Windham deals Cheverus another gutwrenching loss in finale

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Windham sophomore Treva Valliere (34) and freshman Jayden Gonsalves exult at the final horn of the Eagles’ 13-12 win over Cheverus Saturday afternoon. The Eagles earned the No. 2 seed and a bye for the Class A North playoffs, while the Stags will be third and will have to play a quarterfinal Saturday.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Windham 13 Cheverus 12

W-0 0 13 0- 13
C- 6 6 0 0- 12

First quarter
C- D. Casale 12 pass from J. Casale (kick blocked) 

Second quarter
C- J. Casale 7 run (pass failed) 

Third quarter
W- K. Houser 5 run (K. Houser kick) 
W- K. Houser 12 run (rush failed)

Fourth quarter 
No scoring

PORTLAND—Nemesis, thy name is Windham.

If you’re the Cheverus football team, you’ve enjoyed a lot of success in recent years, but the one team to consistently give the Stags fits delivered yet another dose of heartbreak Saturday afternoon in the regular season finale at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Cheverus appeared as if it was en route to a pivotal victory when it got a 12 yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jack Casale to senior Dominic Casale in the first quarter and a 7 yard Jack Casale TD scamper in the second to lead, 12-0, but the Eagles came out a drastically different team in the second half.

Junior Nazari Henderson returned the opening kickoff 72 yards and a late hit penalty on the Stags was tacked on, giving Windham the ball at the Cheverus 9. Two plays later, senior Kyle Houser scored from 5 yards out and the Eagles were only down five.

Late in third period, after a disputed pass interference call kept its drive alive, Windham went on top to stay as Houser scored on a 12 yard run for a 13-12 lead.

In the fourth quarter, the Stags twice drove deep into Eagles’ territory, but the first foray was short-circuited by a sack and ended with an interception by Eagles sophomore Garrett Peeples at the goal line and the next was stymied by an ill-timed holding penalty and ended with a 38 yard field goal that was off target.

Windham took a knee and ran out the clock and got out of town with a 13-12 victory.

The Eagles beat the Stags for the fifth straight time, improved to 5-3, took the No. 2 seed in Class A and ended Cheverus’ regular season at 4-4 in the process, dropping the Stags to third in the region.

“It’s a great rivalry,” said Windham coach Matt Perkins. “The kids came out in the second half and finished. I don’t know if we have their number. I think it’s just a great battle. It could have gone either way today.”

“Mistakes were the difference,” lamented Cheverus first-year coach Mike Vance. “We didn’t cover on a kickoff and we didn’t cover on a punt. The holding play was the other big mistake. The bigger the game, the smaller the difference. We talk all the time about games being lost. We beat ourselves.”

We’re number two!

Windham opened by beating visiting Lewiston (41-8) and host Bangor (37-0). After a 42-21 home loss to Portland in a regional final rematch, the Eagles gave two-time defending Class A champion Thornton Academy fits before falling, 17-13, in Saco. Windham got back on track with a 27-6 home victory over Edward Little, then lost at Bonny Eagle, 38-10. Last weekend, the Eagles won at Oxford Hills, 28-6.

Cheverus started with a 33-18 win at Oxford Hills, then the Stags were blanked at home by Thornton Academy, 65-0. Cheverus responded and prevailed at Lewiston (28-20) and Edward Little (17-14), then dropped a hard-fought 35-27 “home” decision to Portland, in a game played at Deering’s Memorial Field. The Stags then responded with 30-0 home victory over Bangor before losing, 27-14, at Scarborough. 

Prior to kickoff Saturday (the game was moved from Cheverus to Fitzy due to bad weather), the all-time series between the teams was even, 7-7, and the squads have produced some instant classics (see sidebar, below).

Last year, host Windham rallied for a 19-15 victory in the regular season finale, then blanked visiting Cheverus, 28-0, in the semifinals, bringing the curtain down on legendary coach John Wolfgram’s tenure with the Stags.

