SANFORD – Coming into last Friday’s critical late-season matchup with identical 3-3 records, both Windham and Sanford knew how big a win in the second-to-last week of the regular season would be.

Thanks to Alex Shain, it was the Spartans who got it.

The standout senior running back rushed for 278 yards on 25 carries and scored all five of his team’s touchdowns as hosts Sanford ran away with a 34-7 victory at Cobb Stadium. The win pushes the Spartans, who came into the week in ninth place in the Crabtree Index, squarely into the Western Class A playoff picture. As of Saturday morning, they sit in the eighth and final playoff spot, with 95.2818 points, just ahead of Bonny Eagle (2-5) at 95.2667.

“Huge win,” Sanford coach Mike Fallon said. “You look at the Crabtree Index right now, last week, this week and I think next week are in the must-win category and I’m real proud of our kids. Obviously we knew we had a real formidable opponent coming tonight in Windham, very good team, well coached, and our kids came to play.

“We hadn’t won yet at home, so that was kind of a challenge for us tonight.”

Windham falls to 3-4 on the year, but is in fifth place in the standings due to a strong schedule so far.

The Spartans stepped up to that challenge right away, forcing Windham to punt on its first drive and getting the ball at their own 19. Shain picked up a first down with his first carry and then broke a big one, scampering 65-yards and breaking tackles the whole way to put Sanford up 7-0 just 5:25 in.

“I just hit the outside, made a cut off my wide receiver, broke a tackle off (Damian) Shepard and was just off to the races,” Shain said. “We were blocking 40 yards down the field and I’m just swerving around, just made a play.”

The teams then traded punts, with Windham getting the better of the transaction thanks to a Sanford personal foul penalty to set them up at the Spartans 44. The Eagles used seven plays to move the ball down to the 12, where on a fourth and 4, quarterback Damian Shepard kept it himself and eluded a couple of defenders to score what would be his team’s lone touchdown of the night, knotting the score at 7-7 early in the second.

Sanford was again forced to punt on its next possession, but the Eagles’ next drive also stalled due to a costly holding penalty, and Colby Waterhouse’s punt was blocked by Colby Perigo to give Sanford a short field at the Eagles’ 37. Shain carried for 12, but made then made his only mistake of the night, fumbling at the Eagles’ 18 to kill the drive.

Windham’s next series again stalled thanks to a holding penalty, and on fourth and 5 a fake punt was stuffed, giving Sanford the ball at the 32 with just over a minute left in the half.

“I thought it was a good move after they’d just blocked one on us,” Windham coach Matt Perkins said. “We missed a block, they made a tackle.”

This time Shain and Co. wouldn’t let the special teams mistake and subsequent short field go unpunished, driving the ball down to the 2 with the clock running under 10 seconds. Instead of spiking the ball and stopping the clock, Fallon gave it Shain for an easy run up the gut and a 13-7 lead heading into the half.

“We caught them off guard and just ran right up the gut and we drove it through,” Shain said. “We work on driving every day, our lineman, our driving, every single day. They had that push and we just got it.”

Sanford started the second half with the ball, but a block in the back and a sack of Cody Mooney by Windham lineman Brad Carpentier stopped the drive. It looked like the Eagles’ were ready to grab momentum back when a Shepard 36-yard run brought ball down to the Sanford 29, but the Spartans’ defense stiffened from there, stopping the quarterback on a fourth and 4 to preserve the slim lead.

Starting at their own 25, the next Spartans drive turned into the Alex Shain show, and it was a success. The back carried seven times for 55 yards on the drive, including five straight times inside the Windham 30, scoring on another run straight up the gut from eight out to put his team up 19-7 with three to play in the third.

“My coach was telling me just got to keep pushing, just got to keep pushing,” Shain said of the drive. “I’m trying to lead the team, just trying to put the team on my back.”

He continued in the fourth, scoring on runs of 28 and 2 yards to salt the game away. The senior has now accounted for 20 of the Spartans’ 24 touchdowns of the season.

Meanwhile, the Windham offense could never quite gel Friday night, thanks to a handful of penalties and plenty of dropped passes.

“We had some injuries that caught up to us, we tried to patch it up as we went and it just didn’t happen,” Perkins said. “They made some big plays, we had some chances for big plays, dropped some key passes and had some holdings on some big runs and just didn’t execute.”

Shepard, with his ability to beat a team with his arm and his legs, was a key for the Sanford defense all week, Fallon said. The senior signal caller got his yards on the ground, rushing 24 times for 150 yards, but was just 4 for 16 for 53 yards through the air.

“I was very pleased defensively,” Fallon said. “I was very, very concerned about their offense, especially their quarterback and his speed and his ability to run, and I felt like we did a very nice job of keeping him bottled up. He got loose on us a couple times but for the most part I thought defensively, we had our backs against the wall a couple times early but we stiffened up and made plays.”

In a game Sanford will no doubt have its eye on, the Eagles will host a hungry Bonny Eagle squad fighting for its own playoff life in the regular-season finale next week in what Perkins called an “obviously huge” game.

Sanford’s position makes this Friday’s game at 2-5 Massabesic another must-win. But after the convincing win over the Eagles, the Spartans have plenty of push heading into the final week.

“Windham’s a very good team and I thought we did very well tonight, our whole team played really well,” Shain said. “Our line played really well, we just kept going and going and it just gives us a lot of momentum going into the next game and hopefully the playoffs.”

Sanford quarterback Cody Mooney looks for a receiver down field in the second quarter. (Staff photos by Cameron Dunbar)
Windham coach Matt Perkins rallies the troops before a key fourth down play in the third quarter.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.