South Portland senior Elijah Azimi (54)  jumps for joy after the Red Riots recover a fumble to secure their 19-14 win at Cheverus Saturday afternoon. Hoffer photos. More photos below.

BOX SCORE

South Portland 19 Cheverus 14

SP- 0 0 0 19- 19
C- 0 0 7 7- 14

First quarter
No scoring

Second quarter
No scoring

Third quarter
C- Tompkins 9 run (Michaud kick)

Fourth quarter
SP- Poole 20 run (Tierney kick)
C- Tompkins 87 kickoff return (Michaud kick)
SP- Poole 6 run (pass failed)
SP- Small 9 pass from Poole (pass failed)

PORTLAND—Someday, in the not too distant future, when South Portland has returned to its rightful perch atop the high school football world, the Red Riots will look back at the events of Saturday afternoon at Boulos Stadium as the beginning of their renaissance.

Visiting Cheverus in an early-season battle of Class B South squads seeking their first victory, South Portland was pushed to the brink on several occasions, but kept pushing back and did just enough to get in the win column for the first time.

Both teams moved the ball in the first half, but couldn’t get the ball in the end zone and the game was scoreless at the break.

It appeared it would stay 0-0 through three quarters as well, but with 1:10 to go in the stanza, senior Sean Tompkins scored on a 9-yard run to give the Stags a 7-0 lead.

South Portland then got its offense going, as senior quarterback Anthony Poole wouldn’t be denied, spearheading a drive that culminated with Poole scoring from 20 yards out to tie it.

On the ensuing kickoff, Cheverus flirted with disaster, as Tompkins couldn’t collect the ball, but once he did, he took off and brought it all the way back for an 87-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead.

Again, the Red Riots answered, as Poole scored on a 6-yard run with 8:29 on the clock, but the two-point conversion failed and the Stags clung to a one-point lead.

It didn’t last, as Cheverus fumbled and with 3:29 remaining, Poole hit senior Tyler Small for a 9-yard TD and while the two-point conversion failed, South Portland was on top for the first time, 19-14.

The Stags tried to answer, as Tompkins made a highlight reel leaping catch on fourth down to set up first-and-goal from the 10, but the Red Riots came up with a huge defensive stand, forcing a fumble on fourth down, closing out their 19-14 victory in style.

Poole accounted for over 300 yards and all three South Portland scores and helped the Red Riots even their record at 1-1, dropping Cheverus to 0-2 in the process.

“This is a big one,” said first-year South Portland coach Aaron Filieo, a one-time standout player and assistant coach with the program. “It’s great. It was a great football day. The crowd was good and the energy was good. It’s a great feeling. I think more than anything, it’s about winning a football game, regardless of who we played.”

Wake up the echoes

Way back in the fall of 1992, South Portland won the Class A state title, as Filieo served as a captain and all-state nose guard under the tutelage of John Wolfgram.

Wolfgram went on to establish himself as the state’s premier coach and he’s still on the sidelines, now assisting Mike Vance at Cheverus.

Filieo followed in Wolfgram’s footsteps, coaching 15 years at Cape Elizabeth, creating a perennial power and two-time reigonal champion out of a start-up program, then returning to South Portland this season as the head coach of the Red Riots.

Filieo’s debut was a 30-14 home loss to Deering last Friday while Cheverus also fell in its first game, 48-13, at Kennebunk.

The teams hadn’t met in a countable game since Sept. 14, 2012, a 42-0 Stags’ victory in South Portland.

Saturday, in front of a vocal crowd, on an overcast and occasionally drizzly 61-degree afternoon, the Red Riots beat Cheverus for the first time since Sept. 8, 2007 (14-6 in Portland), but they needed all 48 minutes to do so.

The Stags won the opening coin toss, but deferred possession to the second half.

South Portland started at its 35 and after junior Connor Dobson swept left for seven yards on first down, Poole kept the ball and gained four for the game’s initial first down. After an incomplete pass, Poole ran for four yards, then appeared to hit junior Luca Desjardins for nine, but that connection was negated by a holding penalty and on third-and-11, Poole rushed for just three yards, necessitating a punt.

