SOUTH PORTLAND — Sanford held a 19-point lead over South Portland with eight minutes remaining in a Western Class A football quarterfinal Saturday, but knew the game was far from over because of the Red Riots’ ability to score points in a hurry.

Sure enough, South Portland rallied for three straight touchdowns, but the Riots’ inability to make conversions proved costly. Sixth-seeded Sanford (4-5) stopped a 2-point conversion with 2:26 remaining and survived an onside kick to hold on for a 33-32 win at Martin Memorial Field.

“My heart was in my throat,” said Sanford Coach Mike Fallon on the 2-point conversion attempt.

The Spartans, who lost 21-10 to the third-seeded Red Riots (5-4) during the regular season, advance to a regional semifinal next weekend at No. 2 Thornton Academy.

Taking possession at midfield after the Riots’ onside kick didn’t go the required 10 yards, Sanford banged out two first down with big junior fullback Nick Love. The last one came on fourth-and-inches as Love, a converted tight end, rumbled for 5 yards while South Portland defenders tried to wrest the ball from him.

“We definitely did what we needed to do,” said Love. “This feels great. It was very nervous when we stopped them on the 2-point conversion.

“I’m proud of my team. Now we get a chance to face Thornton Academy.”

South Portland missed three conversion kicks in the second half in addition to the failed 2-point try.

“We were trying to isolate either Jordan Susi or Joey DiBiase on the conversion pass,” said South Portland Coach Steve Stinson.

Sanford built what seemed to be a comfortable lead with several long runs that set up for touchdowns. The Spartans opened a 20-8 advantage with a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter and then made it 27-8 on a 1-yard run by Love with 50 seconds remaining in the half.

South Portland has shown comeback ability all season, mostly notably when it erased a three-touchdown deficit in a 58-57 double-overtime loss to Scarborough.

Love finished with 148 yards on 24 carries. Justin Roberge scored Sanford’s first three touchdowns.

Despite being banged up, the Riots refused to quit. Quarterback Duncan Preston was gimpy and in pain the entire second half, but he threw four touchdown passes after scoring on a 66-yard run early in the game.

Stinson called it a tough matchup with the Spartans.

“Sanford is a big physical football team and they did what they wanted to do, which is to run the ball,” said Stinson. “We never could get consistent stops. Sanford did a great job.”

On the first play of the game, Love gave an indication of things to come when he rambled for 20 yards. Moments later, Roberge went 30 yards to the 17. After another first down, he scored from the 5 to make it 7-0 after Connor McGehee’s PAT.

South Portland came right back to take an 8-7 lead, as Preston ran 66 yards for the touchdown and passed for the conversion.

Roberge then scored the next two touchdowns, which were set up by long runs. First, Peter Hegarty went 57 yards to set up a 4-yard Roberge score. Then, Jake Leonard ran 62 yards to the 8, and Roberge scored three plays later from the 5.

In the fourth quarter, Sanford’s Edward Michetti scored on a 73-yard run, though he lost possession of the ball as he was crossing the goal line. The ball rolled through the end zone as players tried to recover in a wild scramble, but officials ruled it crossed the plane of the goal line before Michetti fumbled, giving Sanford a 33-14 lead.

Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6491 or at:tchard@pressherald.comTwitter: TomChardPPH