Ethan Jordan has steadily improved in his first season as Cheverus’ starting quarterback. He had to wait to become the starter, but that’s not unusual for the Stags. That’s just the way it is in a program accustomed to playing for Class A state championships.
Jordan, a senior, succeeded Liam Fitzpatrick, who had to wait until his senior year to take over after Cam Olson graduated. Olson started at quarterback as a senior after the graduation of Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Peter Gwilym.
The Stags (10-0) will seek their third Class A state championship in four years when they meet Bonny Eagle (9-1) on Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium. Cheverus beat Portland 22-19 for the Eastern Class A title, and Bonny Eagle dispatched Thornton Academy 28-13 in the Western Maine final.
Jordan started slowly against Portland but turned things around in the second half. After the Stags took advantage of a fumble to close to within 19-14 early in the third quarter, Jordan threw a 65-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Kenny Drelich for the winning touchdown, then connected with tight end Zordan Holman for the 2-point conversion.
The Cheverus defense took over from there and didn’t allow a first down in the second half, after Portland (8-2) controlled in the second quarter and scored 19 points for a 19-7 halftime lead.
There were many facets to Cheverus’ win, and Jordan’s management of the offense was one of them. Jordan completed 6 of 11 passes for 128 yards.
“Ethan is very smart and a heady player,” said Coach John Wolfgram. “He made some big throws in the second half. His pass to Kenny Drelich was right on the money.”
Jordan said he only took two varsity snaps last season, which ended with Cheverus losing to eventual state champion Thornton Academy in the regional final. He waited, watched and learned how his predecessors played, and now is making the most of his opportunity.
BONNY EAGLE quarterback Zach Dubiel became the starter midway through last season when Tyson Goodale was injured. An effective runner in the Scots’ spread offense, he’ll offer a contrasting style to Jordan, who runs occasionally, usually on sweeps or rollouts. Dubiel is elusive and can pick his way through a defense, like he did against Thornton Academy in the Western Maine final. He also has a strong and accurate arm. He has accounted for 29 touchdowns – 15 rushing, 14 passing.
PORTLAND HAD a 19-7 lead over Cheverus at halftime of the Eastern Class A final but was overwhelmed by the Stags’ defense in the second half. The Bulldogs didn’t make a first down and gained only 16 yards in the final two quarters.
Portland Coach Jim Hartman said Cheverus’ playoff experience was an “enormous help.” The Stags have played in five straight regional finals and won state championships in 2010 and 2011.
“We’re still learning,” said Hartman. “There’s a mental stamina that needs to happen here. Hopefully they can rebound against Deering (on Thanksgiving Day) and carry it into next season. We’ve got to learn how to play these games. These are hard losses.”
Hartman said the Bulldogs just couldn’t crack the Stags’ defense in the second half.
“That’s on me,” he said.
CHEVERUS, MEANWHILE, did not panic when Portland hit some big pass plays to take the lead.
Instead, said Cody O’Brien, who scored two touchdowns and had a huge game at inside linebacker, the Stags relied on the lessons they’ve learned in practice.
“Coach (John Wolfgram) always talks about short memory, have a short-term memory,” he said. “You can’t get stuck on things like that. You’ve got to keep going. That’s what we did, we kept moving forward.”
Cheverus clinched the win with a drive that killed off the final 3:24, picking up three first downs.
“That was just drive, and falling back on everything we’ve learned,” said O’Brien. “All the stuff you learn in freshman football, sophomore year, all the guys you looked up to. We even mentioned their names in that drive, what they would do. You’ve got to form your own character and drive as hard as you can.”
KENNEBUNK’S RUN to the Class B state championship game against Cony actually grew from a loss.
“My opinion, for us, our season started with our playoff game last year,” said Kennebunk Coach Joe Rafferty, whose team will take an 11-0 record into Friday’s game at the University of Maine’s Alfond Stadium. “We lost to Thornton Academy and we played extremely well.”
Thornton, the eventual Class A champion, won 42-34 in a Western Maine quarterfinal, but Kennebunk scored last with 2:48 to play, giving the Rams a chance to the final whistle.
Kennebunk finished 5-4, its first winning season since 2001 and its only winning record in 10 years of Class A competition. It was the type of result to build on.
“They were just so excited and they played every second,” Rafferty said of his team’s effort that day. “Some of us (then) went up to watch the state game and we realized it doesn’t take that much more to get here. It’s possible.
“Then the realignment helped.”
When the Maine Principals’ Association opted to switch from three to four football divisions, the Rams moved to Western Class B.
Senior captain Ben Bath said regardless of division, the Rams knew they could compete and were much improved from their 2-6 record as sophomores.
“It all started with the TA game last year and we knew we could play with anybody. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, as long as we come out and play every play and play every down and be physical, we know we can compete with anyone,” Bath said.
WITH KENNEBUNK already leading Marshwood 20-0 with 58 seconds remaining in the first half of the Western Class B final Saturday, defensive coordinator Brian Dill called down to Rafferty from his perch in the wooden press box: Now was the time to run the classic hook-and-lateral pass play.
“I’ve got a guy up top who’s throwing things in my head all the time and you’ve just got to trust each other,” Rafferty said. “Brian, he figured it was a good call at the time, and it was.”
As Rams senior Larson Coppinger said later, it’s the type of play you start practicing in Pee Wee football. The quarterback throws a quick out to a receiver, who then laterals to another receiver or back trailing the play. Of course it’s rarely called in a game.
The play went for 36 yards, with Coppinger catching a Nick Emmons pass in the right flat against a soft zone coverage and pitching the ball to Liam Studely, who covered the final 28 yards or so down to the Marshwood 20.
On the next play, Emmons lofted a pass to Austin Sandler in the left corner for a touchdown and 26-0 lead at the half. The Rams stretched it to 34-0 before finishing up an impressive 41-14 win.
“We had it called to the left side. Nick checked to the (right) and he knew it had to go to the other side. They all communicated and executed it,” Rafferty said.
The call also sent a message from the coaches to the players, Emmons said.
“It shows us that he trusts us and it feels good. It feels great,” Emmons said.
– Staff Writers Tom Chard, Mike Lowe and Steve Craig contributed to this report.