PORTLAND – After the horn sounded to end the game Friday night, the Portland High football players charged across the running track at Fitzpatrick Stadium and joined the student section in a rousing rendition of the school song, “Wearers of the Blue.”
The Bulldogs do it after every home win, but this one was especially satisfying and yes, loud.
The Bulldogs had just beaten favored Scarborough 25-20 in a Western Class A game. It was Portland’s fifth win, and five wins guarantees a spot in the playoffs.
The victory came after last week’s 12-0 loss to Biddeford in which the Bulldogs’ offense was a no-show.
Not this week. The Bulldogs (5-2) had to rally three times to secure their biggest win, and amassed 383 yards, 332 on the ground.
Justin Zukowski scored one touchdown and gained 157 yards on 31 carries.
Trailing 20-19, Portland got the ball with 6:17 left and drove 77 yards for the winning score. Quarterback Ryan Ruhlin sneaked in from inches on fourth down with 1:28 remaining.
“I made it by a fraction of an inch,” said Ruhlin. “I just got the white stripe.”
The key play was a 40-yard pass to a wide-open Joe Nielsen that brought the ball to the 7. Zukowski then gained a yard. Ruhlin got two more, and Zukowski took it inside the 1, setting up Ruhlin’s sneak.
Leading 25-20, the Bulldogs’ work wasn’t over, not with the Scarborough offense led by quarterback Dillon Russo and his fleet receivers.
Taking over on its 37 with 1:17 left, Russo scampered for 22 yards on first down. The Bulldogs then made back-to-back clutch plays to seal it.
First, Luigi Grimaldi sacked the elusive Russo for a 5-yard loss and then Verny Gayle dropped him for an 8-yard loss. Russo had to spike the ball to stop the clock and a fourth- down pass fell incomplete.
After the handshakes, the Bulldogs raced to the student section.
“We tried to start the tradition of singing the school song two years ago but we didn’t win too much,” said senior Nick Volger, who scored on a 62-yard run early in the third quarter to give the Bulldogs a 19-14 lead.
“Last year our wins were on the road. We came out flat last week and Biddeford just beat us. We knew we had to come out and play a complete game. We knew we had to cut down on our penalties from the last game. We’re trying to get near the top of the rankings.”
Volger carried 10 times for 104 yards. Zukowski, Volger and Jayvon Pitts-Young slithered and powered their way for extra yardage all night.
The Bulldogs lost three fumbles in the first half but none in the second.
Greg Viola caught two touchdown passes from Russo, a 37-yarder that made it 13-13 with 5:17 left in the half. Viola’s PAT broke the tie and gave the Red Storm the halftime lead.
With 6:23 left in the game, the Russo-Viola combination struck again, this one for 17 yards and a 20-19 lead.
The Bulldogs needed 11 plays to regain the lead for good.
On the key pass play, Ruhlin said: “Joe Nielsen was 20 yards from anyone. I ran a bootleg and he was wide open. My pass was a little high but he caught it. This feels great. Biddeford wanted the game more than we did last week. This week we wanted it more than Scarborough.”
The Red Storm took a 7-0 lead on Dan LeClair’s 44-yard run. The Bulldogs tied it on Ruhlin’s 2-yard run early in the second quarter.
Four minutes later, Portland had a 13-7 lead after Zukowski’s 16-yard touchdown run.
The Bulldogs could be in position for a home playoff game in the first round, after next week’s regular-season finale against South Portland in the annual Battle of the Bridge Game.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: