SOUTH PORTLAND – The final margin was eight points, but everyone involved in South Portland’s thrilling 42-34 victory understood the actual difference between the two Western Class A football teams.

Six inches.

That’s all that stood between Sanford’s resilient running back Alex Shain and a 2-point conversion that would have given the visitors the lead with less than two minutes remaining Friday night in South Portland.

“I got hit once, then I got gang-tackled,” Shain said, “but it’s one of those plays I should have made.”

Shain already had earned 130 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns as Sanford (2-1) rallied from a 14-point deficit early in the fourth quarter against South Portland (2-1).

First, Sanford converted a fourth-and-long pass of 26 yards from Cody Mooney to Jimmie Chaisson, who juggled the ball before falling with it inside the 5. That set up a 1-yard plunge by Shain to cut the margin to 35-28.

An inspired defensive stand gave Sanford good field position with less than five minutes remaining. Two quick completions by Mooney and a run up the middle by Shain for 18 yards — the last half of which seemed as if two rugby scrums were surrounding him — moved the ball inside the South Portland 10. After a quarterback sneak on third down brought the ball within a foot of the end zone, Shain bulled over on fourth down with 1:50 remaining to make it 35-34.

After first sending his kicking unit onto the field, Sanford Coach Mike Fallon called a timeout, gathered his team and opted to send out the offense and go for a 2-point conversion and near-certain victory.

“At that point in the game we were struggling defensively and we were reeling a little bit, and I just felt like we could get into the end zone and get two,” Fallon said. “We’ve got some really good skill kids and some pretty determined linemen up front, and I said these kids are winners and there’s a good chance that we would find a way. But South Portland’s got the same kind of kids and they won that battle by 6 inches.”

Shain took the ball on a toss sweep and headed for the orange pylon, but came up just short before being driven backward by a sea of red jerseys.

“It was an overall team pursuit, which we do every day, that ended up stopping him,” said South Portland Coach Steve Stinson, who had nothing but praise for Shain’s effort. “This is a tough group.”

Even though Sanford’s onside kick attempt failed, more excitement remained. Dan Medeci, who gained all but six of his 145 rushing yards in the second half, broke off tackle for 56 yards when it appeared South Portland needed only a first down to run out the clock. Tackled at the 7, Medici scored on the following play and Joey DiBiase kicked his sixth extra point for a 42-34 lead that gave Sanford, despite having no timeouts, one more chance with 1:23 remaining.

Needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to tie, Sanford completed two passes and advanced inside the South Portland 40 before DiBiase picked off a fourth-down pass to extinguish Sanford’s last gasp.

That would be sophomore Joey DiBiase rather than senior Joey DiBiase, the all-conference tailback and captain who wasn’t suited up Friday night because of a hamstring strain.

South Portland also was missing starting quarterback Jordan Muller, out with a broken collarbone. Michael Salvatore filled in well, scoring two touchdowns and making a fumble-causing tackle on defense inside the 10 to stop a Sanford drive shortly before the half.

“It was a night of big plays and both teams having to respond to adversity at times,” Stinson said. “They play hard for the whole 48 minutes. We knew we’d be in for a very competitive game.”

Mooney and Jon Schroder also scored for Sanford, which held leads of 7-0 and 14-7 in the first half, and tied it at 21-all early in the third quarter.

DiBiase recovered a fumble by Salvatore in the end zone for South Portland’s second touchdown and Logan Gaddar caught a deflected pass for an 11-yard score that sent South Portland into halftime with a 21-14 advantage.

South Portland seemed to put the game out of reach after a 10-yard scoring run by Salvatore and a 5-yard touchdown run from Medici made it 35-21 with 11 minutes remaining.

Instead, this one proved entertaining and still in doubt until the final whistle.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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Twitter: GlennJordanPPH