Riley Archer, a senior inside linebacker for Cheverus High, said they call the first series of each half a tempo series.
“That series sets the tempo for the rest of the half,” he said.
That’s just what the Stags’ defense did Saturday in the second half. Trailing 19-7, having given up 175 yards to Portland in the first half, Cheverus’ defense forced and recovered a fumble on the Bulldogs’ first series of the third quarter.
Two plays later the Stags scored on a 1-yard run by Cody O’Brien and the comeback was on. Cheverus would beat Portland 22-19 in the Eastern Class A football final at Boulos Stadium, holding a potent Bulldogs offense without a first down in the final two quarters.
“You’re going to win a lot of games when you do that,” said Stags Coach John Wolfgram.
Portland totaled only 16 yards in six series in the second half.
“They blew their linebackers and pinched the tackles,” said Portland Coach Jim Hartman. “We had the stuff in place to do it, we just didn’t make the plays.”
Archer and O’Brien, the two inside linebackers, were everywhere in the second half. But they didn’t feel the Stags did anything special.
“I always say let’s go to work,” said O’Brien. “We just did that. We buried our heads. We were focused and we were pushing as hard as we could every play.
“We played really disciplined and we played really well.”
Portland quarterback Jordan Talbot threw for 91 yards and a touchdown in the first half. He completed one pass for 2 yards in the second. Cheverus safety Sam Cross said the Stags didn’t panic.
“Coach (Wolfgram) always has a plan, no matter what,” he said. “He’s ready for anything. And I think that’s what he teaches us: Always be ready, plan and just play hard.”
The Bulldogs stopped Cheverus on the Stags’ first series of the second half, forcing a punt. But on third down from their 15, Talbot was sacked from behind and the ball popped loose. Defensive tackle Dan O’Brion recovered at the 10. Two plays later, O’Brien scored.
“That fumble recovery put the juice back in us,” said Archer.
Joe Fitzpatrick, the Stags’ workhorse back, said the offense fed off the defense’s superior play in the second half.
“That’s our motivation,” he said. “We can’t do much without our defense.
“That fumble recovery was huge. A lot of our drive, motivation and character comes from our defense after plays like that.”
Cheverus then forced a punt. Two plays later, quarterback Ethan Jordan hit Kenny Drelich for a 65-yard touchdown and the Stags were in the lead. Jordan’s conversion pass to Zordan Holman made it 22-19.
Portland would never get anything going offensively, even after Justin Zukowski blocked a punt to give the Bulldogs a first down at the Cheverus 36. Two running plays gained 4 yards; two incompletions gave Cheverus the ball.
Wolfgram said the Stags didn’t make many adjustments but simply played hard. It was the first time all year the Stags had been behind.
“We played with character, we played with heart,” said Cross. “That’s what it takes to win these games. That’s what you have to play with.”
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: MikeLowePPH