Jake Hunnewell, a defensive end, dropped back in coverage and intercepted a pass in last week’s Class A North championship game against Windham. Austin Phillips, normally a wide receiver, played nose guard and proved a disruptive force in the game.

They’re just two of the examples of the versatility of the Portland High defense, which faces its biggest test Saturday when it squares off against Thornton Academy’s high-powered offense for the Class A state title at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

The Bulldogs have other players who can play multiple positions. The formula is working; unbeaten Portland (10-0) has five shutouts and allowed only 5.7 points per game.

“We’re smart and flexible,” said Mike Rutherford, Portland’s defensive coordinator. “We have 11 athletes who can play sideline to sideline.”

The Golden Trojans (9-1) are seeking their second straight state title and third in the last four seasons. Portland is playing in its first state game since 2002 when it defeated Edward Little, 41-6.

“We knew that our defense would be the strength of the team along with our special teams,” said Coach Jim Hartman.

That, despite the fact Portland lost its defensive front to graduation from a team that finished 6-4 last season. But the Bulldogs have been bolstered by the return of Hunnewell, who didn’t play in 2014, and his counterpart on the other side of the line, Joe Fusco, who saw limited action last season because of injury. The two seniors are tied for the team lead in sacks with five.

Hunnewell opted to sit out last season after playing as a freshman and sophomore. “I knew if I didn’t play I would regret it,” he said of playing this fall.

Fusco leads the team in fumble recoveries with three and is tied with three others in forced fumbles with two.

“Joe is the strong-side defensive end,” said Hartman. “He takes on the other team’s tight end and sets the edge.”

Fusco also can drop down into a four-point stance and play defensive tackle. Dan Marzilli, another linebacker, can do the same if needed. Dylan Bolduc, the strong safety, can be moved up to play a linebacker spot. Bolduc is one of the team’s top cover guys. Hunnewell and Nick Archambault can drop back and play in the secondary.

“We have a lot of people who are interchangeable,” said Hunnewell.

That versatility also allows the Bulldogs to employ different strategies, depending on the opponent.

“Every week is a different defense,” said Rutherford. “The kids get fired up about that.”

One example of the defense’s flexibility came when George Chaison-Lapine, a halfback who doubles as a nose guard, was sidelined with an injury at midseason and replaced by Phillips.

Phillips is a good-sized receiver at 6-feet, 180 pounds, but moving to the defensive line was still a big change.

“He had a great game against Windham,” said Rutherford.

The Bulldogs take position changes in stride.

Archambault, a senior, played defensive back last year. He was moved to linebacker this season but at times has been positioned at defensive end. He also plays fullback.

“I like moving around,” said Archambault. “It gives me a lot of opportunity to be around the ball.”

Rutherford will set the defense based on the game plan, then give linebacker Joe Esposito, the Class A North Player of the Year, the freedom to make adjustments. Archambault has the same option on pass coverage.

“They see things I sometimes miss,” said Rutherford.

“You don’t see me doing a lot of hand signals for the defense on the sideline. Esposito has a great football mind. We have a lot of smart kids who have high football IQs. These kids watch a lot of film. We give them homework to watch three or four different formations and ask them to come up with a way to defense them.”

Esposito led Class A North in tackles with 95. Archambault was right behind with 90.

As the wins have mounted, so has the desire to keep improving.

“We’re definitely proud of what we’ve accomplished,” said Archambault. “Our goal each game is to get a shutout and give up as few first downs as possible.

“We do everything we can to keep the other team out of the end zone.”

To put it another way:

“Football is really a chess game,” said Hartman. “We want to get the matchups so we can get checkmate.”