This time around, on a day which saw wind, sun and rain, Cheverus was hoping to beat the Eagles for the first time since 57-22 romp in Windham during the 2013 season, but instead, Windham beat the Stags for the fifth straight time, with three of the victories coming in Portland.

The Eagles won the opening coin toss, but deferred possession to the second half, which proved to be a wise move.

Cheverus started at its 25, but couldn’t move the ball, as senior Rylan Benedict was tackled for no gain, junior Griffin Watson caught a pass for four yards and Jack Casale was sacked by Eagles sophomore Blake Houser for a six yard loss.

Windham got great field position, starting at the Stags’ 47 and began to march, but couldn’t come away with points.

After Cheverus jumped offsides, Kyle Houser ran four times for 12 yards, setting up a third-and-4 at the 30, where senior quarterback Desmond Leslie scrambled for 11. After Houser gained four yards, Leslie threw incomplete, then hit Peeples for four yards, setting up fourth-and-2, where sophomore Stuart Salom was dropped for a two yard loss by Stags junior Nathan Dunn, giving the ball back to Cheverus at its 13.

The Stags would embark on an 87 yard scoring drive in nine plays, chewing up 4 minutes, 25 seconds.

Coffin immediately gave Cheverus good field position with a 40 yard burst to the left side. Benedict then got the ball on six straight carries, gaining 34 yards down to the Windham 13. After Jack Casale kept the ball for a yard, he dropped back, rolled right and lofted a pass to Dominic Casale in the end zone. Casale outleaped Blake Houser and came down with the ball for a 12 yard touchdown with 1:41 to play in the first quarter.

Senior Chandler Hartigan’s extra point was blocked, however, and the score remained 6-0.

That missed PAT would loom large.

Late in the quarter, the Eagles got the ball back at their 25. After Kyle Houser was tackled for no gain by senior Anthony Pirone, Peeples caught a pass for 11 yards and a first down at the 36. On the final play of the first quarter, a bad snap backed Windham up four yards and on the first play of the second period, Houser ran for a yard. Leslie hit Houser for four yards on third down, but he was tackled well short of the first down marker and the visitors had to punt.

With 10:51 to play before halftime, Cheverus got the ball back at its 30, but this time went nowhere, as a holding penalty, an incomplete pass and a fumble (which the Stags recovered) set up third-and-28. Benedict ran for a yard and Cheverus had to punt, giving the Eagles the ball at the Stags’ 46.

Again, the Cheverus defense came up big, holding Houser to a two yard run and after senior Kieran Conley sacked Leslie for a four yard loss, Benedict brought down Blake Houser for a three yard loss.

With 7:03 remaining in the half, the Stags got the ball at their 24. The Casales hooked up for 13 yards on the first play, but after Jack Casale ran twice for five yards, Benedict lost a yard and the Stags had to punt again.

Windham started at its 35, but went three-and-out, as Houser gained just two yards, Leslie threw incomplete and a five yard Leslie-to-Blake Houser pass set up fourth-and-3.

With 2:43 left before halftime, Cheverus got the ball back at its 26 and this time embarked on a 74 yard scoring drive which needed eight plays and 2:12.

Benedict got things started with a 16 yard scamper. After Coffin ran for three yards, he caught a pass from Jack Casale out of the backfield and rode a great block from Conley to a 34 yard gain, all the way to the Eagles’ 21. After Casale was sacked by junior Tanner Bernier for a five yard loss, he threw incomplete, but on third-and-15, Casale ran right for exactly 15 yards and a first down at the 11. Casale then finished it off, rushing for four yards and with 31.9 seconds left, he kept the ball and scored on a 7 yard run to the right.

The Stags chose to go for two, but a pass failed and the lead was 12-0.

Windham had one final chance before halftime, starting at its 43. After Salom ran for nine yards and Kyle Houser picked up two to move the chains. Leslie hit Peeples for 15 yards to the Cheverus 31, but on the final play of the half, the Stags broke up a pass to Peeples to keep it a two-score game.

In the first half, Cheverus outgained the Eagles, 159-78, and appeared in control.

Or so we thought.

