When George Chaison-Lapine, Portland’s top ball carrier, went to the sideline with an injured ankle early in the third quarter Friday night, Joe Esposito got the call.

Portland kept handing him the ball and he responded.

Esposito’s 50-yard run with just over five minutes remaining gave Portland the cushion it needed to hold off Cheverus 16-14 and improve to 5-0 in a Class A North football game at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Cheverus (3-2) pulled within 16-14 with 2:09 left on a 4-yard touchdown run by quarterback Isaac Dunn, but Portland recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.

“It was a hard-fought game,” said Cheverus Coach John Wolfgram. “My players showed a lot of grit. I’m happy with our effort.We didn’t make the plays when we had to and Portland did. That’s what it came down to.”

Cheverus led 7-3 at halftime but Portland, finally shaking off its first-half fumbles and penalties, had the ball for most of the third quarter.

Late in the third, Esposito carried on 13 of 14 plays during a scoring drive.

He opened the drive with a 13-yard run, got 2 yards on a fourth- and-1 and later rumbled 14 yards on fourth-and-6 from the Cheverus 18.

Esposito scored on the next play to give the Bulldogs back the lead early in the fourth quarter. John Williams’ PAT made it 10-7.

Cheverus started going to the air with success but Portland’s defense dug in. On fourth-and-1, the Stags decided to pass. Tight end Ken Drelich was wide open but Dunn didn’t see him in time, and the Bulldogs held with under six minutes left.

Esposito then dashed 50 yards for a touchdown with 5:19 left to make it 16-7, but Cheverus responded with a 68-yard, eight-play drive.

Dunn passed to Jack Casale for 13 yards on first down, then hit tight end Owen Gorman twice for 9 and 11 yards, in between a 12-yard completion to Casale.

After spiking the ball, Dunn passed to Justin Johnston for 18 yards to the Portland 4. After an incomplete pass, Dunn rolled out, seemed trapped but found his way into the end zone with 2:09 remaining. Casale’s PAT made it a two-point game.

A 15-yard penalty on the Stags brought the ball to the Cheverus 34 for Portland, and three runs by Esposito sealed it.

Chaison-Lapine had 149 yards on 18 carries in the first half and added 20 yards early in the third quarter before being injured.

Esposito said he was ready to step in and assume the running load.

“I look forward to being in a situation where I can help the team,” he said. “I’m willing to put the team on my back if I have to.”

In the second half, the game turned into a typical Portland-Cheverus rivalry, said Esposito, who also plays linebacker for Portland.

“It was pretty intense out there,” said Esposito. “I had a hard time hearing the signals because it was so loud.”

While Chaison-Lapine was impressive running the ball in the first half, freshman Tre Fletcher carried the load for Cheverus.

Fletcher ran for 69 yards on 13 carries in the first half, including a 36-yard touchdown that put the Stags ahead 7-3 early in the second quarter.

Portland scored on its first possession, settling for a 39-yard field goal by Williams after the Bulldogs drove to the 6, before an unsportsmanlike penalty and a holding penalty pushed them back.

Wolfgram saw other positive signs from the loss besides his team’s effort.

“I thought we executed our two-minute passing drive very well,” he said.

After the game, Portland Coach Jim Hartman told his players that they were in the driver’s seat in Class A North.

The Bulldogs are the only undefeatedteam in Class A and own a 10-3 victory against Windham, their closest pusurers.

Still, Esposito was cautious.

“We have to forget about being 5-0 and think we’re 0-0,” he said.