September 29, 2013

Steve Solloway: Portland vs. Bangor once was a rivalry, today it's one long bus trip

BANGOR - Ronald Hargrove lay face down, his fists beating a furious tattoo on the grass. He had the football in his grasp as he twisted and turned, eluding the grabbing hands of the Bangor High defense.

Suddenly, he didn't. Jordan Ayer had wrestled the ball out of Hargrove's hands and was running with it in the opposite direction. Ayer didn't get far but that wasn't the point.

Bangor now had the ball in the closing minutes of Saturday's Class A football game with century-old rival Portland. Bangor now had the chance to come from behind a second time in the game and win.

Hargrove took the blame. The new kid in Portland, the new running back on the high school football team, wanted his teammates and coaches to trust him. Not hold their breath in doubt when his number was called in the huddle.

This wasn't his first turnover over the first four games of the season. The grass he was pounding on the floor of Cameron Stadium on Saturday was a surrogate for his own flesh and soul.

Ten minutes later Hargrove was all smiles. In football, sometimes more than in life, things happen that can reverse everything. On the next play, Portland noseguard Joe Esposito went after the ankles of the Bangor running back. Coming up fast and hard from his position at safety, Hargrove threw his body into Logan Lanham, knocking the football out of his grasp.

Matt Talbot caught the ball in midair and returned it some 41 yards for the touchdown, part of Portland's 33-20 victory. The sudden reversal of fortunes was so stunning, Portland didn't have enough players on the field for the 2-point conversion. Coach Jim Hartman had to signal for a timeout and went onto the field to talk with his special-teams unit.

Coming back to the sideline, Hartman had news for his assistant coaches. "Ronnie had the hit."

Standing with fellow running back Justin Zukowski afterward, Hargrove said he wanted his teammates to look to him for the big play. He gave them that.

My assignment Saturday was to write about the renewal of a forgotten high school football rivalry. Portland and Bangor first played a football game in the early 1890s. Saturday's game was the 125th meeting of teams from Maine's two population centers but the first game since 2001.

Don't try to do the math. Many years ago Portland and Bangor would meet two and sometimes three times in a season.

At a small tailgate barbeque Saturday, someone asked if a team wagon drawn by horses brought the Portland players to Bangor. Trains criss-crossed Maine then. One mother of a Portland player, and a Mainer, admitted she had never been to Bangor.

There was talk of grandfathers of today's players who probably played against Bangor. Leather helmets, anyone?

The imagined discomfort of two hours in a school bus was discussed. After 20 minutes, how does anyone get comfortable? A charter coach from a bus company was out of the question in these financially strapped times.

There would be no postgame dinner stop somewhere on the ride home. Parents and boosters made up the bag lunches they handed out to players after the game. Bags of apples were passed around. Crates of Gatorade were stacked on a tailgate.

"It will be a shorter ride home," said Jayvon Pitts-Young, who scored Portland's third touchdown just before halftime. "We'll have a lot to talk about. This has been a bonding trip."

They are 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids. Some are neighborhood kids who grew up together. Some are newcomers.

Hargrove moved to Portland from Boston in the past six months. Traditions? Portland-Bangor history?

Quinton Porter, the former Boston College and Canadian Football League quarterback had a football locker in the Portland Expo about 15 years ago but virtually no one on this team would know. For many teenagers you have to live history to appreciate it.

Portland High's players did a lot of living Saturday. They beat Bangor in Bangor during Bangor High's Homecoming Weekend.

They won't forget that.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 

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