PORTLAND — Encircled by his sky-high band of purple-and-gold conquerors on one knee at the back of the end zone Saturday afternoon, Cheverus football coach John Wolfgram could barely contain his enthusiasm. After a 27-13 victory over ballyhooed Windham, Wolfgram called for an old-fashioned Cheverus Stags rallying cry.
“Give me an S!,” coach John Wolfgram demanded.
And the Stags did.
“Give me a T!”
“Give me a G!”
Confused silence ensued. Thankfully, the coach caught himself before asking “what does that spell?”
It might have raised a few eyebrows.
But so what? This was hardly a spell-check moment. This was a football family in full celebration mode, and even a legendary coach that just so happens to teach English can have the occasional mishap.
Besides, Wolfgram’s slip was just about the only miscue his Stags had made all afternoon. For Saturday, through a driving mist that occasionally flirted with rain, Cheverus let it be known there will be no more talk of rebuilding. The Stags have arrived.
Playing without their top running back in senior Matt Place, who was lost to an injury mid-second quarter, the Stags put one on the highly touted Windham Eagles, using a finely executed ground attack and staunch defense to produce a statement victory at Boulos Field.
“Windham is a good team no question,” said Wolfgram. “They are very athletic and have skill players that can score. We knew we had to control the ball against a team like that. We played with strong will for the whole game. We had a number of people step in and do a quality job. It was nothing flashy, but we played very consistent, hard-nosed football.”
Cheverus quarterback Peter Gwilym turned in a tidy 6-for-7, 102-yard effort, including three touchdown passes to three different receivers. The junior engineered a relentless Cheverus attack that chewed up over 240 yards on the ground, leading to a lopsided time of possession advantage that offered a snapshot of the outcome.
Despite losing Place to a lower back contusion after taking a 14-0 lead late in the second quarter, the offensive line and three running backs combined to dominate the rest of the way, helping Cheverus maintain possession for nearly 17 of the 24 minutes available in the second half.
“We ran it down their throats all day and then were able to take advantage downfield with the play action,” said Gwilym. “We’re not surprised. We came in with confidence. We feel we can play with anyone and today we earned this. We stayed together and fought hard.”
Senior Matt Ball rushed for 90 yards and punched in the Stags’ first touchdown on a two-yard plunge. Junior Evan Jendrasko and sophomore Spencer Cooke spelled Ball and combined for 71 yards, several of them late in the game as Cheverus salted the clock.
Gwilym connected for touchdowns through the air on the second drive of the game and for both Cheverus scores after the half to build a 27-6 fourth quarter lead. And while Gwilym did play a near flawless game behind center, the Stags’ steadfast commitment to running the football freed up downfield opportunities when the Eagles secondary peeked into the backfield.
“(Place) is one of the best running backs in the state and probably the best player on our team,” said Jendrasko. “We knew it was time to step up. Not just me, but the whole team. We played with a lot of maturity today. Windham is a great team, but we came out and did what we had to do to win the game.”
The Stags’ season-changing victory represents the highlight of the four-year Wolfgram Era so far. Led by senior quarterback Jackson Taylor and his A-list cast of skill players, Windham entered the season riding high on headline ink and bold predictions of prowess. Preseason backyard talk had plenty anointing the Eagles as the most likely candidate to upend the two-time defending champion Bonny Eagle Scots and capture the Class A title.
But all the talk couldn’t overcome a disciplined Cheverus team that simply punched the clock and went about the business of dismantling the high-powered Eagles in every phase of the game.
Taylor completed 10 of his 20 attempts and scored Windham’s first touchdown on a 38-yard scramble with less than two minutes left in the first half. But the three-year starter managed just one touchdown through the air in the hurry-up no-huddle offense late in the game, hitting favorite target Matt Gledhill on fourth-and-goal from the 16 to account for the final 27-13 score. With the Eagles spending most of the day on defense, Taylor never had the time to get a comfortable read on the Stags secondary. He looked nothing like the quarterback that torched South Portland last week for over 300 yards.
Against Cheverus, even Taylor’s great plays turned sour. On the first play of the second quarter, needing a score to erase a 6-0 deficit, Taylor dropped a gorgeous deep ball over the corner and into the waiting arms of his receiver in full-stride down the Cheverus sideline. But in perhaps the game’s defining moment, Gwilym arrived from his safety position and became entangled with Windham senior Tucker Miller. Somehow in the scrum, Gwilym knocked the ball free and landed on the ground clutching it against the front of his shoulder pads at the 10-yard line, negating what would have been a 55-yard completion. In a flash, Windham went from elated to devastated.
And it was about to get worse.
The Cheverus offense turned what could have been a 7-6 deficit into a 14-0 lead with five minutes left in the second quarter. The Stags’ time-consuming 10-play, 90-yard scoring drive ended when Gwilym found junior tight end Jack Bushey on third-and-goal for an 11-yard touchdown completion.
The drive ate up 5:30 of clock in the second quarter, but it also ended the day for Place. During the march, Place was dragged down from behind after a 30-yard run and took a helmet to the right side of his unprotected lower back. After rushing 34 times for 146 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a convincing win over Gorham one week ago, Place was forced to leave the game after picking up 72 yards and a two-point conversion after Bushey’s score.
Jackson decided to take matters into his own hands when Windham got the ball back, capping a 7-play, 72 yard drive with a scrambling touchdown to make it 14-6 with just under two minutes left in the first half.
But, as was the case all day, Gwilym answered on the Stags’ first possession after intermission. Cheverus methodically advanced 41 yards on nine plays before Gwilym connected with senior Pat Chadbourne for a 39-yard touchdown and a 21-6 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Gwilym did it again, burying the Eagles with a 19-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Christian Deschenes with just over six minutes left to play. Facing fourth-and-five after nine consecutive running plays had sucked in the Eagles secondary, Gwilym dropped back and delivered a strike to Deschenes on a deep-out at the right pylon to take a commanding 27-6 lead.
Saturday, Cheverus will look to improve to 3-0 when they host the South Portland Red Riots (1-1) at 12:30 p.m. The Red Riots held off Westbrook 7-0 Friday after being blasted by Windham 40-13 in the season opener.
Cheverus senior Matt Ball and the rest of the Stags runners proved too much for Windham to handle.
Cheverus senior Matt Place was tackled on this play, but he was a workhorse Saturday.
Cheverus sophomore Spencer Cooke looked for daylight during first half action.