PORTLAND – South Portland has had an explosive offense this season but came out flat Friday night against Portland and trailed 7-0

It didn’t look much better early in the third quarter when the Bulldogs threatened to increase their lead.

But this was a rivalry game, when big plays can turn things around, and that’s what happened.

Logan Gaddar started the comeback by stepping in front of a Portland pass near the goal line and returning it 96 yards for a touchdown. And Brendan Horton completed it, returning another interception 53 yards for a score.

The result was South Portland’s 20-7 victory at Fitzpatrick Stadium in the 96th edition of the Battle of the Bridge.

South Portland (6-2) already was headed to next week’s Western Class A playoffs, but this win secured a home game for the quarterfinals.

“I think this win gives us third place,” said Gaddar.

The Crabtree rankings won’t be official until after today’s Biddeford-Thornton Academy game, but all of the key games were played Friday night.

Portland (2-6) outplayed the Riots in the first half and probably should have had more than one touchdown. The passing of freshman Ryan Ruhlin to Seamus Kilbride was particularly effective, and the running of the Bulldogs’ other quarterback, Jayvon Pitts-Young, had the Riots’ defense reeling.

Pitts-Young led Portland down the field in the opening series with some nifty running and scored on a 4-yard run. Kyle Reichert’s point after made it 7-0.

South Portland failed to make a first down in four series in the first half and the first two of the second, including a lost fumble.

Portland recovered at the South Portland 16 but could only net 1 yard on three runs.

On fourth-and-9 from the 15, Ruhlin passed over the middle to Kilbride, but Gaddar alertly stepped in front.

“I had seen them run the play before,” said Gaddar. “I followed the ball after the snap and was ready for it.”

Gaddar cut outside and had clear sailing after beating Ruhlin, the last Bulldog.

The Riots’ offense started to click on its next series.

Quarterback Mike Salvatore passed to Horton for 18 yards. Two plays later, Salvatore ran for 20 as the third quarter ended.

After another first down, Salvatore ran left and scored from the 17. Horton’s kick made it 14-7.

Salvatore then picked off a Portland pass and returned it from midfield to the 13. That threat ended with a Horton field-goal attempt from 28 yards that was wide.

Moments later, Horton read a screen pass perfectly and returned the interception 53 yards for the touchdown.

“I think we underestimated Portland at the start,” said Gaddar. “We talked about what we needed to do at halftime.

For the Bulldogs, it was another game where they were in position but couldn’t execute when it counted.

“We outplayed them in the first half, holding them to a total of 15 yards. We hurt ourselves in the second half,” said Portland Coach Mike Bailey. “We stalled when we had chances to score. We’ve played everyone tough with the exception of our first game against Massabesic.”

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: tchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: TomChardPPH