive in the second half after not being very competitive in the first half. I liked how we responded. It was encouraging. We were a completely different team in the second half. We knew going into overtime that it would be difficult to stop them. Lance did a great job being aggressive with the 2-pointers. It’s a game of inches and unfortunately, we gave up too many inches in the first half.”
Scarborough wound up with 484 yards of offense to 359 for South Portland.
LeClair rushed for 214 yards and four TDs on 28 attempts.
“I give props to our line,” said LeClair. “They gave me big holes to run through and made me look good.”
“I give credit to Danny running the ball,” said Greenberg. “It’s tough to cover everyone on this team. Our line has been dominating up front. We’ve played some big (defensive) lines, but they’ve done great.”
Greenberg added 186 yards and four scores on 23 rushes, giving the Red Storm a nice round number of 400 yards rushing.
“I think we ran the ball well tonight, which was key,” Greenberg said. “A couple times I hit them head-to-head. Joey DiBiase laid a big hit on me. It’s encouraging to get hit like that and get back up.”
Through the air, Greenberg wound up 6-of-11, good for 102 yards and one interception.
Greenberg, who won the Maine Gatorade Player of the Year award for baseball back in the spring, played Friday as if that might be his second-best sport.
He certainly had no shortage of postgame admirers.
“He’s a great player,” said LeClair. “A great athlete. One of my best friends. He runs hard, he has a great arm, he’s fast. He’s a great person. He’s great at everything.”
“Ben’s incredible,” said Cyr. “He gives his all on every single play. He never stops running. He showed true courage.”
“We’re a little thin at running back, so Ben had to do a lot of work,” Johnson added. “He wouldn’t be denied. That’s why he’s the Gatorade Player of the Year. Sometimes quarterbacks play 7-on-7 all summer long. He’s played more baseball, but you can see how much better he’s getting every week. He’s going to be one of the best players in the league by the time the playoffs start. He wants three things to get better at in practice every week. Then he does it. He’s never satisfied. He’s putting a better touch on the deep balls. He throws the short stuff well. He runs. He won’t go down. He’s just a great kid.”
Smith was Greenberg’s most frequent target, hauling in four balls for 83 yards.
On the flip side, Scarborough was certainly hindered by 10 penalties for 70 yards.
South Portland’s rushing attack featured 116 yards and three TDs on 20 carries from DiBiase. Preston gained 68 yards and scored twice on 13 rushes. Preston completed 13-of-23 passes, good for 172 yards and three touchdowns. He was also intercepted. Owen caught five passes for 89 yards and one TD. Muller caught four passes for 42 yards and a score. Susi had two for 21 and a touchdown. The Red Riots were flagged four times for 31 yards.
Each team turned the ball over twice.
Perhaps the most amazing stat is this one:
On January 2, the South Portland and Scarborough boys’ basketball teams combined for 131 points in a 76-55 Red Riots’ victory. Friday night, the schools’ football teams combined for 115.
What to do for an encore?
South Portland (third at press time in the Western Class A Crabtree Points standings) returns home to face Biddeford next weekend, then closes with the “Battle of the Bridge” at Eastern A power Portland Oct. 25.
The Red Riots will definitely be heard from going forward.
“It’s important for us to come out and play a full 48 minutes against Biddeford,” Stinson said. “We haven’t felt like we’re overmatched. This (effort) gives us confidence. We’ll live to play another day. We won’t line up against anyone thinking we can’t win.”
Scarborough (fifth in Western A, but hoping to move up to host a playoff game) goes to Massabesic next weekend, then closes at home versus Noble Oct. 25.
This is one team that appears to be peaking at the right time.
“We’re tough to beat at home with our fan section,” Greenberg said. “They give us energy. We have to play tough against Noble and Massabesic. We can put ourselves in a good position if we can beat those teams. The region is wide open. There’s no juggernaut. Coach always says that. We’ve played close games against the best teams in the league. We’re right up there.”
“This gives us momentum,” Cyr said. “I think this will start us rolling. No one will want to play us in the playoffs now.”
“We just have to get ready for next week,” LeClair said. “Today was a great game, but we’ll look ahead to next week. We’ve been within a touchdown with every team we’ve played. If we fix our mental mistakes and penalties, we’ll be right there. We want a home playoff game.”
“We’ve been competitive with the better teams,” Johnson added. “We’re all right there. We hung right with TA and Bonny Eagle. This is big beating a quality opponent like South Portland. We get better every week. I think we’ll continue to get better. i think we can get a home playoff game if we win the next two. Come playoffs, we can beat anybody.”
Perhaps even South Portland, if area football fans are fortunate enough to see these squads meet again.
But for now, savor this one.
It was truly remarkable.
Scarborough senior Alec Cohen brings South Portland senior Jordan Susi to the turf.
South Portland senior Joey DiBiase finds some running room.
South Portland junior Ismail Baez prepares to block Scarborough senior Ben Garrard.
Scarborough senior Matt Fosler hauls in an interception as South Portland junior Hayden Owen looks on.
South Portland senior quarterback Duncan Preston looks for a receiver. Preston helped spearhead the Red Riots’ second half rally.
Scarborough senior quarterback Ben Greenberg bulls his way up to the middle into the end zone in the first half.
Scarborough senior captain Dan LeClair struts his stuff en route to the end zone.
Scarborough senior Brendon Smith (44) congratulates senior quarterback Ben Greenberg after one of Greenberg’s two first half touchdowns. The Red Storm took a 27-6 halftime lead over South Portland, but couldn’t hold on as the Red Riots roared back. Forty-eight minutes weren’t enough to decide this classic, as Scarborough ultimately prevailed, 58-57.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
Scarborough 58 South Portland 57 (2 OT)
SP- 0 6 21 15 8 7- 57
S- 7 20 0 15 8 8- 58
S- LeClair 1 run (Langlois kick)
S- Greenberg 9 run (Langlois kick)
S- LeClair 18 run (Langlois kick)
SP- DiBiase 2 run (kick failed)
S- Greenberg 53 run (kick blocked)
SP- Preston 8 run (Mezzanotte kick)
SP- Preston 5 run (Mezzanotte kick)
SP- DiBiase 31 run (Mezzanotte kick)
S- Greenberg 7 run (Langlois kick)
SP- Susi 21 pass from Preston (Mezzanotte kick)
S- Greenberg 20 run (Greenberg rush)
SP- DiBiase 6 run (Muller pass from Preston)
S- LeClair 10 run (LeClair rush)
SP- Owen 5 pass from Preston (Preston rush)
SP- Muller 10 pass from Preston (Mezzanotte kick)
S- LeClair 1 run (Cyr rush)
Rushing (Scarborough, 400-184)
SP- DiBiase 20-116-3, Preston 13-68-2
S- LeClair 28-214-4, Greenberg 23-186-4, Cyr 2-0
Passing (SP, 172-102)
SP- Preston 13-23-172-3-1
S- Greenberg 6-11-102-0-1
Receiving (SP, 172-102)
SP- Owen 5-89-1, Muller 4-42-1, Susi 2-21-1, DiBiase 1-10, Stearns 1-10
S- Smith 4-83, Cyr 1-10, Carriero 1-9