South Portland rises up, smothers Sanford

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South Portland senior Riley Campbell (4) is congratulated by sophomore Anthony Poole as senior Max Holmes also exults after a fourth down stop in the first quarter of the Red Riots’ 28-7 home win over Sanford Friday night.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

South Portland 28 Sanford 7

S- 7 0 0 0- 7
SP- 0 14 0 14- 28

First quarter
S- Bickford 27 pass from Giroux (Gould kick)

Second quarter
SP- Poole 21 run (pass failed)
SP- Houlette 12 run (Poole rush)

Third quarter
No scoring

Fourth quarter
SP- Poole 14 run (Houlette pass from Poole)
SP- Houlette 10 run (rush failed)

SOUTH PORTLAND—Spencer Houlette and Jake Poole weren’t a factor during their junior seasons.

The Sanford Spartans are probably wishing they didn’t show up for their senior campaigns either.

Friday evening at Martin Memorial Field, the South Portland tandem ran wild and made plays on both sides of the ball to help the Red Riots enjoy a key victory.

The Red Riots, who came into the game winless on the road, but undefeated at home, had several players out of service due to injuries and when they fell behind, 7-0, on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Sanford’s junior quarterback Jordan Giroux to classmate Carson Bickford in the first period, it looked like a long night was in store, but they rose off the deck and made an impressive statement.

Poole, South Portland’s quarterback, who took his junior year off to focus on baseball, capped an 11-play, 84-yard drive to get the Red Riots on the board early in the second quarter, scoring on a 21-yard scamper. The two-point conversion failed, but the hosts had life.

South Portland then went ahead to stay after a 15-play drive, as Houlette, who missed almost of all of 2016 due to injury, scored on a 12-yard run and Poole added a conversion rush for a 14-7 lead.

After the Red Riots’ defense preserved the lead into the fourth period, South Portland put it away.

After a Houlette interception on the first play of the final stanza, Poole scored on a 14-yard run, then hit Houlette with a two-point conversion pass for a 22-7 advantage and some breathing room.

Then, after another Houlette interception, he put the win away with a 10-yard scoring run and the Red Riots went on to a 28-7 victory.

Both Houlette and Poole gained over 100 yards on the ground, South Portland forced four turnovers and improved to 3-3, eclipsed its win totals of each of the past two seasons and dropped Sanford to 3-3 in the process.

“This was a character win,” longtime Red Riots coach Steve Stinson said. “We were sputtering a little bit early and Sanford is a good opponent, but we have too many strong-willed kids who had too much of an investment in this season to go away.”

A lot on the line

Both teams came into play Friday hopeful of moving up the Class A South Heal Points standings and positioning themselves to make a run at the opportunity to host a playoff game in three weeks.

Sanford started with a 48-0 home loss to defending Class A champion Bonny Eagle, then suffered a 49-15 defeat at Scarborough. The Spartans then caught fire, beating visiting Massabesic (35-7), host Deering (31-24) and visiting Bangor (48-6).

South Portland started with a 34-21 loss at Windham, then defeated visiting Massabesic (37-20) and Deering (20-6). After being blanked at Bonny Eagle (48-0), the Red Riots fell at Scarborough last week, 48-21. 

A year ago, Sanford came to South Portland and rolled, 33-7.

Friday, on a very pleasant evening for early October (63 degrees at kickoff), the visitors sought their third straight win in the series, but the Red Riots produced their first victory over the Spartans since Oct. 3, 2014 (29-25 at home).

Sanford won the opening coin toss, but deferred possession to the second half, giving the ball to South Portland first.

The Red Riots weren’t able to do anything initially, as Houlette ran for two yards, then lost three and on third-and-11, Poole threw incomplete, forcing a punt.

After a nice return from senior Ethan Emard, the Spartans started at South Portland’s 27, but the Red Riots’ defense made an immediate impact, stopping Sanford on four plays.

After Giroux threw incomplete, senior Michael Lunny ran for five yards, senior Ryan Connarton picked up three and on fourth-and-2, Lunny was held to one yard and South Portland got the ball back at its 18.

“That was huge,” Poole said. “Our defense stepped up. That gave us momentum. If they scored there, it would have been a hole. That was a huge stop for us.”

