SOUTH PORTLAND – It may have only been the season opener at Martin Field on Friday night, but South Portland High’s football players celebrated like it was a championship.

When the final pass fell incomplete, securing South Portland’s 13-6 victory over defending Class A state champion Windham, the players on the sideline rushed onto the field to swarm the defense and Coach Steve Stinson, in his sixth season, came out and hugged his players individually.

“We’ve been looking at this (game) since the schedule was released,” said senior Tommy Ellis, who came in at quarterback in the third quarter — when starter Michael Salvatore cramped up — and scored a 37-yard touchdown. “Any time you beat the state champs, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

The Riots won with a couple of big offensive plays — junior Jacob Stanley, whose family moved back to South Portland from Palm Beach, Fla., scored on a 39-yard run — and some big defensive stands.

Five times the Eagles got inside South Portland’s 20. Only once did they score. Twice the Riots intercepted passes in the end zone (by Joey DiBiase and Logan Gaddar); the other two times they forced incompletions.

“We didn’t finish,” said Matt Perkins, Windham’s coach. “That’s the stuff that bites you. Not only do you not get points on the board, but you’re giving the other team momentum, so that they’re pushing a little more.”

Gaddar’s interception certainly inspired the Riots. South Portland led 7-0 in the third quarter when the Eagles took over at their own 3. With quarterback Cody Laberge (18 of 41 for 189 yards) directing them, the Eagles moved to South Portland’s 37 where a fourth-down penalty on the Riots gave Windham a first down at the 25. Four plays later, Gaddar made a leaping interception in the back of the end zone to stop the drive and giving South Portland the ball at the 20.

“I back-peddled and watched the quarterback’s eyes looking at the receiver,” said Gaddar. “I saw the ball go up and I knew it was mine.”

South Portland then drove 80 yards in nine plays to score. Ellis completed a big pass for 10 yards to Evan Indorf, and ran the final 37 himself for the score. Taking the snap, he ran off right end, let his blockers set up and then burst into the hole. He cut in at the 20, received a downfield block from Teddy Lefay, and sprinted in for the touchdown that made it 13-0 with 7:59 left in the game.

“Tommy’s a great athlete, a great kid, for us,” said Stinson. “He comes in and he knows what everyone’s doing.”

The Eagles drove back, scoring on a 22-yard pass from Laberge to Nick Burton with 3:37 left. But the PAT kick was wide.

Windham got the ball back with 1:57 left and drove to the Riots’ 32. But four straight incompletions ended the game.

“Those intangibles that we showed tonight, the intensity and perseverance and the maturity we showed defensively, bending and not breaking, I was very pleased to see all that,” said Stinson.

Stanley, who didn’t play in the fourth quarter because of cramps and a “tweak” of his ankle, according to Stinson, made an immediate impact offensively for the Riots. He rushed for 126 yards, 102 coming in the first half.

“It’s really the (offensive) line,” he said. “I really just try to make some plays to help us win.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]