Cheverus then got the ball for the first time at its 26 and also moved the chains once.

A seven-yard Tompkins run, followed by a six-yard rush by junior Gryden Lindstedt, set up first down at the 39. Tompkins gained five more yards, but Stags junior quarterback Josh Paquet was dropped for a five-yard loss by Small and senior Isaac Sobey and on third-and-10, Paquet threw incomplete.

After a 42-yard Tompkins punt, the Red Riots began their second possession at their 19 and Poole immediately made a positive play, breaking tackles en route to a 21-yard pickup and first down at the 40. Senior Keenan Jones ran for eight yards, but Poole threw incomplete and on third-and-2, a bad snap short-circuited the drive and forced another punt.

With 3:52 to go in the first period, Cheverus started at its 26 and began its second drive auspiciously, as Tompkins gained 26 yards and he was tackled by the facemask, tacking on 15 more yards for a first down at the South Portland 33. Lindstedt ran for two yards on first down, but senior Ian Trafford ran for just three yards on second down and one more on third down, setting up fourth-and-4 from the 27, where Paquet threw incomplete, turning the ball over on downs.

The Red Riots began at their 27 and began to drive, as Poole kept the ball for a yard, Jones gained seven and on the final play of the first quarter, Poole broke tackles, bounced outside and wasn’t hauled down until he reached the Stags’ 27 after a gain of 38 yards.

South Portland senior Anthony Poole finds a seam in the Cheverus defense.

The first period saw South Portland out-gain Cheverus, 83-60.

The Red Riots would continue to threaten as the second quarter commenced.

After Poole threw incomplete, he ran for a yard, then on third-and-7, Poole was thrown for a one-yard loss by Stags’ sophomore Sebastian Merrill. On fourth down, Desjardins took the snap and threw to Poole for a nine-yard pick-up and a first down at the 16. Poole ran for two yards, but Desjardins threw incomplete and after Poole ran for four yards, on fourth-and-4 from the 10, Poole was dropped for a one-yard loss, giving Cheverus the ball back at its 11.

The Stags would chew up most of the rest of the first half, but couldn’t take the lead.

After a holding penalty, Cheverus got things moving with a six-yard run from Lindstedt, a four-yard run from Tompkins and a six-yard run from Tompkins, who pushed the pile, for a first down at the 23. After Trafford gained seven yards, Lindstedt ran for 17 more and a first down at the 47. Trafford gained seven yards and Tompkins picked up 13 more for a first down at the South Portland 33. After Tompkins moved the chains again with a 10-yard rush, Trafford picked up seven yards and Lindstedt ran for two, but on third-and-1, Trafford was dropped for a loss of a yard by senior Caleb Viola. Dobson then dropped Tompkins for a three-yard loss on fourth-and-2 and the Red Riots got the ball back at their 18 with 1:06 to go before the half.

After a delay of game penalty, Jones lost a yard, but on second-and-16, Poole broke free for 30 yards to the 42. After Poole hit Dobson for six more, two incompletions and a 12-yard Poole run brought the scoreless first half to a close.

In the first 24 minutes, South Portland had a 141-131 edge in yardage, thanks in large part to Poole’s 120 yards rushing.

Cheverus got 58 yards on seven carries from Tompkins and 43 more on six rushes from Lindstedt, but also couldn’t score.

The Stags got the ball to start the second half and threatened to finally break the ice before stalling in the red zone.

Beginning at its 41, Cheverus got a one-yard rush from Trafford and a 17-yard scamper from Lindstedt to move into Red Riots’ territory at the 41. After Trafford ran for four yards, Lindstedt did the same, then on third-and-2, Trafford picked up four yards for a first down at the 29. After South Portland freshman Joshua Sparacio held Lindstedt to no gain and Paquet threw incomplete, Tompkins gained eight yards and on fourth-and-2, Trafford picked up 12 for a first down at the 9. After Poole held Lindstedt to no gain, Tompkins lost a yard. Paquet then threw incomplete, setting up fourth-and-goal, where Paquet hit sophomore Orion Guibord out of the backfield, but Guibord was tackled at the 4, giving the Red Riots the ball back on downs.