The Red Riots gained their initial first down, as Poole ran for eight yards, then picked up three, but Poole then sandwiched incomplete passes around a two-yard run by Houlette, forcing a punt.

Sanford then took over at its 27 with 7:14 to go in the opening quarter and seven plays and 2 minutes, 10 seconds later, was in the end zone.

After South Portland jumped offsides, Giroux ran for three yards, then sophomore James Meggison picked up three more for a first down at the 38. Sophomore Caleb Saucier ran for seven yards and Connarton picked up six to move the ball into South Portland territory. After a seven-yard run by Lunny, Giroux was held to no gain, but a 15-yard facemask penalty was called on the Red Riots, putting the ball at the 27 and on the next snap, Giroux dropped back and lofted a pass to the end zone where Bickford outleaped a Red Riots’ defender and came down with the ball for the touchdown with 5:04 remaining in the first quarter. Senior Marcus Gould tacked on the extra point for a 7-0 advantage.

South Portland then responded with a drive that began at its 16 after an illegal block penalty with 4:57 to go in the first. Eleven plays and 5:16 later, the Red Riots were on the board.

A quick 13-yard pass from Poole to sophomore Anthony Poole got the drive started. Jake Poole then picked up 13 yards, but a holding penalty moved the ball back to the 20. After Poole hit senior Dylan Coombs for six yards, he found Houlette for six more and a first down at the 32. Poole then threw a fade down the left sideline which Houlette hauled in for 26 yards and a first down at the Spartans’ 42. After Poole ran for three yards, he was thrown for a three-yard loss by junior Doug Johnson, but on third-and-10, Poole hit Coombs for 11 yards and a first down at the 31. Three-yard runs by Poole and Houlette brought the first quarter to an end and on the first snap of the second period, Poole gained four yards for a first down at the 21. Then, with 11:41 to go before halftime, Poole kept the ball, started left, then cut back and beat the pursuit to the end zone for a 21-yard score. On the ensuing two-point conversion, Poole’s pass was incomplete and Sanford stayed on top, 7-6.

The hosts then got another break on the ensuing kickoff, as Concannon fumbled and Coombs recovered at the Spartans’ 42.

The Red Riots couldn’t take advantage, however, as Coombs couldn’t catch a long throw from Poole and Bickford intercepted the ball and returned it to the Sanford 29.

South Portland’s defense would hold the fort and get the ball back, however.

After the Red Riots jumped offsides, Giroux ran for eight yards to move the chains, but after Meggison picked up four yards and Lunny ran for three, Concannon was held to no gain, forcing a punt. 

South Portland got the ball back at its 23 with 8:58 on the first half clock and this time, embarked on a 15-play scoring drive that ate up 5:42 and ended with the Red Riots going on top to stay.

After Houlette ran for a yard and Poole hit senior Jimmy Dibiase for two more, on third-and-7, Poole and Dibiase hooked up again for nine yards and a first down at the 35. Poole then scrambled for eight yards and Houlette moved the chains with a three-yard pickup. Poole was thrown for a four-yard loss, but on the play, a facemask penalty was called and the ensuing 15-yard markoff put the ball at the Spartans’ 43. Junior Caden Horton ran for four yards, Poole did the same and on third-and-2, Poole ran for six yards, setting up first down at the 29. After a Poole pass was knocked down at the line of scrimmage, he hit Houlette for four yards, then gained six, setting up fourth-and-inches. Houlette barreled forward for five yards to move the chains and after Poole kept the ball for two yards, Houlette capped the drive with a 12-yard burst up the gut.

“We talk about ‘next play,'” Poole said. “We don’t worry about what happened, only the future. We made things happen.”

Poole then kept the ball on the two-point conversion and crossed the goal line for a 14-7 lead with 2:40 to go before halftime.

Sanford got the ball back at its 31 and earned a first down on another facemask penalty, but a holding penalty moved the ball back and Giroux threw incomplete. An illegal formation penalty was followed by a five-yard run from Saucier, but on third-and-21, Giroux was sacked at the 8 by senior Josef Conti.

After a punt, South Portland got the ball back at its 45, but after a pair of incomplete Poole passes, a Poole pass to Houlette only gained six yards and the Red Riots had the punt the ball back.