“I don’t think it felt like we were in control (at halftime),” Vance said. “I’d say (the guys) felt like they were competitive and confident.”

Windham, however, quickly turned the tables after halftime.

Henderson fielded the second half kickoff at his 10, ran down the right sideline and wasn’t brought down until he reached the Stags’ 18, where a late hit penalty moved the ball half the distance to the goal and gave the Eagles first-and-goal at the 9.

“We talk all the time about the importance of the third phase of the game,” Perkins said.

Two plays later, Windham was on the board.

Kyle Houser got the ball on first down and got to the 5. He took it again and with 11:07 to go in the third quarter, he bulled up the gut for a touchdown run. Houser added the PAT to cut the deficit to 12-7.

The Stags looked to answer, but after Benedict ran for six yards and Coffin gained 15 for a first down at the Eagles’ 44, Benedict was thrown for a three yard loss by Windham junior Nate Watson, Coffin lost a yard and Jack Casale was sacked for a nine yard loss by junior Justin Labrecque. 

The Eagles got the ball back at their 35, but went three-and-out, as Leslie threw incomplete, Houser ran for six yards and after Leslie passed to Watson, Coffin’s tackle left him two yards shy of a first down.

With 6:14 remaining in the quarter, Cheverus started at its 35, but another sack proved costly.

Coffin picked up nine yards and Casale kept the ball for two to move the chains, but Casale threw incomplete and Watson sacked Casale for a seven yard loss. After Benedict lost a yard on third-and-17, the Stags had to punt and again, special teams loomed pivotal, as Blake Houser fielded the ball at the Eagles’ 34 and returned it 36 yards to the Cheverus 30.

Four plays later, Windham had the lead.

Kyle Houser ran for four yards and Leslie was almost intercepted by senior Bobby Slattery on second down. On third-and-6, Leslie again threw incomplete, but a flag was thrown for pass interference, a flag that suffice it to say, wasn’t well received by the Stags’ sideline or their partisan fans.  That gave the Eagles a first down at the 12 and on the next play, Kyle Houser got the ball, burst up the gut and broke a tackle before breaking the plane for a touchdown with 1:47 to go in the frame. 

Windham tried to go for two, but a bad snap prevented it. Regardless, the Eagles clung to a 13-12 lead.

Late in the third quarter, Cheverus took over at its 31 and began to drive as it looked to go back on top.

After Watson threw Benedict for a one yard loss, Casale ran for nine, then for six to pick up a first down at the 45. On the final play of the third period, Casale threw incomplete. 

He was more successful on the first play of the fourth, throwing back to Conley on the weak side and Conley ran for 27 yards to the Windham 28. After an incomplete pass (batted down by Bernier), Watson caught a pass for three yards and Conley had a reception for two, setting up fourth-and-five from the 23. Vance decided to go for it and it appeared to backfire when Casale’s pass was incomplete, but defensive holding gave the Stags a first down at the 13. Casale ran for a yard, then Eagles sophomore Grant Jacobson turned momentum with a sack, dropping Casale all the way back at the 27. After an incomplete pass, Casale threw to the end zone, but the ball was intercepted by Peeples, who returned it to the 20.

Windham quickly went three-and-out, as Leslie ran for two yards, Dunn dropped Kyle Houser for a two yard loss and Houser caught a four yard pass.

With 5:38 to go, Cheverus got the ball back in great field position, at its 49, and again looked to retake the lead.

After Coffin ran for three yards, a fumbled snap set up third-and-9 from midfield. Casale then scrambled to his left and gained 11 yards for a first down at the Eagles’ 39. After Casale was held to no gain, Coffin ran for six and junior Finn Cawley, on his lone carry of the game, ran for nine and a first down at the 24. Benedict then found a hole and bulled his way down to the 6, but the play didn’t count, as a holding penalty not only took the Stags from the shadow of the goal line, but backed them up all the way to the Windham 30.

After Benedict ran for three yards, Casale hit Watson for nine and Benedict was dropped for a three yard loss by Labrecque, Cheverus took timeout with 38.2 seconds to.

