This, folks, is why they play the games.
Last Friday evening, the reeling South Portland football team, clinging to faint playoff hopes at 1-2, hosted the big, bad undefeated Bonny Eagle Scots in a contest that most expected to be one-sided.
Instead, the upset of the season ensued.
After losing 21-0 at Cheverus the week before in a game which saw them produce only 133 yards of offense and leave coach Steve Stinson using words like “disappointed” and embarrassed,” it didn’t look like the Red Riots were capable of scoring 48 points the rest of the season, not to mention 48 in one game against the team which has won four of the past five Class A state championships, but that’s exactly what happened at Martin Memorial Field.
South Portland came out strong, hung tough throughout, took every haymaker the Scots could deliver, then, in Hollywood fashion, eked out a 48-45 victory when senior running back Ryan Curit scored on a 1-yard run as time expired.
Truth was stranger was fiction and one of the proudest programs in the state had awakened the echoes.
“It was quite a special night,” said Stinson. “It was a great case study in high school athletics. We didn’t install any new plays or new defenses. The kids just performed up to their abilities and played motivated and inspired football from the beginning.”
South Portland had scored just 20 points in three games, losing 40-13 at Windham to start the year, squeaking past visiting Westbrook 7-0, then falling at Cheverus.
Bonny Eagle, meanwhile, had once again positioned itself at the top of the heap with decisive wins over Westbrook (48-2), Portland (27-14) and Deering (41-21).
One thing the Red Riots did have in their favor was the memory of last year’s meeting, also in South Portland, where they gave the Scots a scare before falling, 26-14.
Prior to Friday, the last time the Red Riots beat Bonny Eagle was way back on Aug. 31, 2001, 14-0. In the interim, the Scots enjoyed romps to the tune of 32-7, 70-6 and 48-7 twice.
Senior Mike Foley got involved from the get-go, scoring on a 16-yard scamper in the first period to put the hosts on top. After Bonny Eagle scored on a short TD run, Foley returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a 13-7 lead after one period.
The Scots went back on top on a TD run, but Curit answered with a short TD burst for a 19-14 lead. The visitors returned the ensuing kickoff for a TD, then went on up 29-19 on a run and a two-point conversion rush from standout Ryan Nason. Proving that they were in it for the duration, the Red Riots answered before the half, pulling with two, 29-27, on a short TD run from senior quarterback Jon DiBiase and a two-point conversion pass from DiBiase to Foley.
Around that time, word broke out via phone and text throughout southern Maine that something memorable was cooking in South Portland.
The fireworks continued in the second half.
Bonny Eagle had the lone points of the third period as a Nason run made it 37-27, but the South Portland offense came back to life in the fourth as a DiBiase-to-Foley TD pass and a 40-yard Curit run put the hosts back on top, 42-37.
But when Nason threw a TD pass with just under a minute to go for a 45-42 Scots’ lead, all appeared lost, except to those on the South Portland sideline.
A long Curit return on the ensuing kickoff put the ball at midfield. DiBiase then hooked up with sophomore Dan Medici for 35 yards. After Curit took a short pass and was knocked out of bounds inches from the goal line with a second remaining, the evening came down to one play.
That the hard-nosed and gritty Curit got the call, came as no surprise. He bulled into the end zone and pandemonium broke out on the field as somehow, some way, the Red Riots had knocked off the champs, 48-45.
“We established the running game early and that opened up the passing game,” said Stinson. “Jon got the ball to Foley. Curit ran determined. That gave us the balance on offense that was crucial. We felt we could score every time we touched the ball. There were three times when we could have folded, right before halftime down 29-19, down 37-27 in the third and after they went ahead 45-42. I’ve never seen a team that came back from adversity three different times. It was awesome. We knew we were capable of doing something like this. To get it done felt great. This gives the kids endless confidence. We needed it. The kids have worked hard.”
Curit finished with 147 yards and three scores. DiBiase had his finest hour, throwing for 193 yards and a TD. Foley had 100 receiving yards and scored on a run, catch and kickoff return.
South Portland (2-2) is now right in the mix for a playoff spot, but can’t rest on its laurels. Friday night, the Red Riots visit Noble (0-4) in their crossover contest. South Portland then comes home for pivotal matchups with Gorham (1-3) and Deering (2-2), then closes the regular season with the “Battle of the Bridge” at Portland (2-2).
“To be 2-2 after playing Windham, Cheverus and Bonny Eagle and to have a win over Bonny Eagle, we’re pretty happy,” Stinson said. “The first three games were a grind, but now we have an opportunity to reach our goals.
“Noble is a scrappy team. They play with a lot of heart and emotion. We can’t take anything for granted. I’d love to see our kids come out and start like it’s a championship game and be at that level every night.”
In other local action last weekend, Cape Elizabeth stayed perfect in Western B and improved to 4-0 with a 28-0 triumph at Falmouth. The Capers scored one TD in each quarter, getting three TD passes from senior Ezra Wolfinger (two to senior Finn Melanson and one to senior Tommy Foden) and a short TD run from senior Brenden Shields. Wolfinger threw for 234 yards on 15-of-21 passing. Foden had 75 yards on 11 rushes and caught three passes for 50 yards. Melanson had nine receptions for 157 yards.
Cape Elizabeth visits Gray-New Gloucester (2-2) Friday night.
Scarborough fell to 0-4 in Western A play after a 29-7 home loss to Biddeford. The Red Storm got a fourth quarter TD run from junior Zach Bean.
Sophomore Kolbey Adams had 57 passing yards and rushed for 25. The defensive effort was led by junior Mike Cyr (10 tackles) and sophomore Matt Brown (eight tackles). Scarborough goes to old rival Gorham (1-3) for its crossover Friday night. The Red Storm and Rams haven’t met since Sept. 1, 2006 (a 57-7 Gorham victory).
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org