The Spartans started at their 15 with 32.7 seconds left, but took a knee and sent the game to halftime.

In the first half, South Portland outgained Sanford, 179 yards to 78. Poole completed 9-of-16 passes for 83 yards and an interception. He also ran for 61 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Houlette ran for 25 yards and a TD on eight attempts and caught three passes for 36 yards. The Red Riots were hindered by six penalties for 64 yards, however.

South Portland’s defense would continue to hold the Spartans at bay in the third quarter.

Sanford started the second half with the ball at its 38, but after a fumbled exchange lost eight yards, Giroux hit Connarton for four yards, then threw incomplete, necessitating a punt.

The Red Riots’ first second half possession started at their 27, but they went three-and-out, as Houlette gained three yards, Poole was thrown for a two-yard loss by Lunny and Poole threw incomplete.

The Spartans got the ball back at their 41, but after Lunny ran for two yards and fumbled with the visitors keeping possession, Meggison gained five yards and after a false start penalty, Giroux was held to no gain, forcing another punt.

With 7:16 to go in the third, South Portland got the ball back at its 32 and the Red Riots would drive into Sanford territory before stalling.

After Poole threw incomplete, he ran for five yards, then hit Coombs for 14 more, setting up first down at the Spartans’ 49. A seven-yard Houlette rush was followed by an 11-yard run by Poole, who kept his legs churning and moved the pile for an additional eight yards after initially being stopped.

“Jake has been awesome,” said Stinson. “He came back in January and he was all-in. He’s been a part of our leadership council. His leadership and his will are incredible. He doesn’t want to ever go to the ground.”

South Portland couldn’t capitalize, however, as Poole threw incomplete, hit Coombs for no yardage and after a false start, Poole hooked up with Houlette for just two yards, forcing a punt.

Late in the quarter, Sanford started at its 10 and the Spartans would chew up the rest of the frame, only to ultimately have nothing to show for it.

After Meggison ran for two yards and Giroux did the same, Giroux kept the ball and scrambled for eight more for a first down at the 22. After a holding penalty backed the visitors up 10 yards, Giroux ran for eight yards, but was hurt on the play and wouldn’t return. Emard came on and ran for three yards, then hit sophomore Leyton Bickford for 24-yards with Bickford making a nice grab on the left sideline for a first down at the 47. On the final play of the third period, Lunny was thrown for a one-yard loss by senior Nick Penney. 

The game then turned when the fourth quarter began, as Emard was intercepted by Houlette at the South Portland 40 and Houlette returned it 14 yards to the Spartans’ 46.

The Red Riots then needed only two plays to open it up.

After Houlette broke tackles and scampered 32 yards down the left sideline, Poole kept the ball and scored from 14 yards out. On the ensuing two-point conversion, Poole acted like he was going to keep the ball, then threw to Houlette to stretch the lead to 22-7 with 11:31 to play.

Sanford then began to drive as it looked to answer and stay in the game, but ultimately, another turnover would seal its doom.

Emard ran for three yards, then picked up 14 for a first down at midfield. Emard and Lunny then ran for one yard apiece and after Leyton Bickford caught a pass for two yards, Houlette dove to intercept Emard again at the South Portland 32.

“Those interceptions were big to not let them score and give us the ball back on offense to put it away,” Houlette said.

“Spencer is a dynamic player,” Stinson said. “He unfortunately missed most of his junior year due to injury. Now, he’s playing like a grown man. We needed his interceptions. Those were huge momentum shifts.”

The Red Riots then drove 68 yards in eight plays and 4:16 to end all doubt.

Houlette got the march started with a 23-yard scamper. Horton then ran for 10 more for a first down at the Spartans’ 33. After Poole juked and spun and broke tackles for nine yards, Houlette gained two yards for a first down at the 22. After Poole was held to no gain, Houlette ran for nine yards and Poole kept the ball for three more, setting up first-and-goal from the 10. Houlette then capped the drive with a 10-yard burst up the middle and with 4:57 to play, even though Houlette was stopped just short of the goal line on the two-point conversion, South Portland held a 28-7 lead.

