Portland High’s football team had to rebuild its offensive line at the start of the season after graduating four starters.

With the second- and fourth-leading rushers in Class A North and an undefeated record, the project shows all signs of being a success.

“(The line) put in a lot of practice time and hard work,” said running back Joe Esposito.

As the league’s second-leading rushing at 1,057 yards and its top scorer, Esposito – and George Chaison-Lapine, who has gained 774 yards – have been the primary beneficiary of the line’s work.

Asked if he takes them to lunch, Esposito, the Class A North’s Player of the Year, said: “I don’t have that kind of money.”

Esposito does the next-best thing.

“I make sure they’re recognized after each game. I know they like that,” he said.

Top-ranked Portland (9-0) meets second-seeded Windham (7-2) for the Class A North title at 7 p.m. Friday at Fitzpatrick Stadium with a berth in the Nov. 21 state championship game at stake.

Charlie Kovarik, the right guard, was the only returning starter from last season. Dan Marzilli was moved to left guard at the start of the season after playing fullback last year. Center Dylan Wike and right tackle Nick Giaquinto saw some action last season. Left tackle Tommy O’Donnell didn’t go out for football a year ago after playing as a sophomore. Charles Egeland is another player who has seen action at left tackle.

Working hard in the weight room and communicating on the line of scrimmage are two reasons given by the players as reasons for their success.

“We worked together a lot better after it took us a while to get to know each other as football players,” said Marzilli.

“We have better chemistry now. If we mess up in practice, we talk about it. Tommy O’Donnell plays next to me and if he has a question, he’ll come to me. And if I have a question, I’ll ask him or Dylan, who is on the other side.”

In other words, better blocking through communication.

“We adjust right on the line of scrimmage,” said Kovarik.

Kovarik also said the rebuilding of the line started in the weight room last winter.

“We had a lot of guys in there and we started working as a team back then.”

Kovarik knows the benefits of working out. He didn’t see any varsity action as a sophomore but earned a starting spot as a junior.

“I got a lot stronger and I was more ready to play football,” he said.

Kovarik cited games against Windham and Cheverus as probably the best for the offensive line.

“Those are two really good defensive lines. We had to be smart and focused to come out with those wins,” he said.

The Bulldogs aren’t particularly big up front, at least not compared to the lines they face.

“I’m 180 pounds,” said Kovarik. “We have to do something to make up for our lack of size. Technique and better communication.”

Marzilli felt last Friday’s semifinal win over Bangor was another strong performance by the line.

“We got off the ball as quick as we have all season. Our running backs had another blocker out front,” he said.

Esposito tied a school record with six touchdowns, gaining 290 yards on 22 carries against Bangor.

“They all got a little time in the line last season,” said Coach Jim Hartman. “They’re all smart, tough and fast football players. They’re the smartest line I’ve coached. They run and pass block very well. The guards are very quick and can run with our backs. Our line coach, Eamon White, has done a great job coaching them.”

Hartman said when the team lines up in a double tight-end formation, Joe Fusco and Jake Hunnewell do a great job of blocking. They’re both big bodies who can clear out a lot of space.

Marzilli played various positions last year but knew going into this season that he probably would end up in the line because of the team’s low numbers.

“I accepted it because I knew it was going to come,” he said. “I thought I always wanted to be a running back, but now I wish I had started out as a guard when I was younger. You get to hit people on every play.”

And that carries over to defense, where he plays linebacker. Marzilli and Kovarik, a defensive tackle, play both ways.

For a lineman, the reward of a well-executed block comes from watching one of his running backs break a long touchdown run. The Bulldogs have had plenty this season.

Both Marzilli and Kovarik know that in Windham, they will be playing against lines as good as theirs.

“I respect everyone on their team,” said Marzilli.

Added Kovarik: “I think we’re one of the more physical teams, but Windham can go head to head with us.”

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