Vance opted to send Hartigan on to try a long 38 yard field goal attempt, which wound up short and wide to the left.

“Chandler’s a great kid,” Vance said. “He’s never played football before. He’s come out and done a nice job for us. That was a little out of his range. I just told him to do his best.” 

All the Eagles had to do was take a knee and after another memorable battle between the squads, celebrate a 13-12 victory.

“We had a lot of fixing we had to do,” Perkins said. “As a young team, we’ve had hiccups and we had to grow up in certain areas. We made a few adjustments at halftime and we shut them down in the second half. I’m very proud.”

Windham, which had just 128 yards of offense, was paced by Kyle Houser’s 53 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Houser also had two receptions for 8 yards. 

Leslie completed 8 of 14 passes for 41 yards. Peeples had three catches for 30 yards, Blake Houser two for 2.

The Eagles were only penalized twice for 25 yards, forced a turnover and registered four sacks.

Cheverus’ offense produced 228 yards, but the Stags were flagged four times for 37 yards.

Jack Casale threw 15 times, completing eight, good for 104 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Casale also ran 12 times, gaining 61 yards and scoring a TD.

Coffin had 71 yards on nine carries and Benedict rushed for 45 yards on 16 attempts.

Watson caught three passes for 16 yards, Conley collected two for 29, Dominic Casale had two catches for 25 yards and a score, Coffin caught one ball for 34.

Postseason fun begins

As the No. 2 seed, Windham has a bye into the semifinals where it will host either Cheverus or Lewiston in the semifinals Nov. 4 or 5.

“No doubt about it, (the bye’s) huge,” Perkins said. “It’s vital to get a few days of rest and we can focus on the things we can fix. I’m exhausted from today, but I’m ecstatic about the team going into the playoffs. We’re getting there.” 

Cheverus, ranked third, will host sixth-seeded Lewiston (2-6) in the quarterfinals. 

The Stags beat the Blue Devils, 28-20, Sept. 16 in Lewiston. Cheverus has won all three prior playoff games, including a 42-0 quarterfinal round victory last year.

“It’s hard to sell to the kids we’re getting better when we’ve lost two in a row, but the truth is, we’re a heck of a lot better than we were just a few weeks ago,” Vance said. “We’re a lot better, but we don’t believe in celebrating losses. We have a lot of work to do. We like to play football and we’ll look at (the quarterfinal) like that. Every time we come out, we get better. We’ll look at it as another opportunity to grow. We have to go back to the drawing board and come out next week and do better.”

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

Cheverus senior quarterback Jack Casale completes a pass to junior Griffin Watson as Windham junior Anthony Kilgallon closes in.

Cheverus senior Rylan Benedict picks up a chunk of yardage.

Cheverus senior Dominic Casale skies to catch a first quarter touchdown over Windham sophomore Blake Houser.

Cheverus senior quarterback Jack Casale cuts back en route to a second quarter touchdown run.

Cheverus senior Kieran Conley breaks the tackle attempt of Windham sophomore Garrett Peeples.

Windham senior Kyle Houser breaks the tackle attempt of Cheverus junior Max Coffin en route to a third period TD run.

Windham sophomore Garrett Peeples makes a late interception near the goal line.

Previous Cheverus-Windham results

2015
@ Windham 19 Cheverus 15
Class A North semifinal
@ Windham 28 Cheverus 0 

2014
Windham 35 @ Cheverus 7 
Eastern A Final
Windham 21 @ Cheverus 20 (OT) 

2013
Cheverus 57 @ Windham 22

2012
Cheverus 47 @ Windham 0

2010
Cheverus 28 @ Windham 0
Western A quarterfinals
@ Cheverus 34 Windham 27

2009
@ Cheverus 27 Windham 13
Western A Final
@ Windham 7 Cheverus 6

2008
@ Windham 34 Cheverus 28

2007
@ Cheverus 35 Windham 6

2006
@ Windham 28 Cheverus 14

2005
@ Cheverus 7 Windham 6

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