On Sanford’s final drive, sophomore Xavier Levine took over as quarterback. After Saucier ran for a yard, Levine picked up two, then hit senior John Gamsey for 14 yards and a first down at the Red Riots’ 49. After Levine was sacked for an eight-yard loss by South Portland junior Artimus Stilley, Saucier ran for four yards, Levine hit sophomore Anthony Nguyen for two more, then on fourth down, the Spartans fumbled and Red Riots senior Tyler Williams fell on the ball to deliver the punctuation mark.

Two Poole kneel-downs later, the game was official and South Portland celebrated its 28-7 triumph.

“Every win is a big win, but this is obviously a huge win,” Poole said. “We talked all week about this being our biggest game in a long time. We were a family tonight, we came out and gave it our all. The difference this year is the chemistry we have. We all love each other and we love football. No one takes a day off. Coach has been talking to us all week about the next guy stepping up. Injuries are part of the game, but we stayed together and hoped for the best.” 

“It feels great, it being our Homecoming game,” Houlette said. “Our brotherhood started in the summer. We play as a family. We had three kids out this week, but we have kids who can fill spots. Before the game, Coach Stinson showed us a video of “Rocky” and that got us in our heads. We wanted to attack them and not let them attack us.”

“This is awesome,” Stinson added. “Our plan in the winter, spring and summer has been consistent and it’s great to see kids working hard and having good things happen. We’ve made some strides this year. We’ve improved, we’ve competed against the top level a little better and we’ve beaten some of the teams in the middle.

“We missed the equivalent of six starters tonight, including our kicker and punter. That’s why we had to go for two every time. (Sanford’s) aggressive and they mix in a lot of fronts. They caught us in some looks early, then we were able to lean on them a little bit.”

The Red Riots finished with 325 yards and overcame one turnover and seven penalties for 69 yards.

Poole completed 11-of-21 passes for 97 yards and one touchdown. On the ground, Poole ran 20 times for 101 yards and two scores.

“I have to give it up to the line,” Poole said. “They played great tonight. I love those guys and they put in their effort every week. It really showed tonight. They opened up holes and when we got to the secondary, we made plays.”

“Jake has the mindset this year to tear it up,” Houlette said.

Speaking of Houlette, he had 111 yards and two TDs on 15 carries. He also caught four passes for 42 yards.

“Spencer is great,” Poole said. “I love the kid. He makes plays that makes your jaw just drop. He gives his all every single game.”

Horton ran twice for 16 yards.

Coombs caught four balls for 31 yards.

Dibiase had two receptions for 11 yards and Anthony Poole had one catch for 13.

Sanford managed 164 yards, but turned the ball over four times and was penalized six times for 59 yards.

Only two left

Sanford (which dropped to sixth in the Class A South Heal Points standings) goes to Cheverus next Saturday, then closes at home versus Thornton Academy.

South Portland (now fourth in Class A South) is at Thornton Academy a week from Saturday, then closes at home in the “Battle of the Bridge” versus Portland Oct. 21.

“I don’t think we’re scared of TA at all,” Houlette said. “I feel like we can show what we’ve got.”

“We have to build on what we did tonight,” Poole said. “If we all give our all, good things will happen. We need to have another good week of practice.”

“We’re excited to play TA,” Stinson added. “Athletically, they’re very good and deep. We’re the smallest team in Class A in enrollment, so that poses challenges when we play big teams, but this is the kind of team has a lot of juniors and seniors. We’ll be excited to go down there and play. We still have a lot on the table to get done. I like this group. They come to work every day. They love to be together and they love football.”

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

South Portland seniors Dylan Coombs, left, Brad Seigars and Spencer Houlette surround Sanford senior Ryan Connarton.

South Portland senior Mickey Ingham corrals Sanford junior quarterback Jordan Giroux.

Sanford junior Carson Bickford soars over South Portland sophomore Anthony Poole to score a first quarter touchdown.

South Portland senior quarterback Jake Poole rides a nice block from senior Spencer Houlette to the Red Riots’ first touchdown in the second period.

South Portland sophomore Anthony Poole runs up the field.

South Portland junior Caden Horton tries to break a tackle as senior Brad Seigars blocks.

South Portland senior Spencer Houlette dives into the end zone to put the Red Riots on top to stay.

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