Joe Esposito ran for 170 yards and scored two touchdowns as Portland jumped out to an early lead and dominated in the second half to beat Deering 41-13 in the teams’ 104th annual Thanksgiving Day football game Thursday at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Portland (11-1) was coming off a loss to Thornton Academy in the Class A state championship game five days earlier. If the Bulldogs had any lingering effects from that game, they didn’t show.

“It was a little tough coming back,” said Esposito, a senior. “But we knew this was a chance to end the season with a win, and that got us up for the game.”

The team’s total of 11 wins is one of the best in school history, another source of pride.

“Every year that I’ve played, our record has improved. That’s something I’m proud of,” said Esposito, winner of the Vinnie Allen Award as Portland’s most valuable player in the game.

“Joe is the heart of the team,” said Coach Jim Hartman. “He was great on defense at linebacker and tremendous on offense. It’s been that way all season.”

Portland capitalized on its field position early in the game to take a 10-0 lead after one quarter. The Bulldogs had a field goal attempt blocked on its first series, but ended up pinning Deering deep in its territory.

Ben Williams of Deering caught a deflected punt in the air and circled around in the end zone before getting out of danger. But a blocking-in-the back penalty was called on the Rams and the ball was placed on the 2-yard line. Deering couldn’t move and punted, with the Bulldogs taking over at the 26. Five plays later, quarterback Issiah Bachelder passed to a wide open Austin Phillips for the touchdown from 20 yards out.

Then a 30-yard punt return by Jake Knop set up the Bulldogs, but Deering – which gave ground grudgingly in the first half – held and John Williams booted a 25-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 2:15 left in the opening quarter.

Strong running by Esposito and George Chaison-Lapine, who was finally healthy after a high-ankle sprain limited him in the second half of the season, produced Portland’s second touchdown, early in the second quarter. The Bulldogs went 51 yards in seven running plays, with Chaison-Lapine scoring from the 8.

The Bulldogs had a chance to pad their lead later in the quarter before Deering came up with a big play. Esposito was hauled down by Deering standout Dom Bernard after a 48-yard run to the 26. After another first down, Portland fumbled in the end zone with Joe Burke recovering for Deering and running the ball out to the 4.

Deering (6-4) finally crossed midfield with time running out in the first half. Quarterback Max Chabot started to connect, most notably with Bernard, to move the Rams downfield.

Deering scored with 7.5 seconds left before halftime as Chabot lofted a pass in the end zone that the 6-foot-4 Bernard hauled in. Pat Viola’s boot made it 17-7. Deering was back in the game, but that quickly changed in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs took the second-half kickoff and went 61 yards in eight plays with Esposito banging over from the 3. Chaison-Lapine had runs of 24 and 12 yards in the drive.

Williams followed with a 26-yard field goal three minutes later. Nick Archambault had two interceptions in the second half and both led to touchdowns.

Esposito and Chaison-Lapine pounded away at the Deering defense with their running.

“When you’re gaining eight to 10 yards on runs, it wears the defense down,” said Esposito.

Deering scored with 14 seconds left in the game on a 2-yard run by Chabot. In the first half, Chabot completed 9 of 18 passes for 73 yards. Bernard caught six of them for 56 yards.

Bernard was named the winner of the Merv Kilgore Award as Deering’s MVP in the game.

Portland lineman Charlie Kovarik of Portland won the James Banks Unsung Hero Award for his performance on the line and on defense.

“We shot ourselves in the foot early in the game,” said Deering Coach Jason Jackson. “Portland has a great defense. The best in the state, I believe. This game is programmed in our minds and we’ll go from there.”

It was Portland’s third straight win on the holiday. The Bulldogs lead the overall series with 57-40. There have been seven ties.

It was a long, successful season for Portland.

“I don’t think I could call another play,” said Hartman. “I’m exhausted.”