PORTLAND — This was supposed to be the year that the South Portland football team turned the corner, but as we near the midway point, the Red Riots have yet to make a move.
Saturday afternoon, South Portland played solid on defense, but managed just 133 yards of offense and fell to 1-2 on the year with a 21-0 loss at resurgent Cheverus.
“We’re beyond getting positives out of losses,” said Red Riots coach Steve Stinson. “That would have been
good a couple years ago. Now, we’re disappointed and embarrassed. It’s
not the best coaching we could have done and not the best playing we
could have done. It was just a poor showing for South Portland
football. We’re better than that.”
South Portland, 2-6 a year ago, opened with a 40-13 loss at Windham, then barely held off visiting upset-minded Westbrook 7-0.
Cheverus made the leap a year ago, winning five games while qualifying for the playoffs. Even though the Stags were eliminated in the quarterfinal round by eventual state champ Bonny Eagle, they earned an abundance of confidence and have built on it early in 2009. Cheverus opened with an eye-opening 30-6 victory at Gorham, then dazzled with a 27-13 home victory over preseason darling Windham.
Last year, Cheverus enjoyed a 20-12 triumph at South Portland. Two years ago, the Red Riots snapped a two-plus season winless streak with a 14-6 win at the Stags, but history wasn’t about to repeat on Saturday.
The visitors got the ball first. After a Cheverus too-many-men on the field penalty gave South Portland one first down, the Red Riots were forced to punt. After a 15-yard punt, the Stags took over at South Portland’s 36, but on the second play of the drive, senior Matt Place fumbled and Red Riots senior Tanner Kierstead recovered at Cheverus’ 34. The visitors weren’t able to take advantage, however, as senior quarterback Jon DiBiase was intercepted by Stags senior James Rutter on first down.
Cheverus then drove 44 yards on seven plays, eating up three minutes to take the lead for good.
The Stags got close on a 22-yard burst from Place, then found the end zone when on fourth-and-3 at the 4, junior quarterback Peter Gwilym found junior Liam Hobbins for the touchdown. The extra point failed, but the hosts were up 6-0.
South Portland appeared primed to answer when senior Mike Foley rode a great individual effort to a 55-yard kickoff return to the Cheverus 44, but after the visitors picked up one first down, the Stags’ defense stiffened and the Red Riots had to punt from the 32. Junior Cal Skillins’ boot was blocked by Cheverus senior Joseph Falconieri and the first period ended with the hosts up 6-0.
“We had some special teams fiascos early, from mishandling the opening kickoff to a couple of punts that kept the defense out there way too long,” said Stinson. “The defense faced a short field.”
Early in the second quarter, after driving to the South Portland 5, the Stags gave the ball up on downs. South Portland went three-and-out and Cheverus got the ball back at midfield. The Stags then took seven plays and 3 minutes, 25 seconds to drive for another score. Place got it started with a 19-yard burst. On third-and-3 from the 8, senior Matt Ball raced into the end zone. Gwilym then ran in the two-point conversion and Cheverus was up 14-0 with 3:55 to play in the first half.
DiBiase was intercepted again on South Portland’s next play, but the ensuing Stags’ drive ended at the Red Riots’ 19. The visitors ran out the clock on the first half and still had hope, down 14-0.
Cheverus drove into South Portland territory early in the third, but again the visitors’ defense held, forcing a punt. Unfortunately for the Red Riots, the offense couldn’t answer, giving the ball up on a senior Ryan Curit fumble. The Stags then drove from the South Portland 42 to the 4, but on fourth-and-goal, Gwilym was thrown for a loss and Cheverus turned the ball over on downs.
The Red Riots could do nothing offensively and to punt the ball away again. With 5.1 seconds left in the third period, Cheverus took over at its 47. After senior Patrick Chadbourne caught a 41-yard pass from Gwilym, a personal foul put the Stags on the South Portland 6 as the third period gave way to the fourth.
Four plays into the final period, Cheverus padded its lead when Ball scored from the 1. Sophomore Cameron Olsen added the extra point for a 21-0 advantage.
The Red Riots gained a first down on their next possession when DiBiase found Foley on an 11-yard pass, but that was as far as they’d progress. South Portland got the ball twice more, but on the first series, DiBiase was intercepted by Olsen and the second picked up a pair of first downs before time expired on the Stags’ 21-0 victory.
“For us to keep it 14-0 into the fourth quarter was a big testament and
a confidence builder,” Stinson said. “Offensively, we weren’t able to
be physical enough. We were lined up where they were supposed to be
lined up, but the more physical team controlled the line of scrimmage.
We couldn’t get our offensive rhythm established early. We didn’t make
the plays when we had a chance to. Cheverus dictated and controlled the
game. They’re a physical team and they didn’t make mistakes. They
controlled all three aspects of the game. They’re a good football team.
Cheverus rushed for over 200 yards and mustered 301 yards of offense. In addition to Place’s production, Ball had 62 yards and two TDs on 15 carries. Sophomore Spencer Cooke gained 36 yards on 15 rushes. Gwilym ran for 17 yards on two carries and passed for 70 on three-of-seven attempts with a TD.
For South Portland, Curit ran for 112 yards on 19 carries. DiBiase completed just 3-of-9 passes for 12 yards and was intercepted three times.
South Portland has a lot of work to do make the postseason. The Red Riots face the daunting task of going to defending champion Bonny Eagle (3-0) on Friday. Despite the challenge, South Portland is still confident.
“The conference and year is pretty screwy,” Stinson said. “We can’t get a bead on how good or bad anyone is. There’s a lot to be done in this year. We have all the opportunities we need. We still play Bonny Eagle, Deering, Portland. We have to make sure we come to play football. We can’t waste a play on game days.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
South Portland junior Cal Skillings (left) and Mike Foley tackle Cheverus’ Spencer Cooke for a loss Saturday afternoon.
South Portland senior Ryan Curit eludes Cheverus’ Matt Ball en route to a gain. Curit rushed for over 100 yards, but the Red Riots fell to 1-2 on the year with a 21-0 loss at the Stags.