One series into the 97th Battle of the Bridge football game, the Fitzpatrick Stadium lights went out. Twenty-one minutes later they were back on and not too much later, the Portland offense was clicking as usual.
Running back Justin Zukowski scored two touchdowns and rushed for 226 yards as Portland beat South Portland 38-14 in the annual game Friday night at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Portland (7-1) has won seven straight after an opening-game loss to Cheverus.
Cheverus (8-0) and the Bulldogs will enter the Eastern Class A playoffs as the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds. They will have a first-round bye and move into the semifinals against different opponents in two weeks.
Once Portland settled down after the lights returned, it was a familiar story. Its speed and athleticism were hard for the Riots (5-3) to contain.
Portland stopped the Red Riots’ three-game winning streak.
The Bulldogs also showed consistency on offense, driving 99, 80 and 95 yards for scores.
“It feels pretty good beating South Portland for the first time,” said Zukowski, a senior. “We’ve always wanted to. We came close last year.
“I have to give credit to the offensive line. They’ve been really focused all year. We have a really good backfield. Last year we weren’t fast enough to beat South Portland to the corner. We’ve added speed with Ronald Hargrove, and Jordan Talbot has really come along at quarterback.”
The reason the lights went out was the timer was mistakenly set for them to be turned off at 7 p.m.
When play resumed, Portland went for it on fourth-and-1 from its 41, and Zukowski gained 2 yards.
Then the Bulldogs committed three penalties and were forced to punt. South Portland went right to work and moved downfield with the passing of Duncan Preston.
On fourth-and-3 from the Portland 5, Preston passed to Hayden Owen, who fumbled with the Bulldogs recovering at their 1.
Portland then went 99 yards on 15 plays with Zukowski scoring from the 10.
The Bulldogs went up 14-0 just before halftime after the Riots fumbled when Preston had a high snap deflect on his hands and Jeremiah Copeland recovered for the Bulldogs. Soon a 13-yard run by Zukowski brought the ball to the South Portland 11, and Talbot scored on fourth-and-2.
With time running out in the half, John Williams kicked a 27-yard field goal to make it 17-0.
South Portland cut it to 17-7 on a 1-yard run by Joey DiBiase with 7:37 in the third quarter, but the Bulldogs came right back and drove 80 yards, capped by a 22-yard run by Zukowski to make it 24-7.
The Riots drove to the Portland 1 on their next series but were called for a motion penalty. Two more passes fell incomplete and Portland took over and went 95 yards in eight plays overlapping the third and fourth quarters. Talbot threw a 28-yard pass to Jayvon Pitts-Young to make it 31-7 after Williams’ point after.
Preston passed to Jordan Susi for a 68-yard strike to cut it to 31-14 with 6:51 left, but the Bulldogs added their final score when Ryan Ruhlin made a one-handed grab of a Talbot pass for a touchdown.
“I’m really proud of the players on those drives,” said Portland Coach Jim Hartman. “We had to muscle it out of there on the 99-yard drive. We played real power football.”
Preston completed 15 of 28 passes for 224 yards and ran for 97 yards on 13 carries.
Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6422 or at [email protected]Twitter: TomChardPPH