With its season on the line, the Scarborough football team saved its best for last.
As a result, the Red Storm is playoff-bound and will join neighbors Cape Elizabeth and South Portland in the postseason.
The Red Storm were semifinalists in 2010, but a costly injury to standout senior running back Scott Thibeault led to a four-game losing streak which left Scarborough 2-5 entering its finale at Gorham last Friday night.
Thibeault, who returned the previous week against Thornton Academy, made up for lost time, gaining 160 yards and scoring five touchdowns on 23 carries as the Red Storm never trailed and rolled, 41-12. The other touchdown came on a blocked punt return. Scarborough only led 7-6 after the first quarter and 20-12 at halftime, but scored two TDs in the third period and another in the fourth to put it away.
As a result of the victory, Scarborough (3-5) had just enough Crabtree Points to leapfrog Massabesic and Gorham to earn the eighth and final Western A playoffs spot.
“The Gorham game was a playoff game for our team,” said Red Storm coach Lance Johnson. “We were very pleased with how we prepared and how we competed. Gorham makes you play assignment football on defense. Our players, particularly our defensive linemen, were extremely disciplined and unselfish. (Seniors) Tony Fosler, Logan Mars (who blocked a punt) and Harry Motter played very intelligently up front and were crucial in the three fourth-down stops we made to start the second half.
“Offensively, we controlled the line of scrimmage more and more as the game wore on. We are fully healthy for the first time all year. Having Scott and (seniors) Matt Brown and Dave Conceison (who caught two passes for 60 yards and returned the blocked punt for a TD) play offense together for the first time this year made a huge difference. (Sophomore) Ben Greenberg (4-of-9, 112 yards) at quarterback has three games under his belt as a starter and is getting better every week.
“When Dave got hurt in the first scrimmage and then Scott went down in week three, we thought if we could just get healthy by week nine, we could beat anyone. We got into the playoffs on our strength of schedule. It means a great deal to our seniors to get into the playoffs. They have worked extremely hard as a group.”
Scarborough will go to top-ranked, defending state champion Cheverus, which is riding a 20-game win streak, Saturday at 12:30 p.m., for the quarterfinals. It will be the teams’ third meeting in a year. Last fall, in the semifinals, the Stags held off the Red Storm, 21-14. In week five this fall, Scarborough struggled mightily, turning the ball over on four of its first nine plays and nine times overall in a 38-0 loss.
This time, the Red Storm expects the game to be much closer.
“Cheverus is a solid football team in every aspect of the game,” Johnson said. “It certainly will be a big challenge. We’re happy to have the opportunity to compete and we feel we will play well. We have played all the playoff teams (we scrimmaged South Portland) and feel there is no reason we cannot compete with all the teams in Western Maine.”
If Scarborough could spring an upset, it would either visit No. 4 Bonny Eagle (5-3) or No. 5 Deering (5-3) in the semifinals.
South Portland put the finishing touches on its finest season in a decade last Friday when it won at Portland, 20-7, in the latest installment of the “Battle of the Bridge.”
The Bulldogs took an early 7-0 lead on a TD run from quarterback Jayvon Pitts-Young. The Red Riots still trailed by that margin in the third period when their defense rose to the occasion. With Portland threatening to extend its lead, deep in South Portland territory, Red Riots senior Logan Gaddar intercepted a pass and returned it 96 yards to tie the game. In the fourth quarter, senior quarterback Michael Salvatore put South Portland on top to stay with a 17-yard touchdown run and senior Brendan Horton iced the victory with a 53-yard interception reception.
“It was a big win for us,” said Red Riots coach Steve Stinson. “I was scared to death going into that game. Portland’s defense has been good all year. We had to continue to push offensively and obviously, the two defensive scores were huge. We haven’t give up more than seven points in regulation in any game for five weeks.”
The last time South Portland won six games in a regular season was 2001.
“It’s special,” Stinson said. “We had such a good group last year and we talked about taking another step with this group. We went undefeated at home. We’ve won the last two Bridge games.”
The Red Riots, who finished third in Western A, welcome No. 6 Sanford (5-3) Saturday at 1 p.m. Back on Sept. 16, South Portland held off the then unbeaten Redskins, 42-34. The teams’ last playoff meeting came way back in the 1999 regional final, a 34-10 win for the Red Riots en route to their last championship.
South Portland hasn’t hosted a playoff game since 2001 (a 25-7 quarterfinal round loss to Cheverus).
“We’re excited to host a playoff game,” Stinson said. “Sanford’s a great team. Coach (Mike) Fallon is one of my favorites. They have two great backs, (junior Alex) Shain and (senior Jon) Schroder, and a tall receiver. They’re aggressive on defense. I think it’ll be a physical game. I expect a good effort from both teams. We need to be physical up front and take care of the ball. We need to be stout on defense, show balance on offense, win the kick game and avoid turnovers.”
The Red Riots hope to advance to next week’s semifinals. If they do, they’ll either visit No. 2 Thornton Academy (7-1) or host No. 7 Windham (4-4).
In Western B, Cape Elizabeth had a chance to earn the No. 2 seed if it beat visiting rival Mountain Valley in the regular season finale. Instead, the Capers dropped to third with a 6-2 mark after losing a hard-fought 20-14 decision to the defending state champion Falcons.
Trailing 6-0 early, Cape Elizabeth went up, 7-6, when sophomore Nick Moulton recovered a fumble for a touchdown. Mountain Valley then seized control with two second quarter TDs to go up 20-7, but the Capers didn’t quit, making a 20-14 game when senior Derek Roberts (who was filling in at quarterback after junior Connor Maguire was injured) scored on a 1-yard TD run in the third period. Cape Elizabeth had its chances down the stretch, but couldn’t score again and a tough defeat was in the books.
“It’s always a tough game when we play Mountain Valley,” said Capers coach Aaron Filieo. “We had a couple early turnovers. They also had turnovers, so it evened out. We had a chance at the end. We had some key guys who had to leave because of injuries, but others stepped up and helped us.”
Cape Elizabeth locked up its sixth straight playoff trip with another strong regular season.
“I’m very happy with our season,” said Filieo. “It was a very successful year. In both losses, our kids showed tremendous heart. Both losses (the first was at Wells, 14-6, in week one) could have gone either way. The healthy issue is becoming more of a concern. Every year, we put in a lot of time and effort to get to this point and it seems like we spend more time on injuries than preparing for our opponent.”
The Capers will host No. 6 Greely (5-3) in the Western B quarterfinals Friday at 7 p.m. The teams didn’t play this year (although Cape Elizabeth won a preseason encounter by a touchdown). Last fall, the Rangers beat the visiting Capers, 21-14, in double overtime. The squads have no postseason history.
“Greely’s dangerous,” Filieo said. “They definitely have some weapons. They had a good season. They’re hungry after their tough loss to Falmouth (31-30, Friday night) and last year’s coin toss debacle (when Greely, Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth tied for the final two playoff spots and the Capers and Yachtsmen advanced by virtue of the flip of a coin). They have good athletes. We have to contain their guys who can make plays.”
If Cape Elizabeth advances, it will likely earn another shot at No. 2 seed Mountain Valley (Wells is first) in the semifinals.
“Our guys would definitely like to get another shot and play a cleaner game and win up there for the first time, but they’ve been great all year about not looking past teams,” Filieo said.
South Portland senior running back Joey DiBiase bulls forward during last weekend’s 20-7 win at Portland in the “Battle of the Bridge.”
Cape Elizabeth sophomore Nick Moulton celebrates after returning a fumble for a touchdown during Friday’s home game against rival Mountain Valley. The Capers ultimately lost, 20-14.