South Portland went three-and-out, as Guibord held Jones to no gain and after Poole ran for eight yards and the Red Riots were backed up five more yards for an illegal man downfield, Poole threw incomplete, forcing a punt.

With 3:32 left in the third, Cheverus took over at the South Portland 38 and five plays and 2 minutes, 22 seconds later, the Stags finally broke through.

Lindstedt got things going with a 17-yard run. After Trafford ran for eight yards, Trafford was held to no gain by senior Elijah Azimi, but on third-and-2, Trafford ran for four yards and a first-and-goal at the 9. On the next snap, Tompkins got the ball and found a hole to his right and he broke through and crossed the goal line for the touchdown with 1:10 to go in the quarter.

Cheverus senior Sean Tompkins receives congratulations after scoring the game’s first touchdown.

Junior Teddy Michaud added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.

The Red Riots started their next possession at their 32 and in a drive that spanned the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters, used six plays and 1:44 to march for the tying score.

After Desjardins ran for two yards, Poole threw low to junior Preston Howland, who made a nice catch before breaking free for a 31  yard pickup to the Stags’ 35. On the final play of the third quarter, Poole ran for seven yards. On the first play of the final stanza, Poole threw incomplete (as senior Tim O’Brien got his hand on the ball). Then, on third-and-3, Poole ran for eight yards for a first down at the 20 and on the next snap, Poole kept the ball again and found room to the left sideline, where he left the pursuit in his wake en route to a 20-yard TD. With 11:18 left in regulation, junior Frank Tierney added the PAT to even the game, 7-7.

“We moved the ball well in the first half, but we made a few mistakes,” Poole said. “We turned those around and felt good. They came out a little flat and we came out full heart. My line created big holes. (Senior) Nate Ellington, who is a great lineman, went down, but the guys stepped up and filled his shoes and did an awesome job.”

The game would be deadlocked for all of 15 seconds, as Tompkins put on a show on the ensuing kickoff.

Tompkins dropped the ball initially at the Cheverus 17, but he collected it back at the 13, ran up the middle and with its timing messed up, South Portland’s coverage team allowed a gap which Tompkins exploited and once he had a seam, the speedster raced all the way to the end zone for an 87-yard score. Michaud added the extra point and with 11:03 remaining, the Stags were back on top, 14-7.

The fun was just beginning.

The Red Riots got the ball back at their 33 and in a six-play drive that chewed up 2:28, the visitors answered.

A 17-yard pass play from Poole to Small got things going. After Poole ran for two yards and Jones was dropped for a two-yard loss by senior Sean Sullivan and junior Giovanni Fornaro, Poole scrambled, then hit Dobson with a 25-yard drop in the bucket down the left sideline for a first down at the 24. Poole then completed a gorgeous pass on the run to Dobson for 18 more yards and a first down at the 6, which set the stage for Poole to keep the ball and score on a 6-yard run with 8:29 remaining.

“It’s never the end for us,” Poole said. “We play 48 full minutes. If they pop one, it’s next play mentality and we just keep going.”

“That (kickoff return) was tough, but our coaching staff is incredible and they got us back into it.,” Filieo said. “Offensively, we felt confident we could drive down and keep things rolling.”

Instead of going for the tying extra point, Poole attempted a fake, but his pass was incomplete and the Stags clung to a 14-13 lead.

Cheverus hoped to add to its advantage as it began its next drive at its 42, but after Lindstedt ran for five yards, a fumbled exchange was recovered by Desjardins and the Red Riots took over at the Stags’ 45 with 7:37 left.

South Portland then took nine plays and 4:22 to produce the go-ahead score.

After throwing incomplete, Poole ran for six yards, then gained five more to move the chains. Jones ran for five yards, then Poole found Desjardins for 10 and a first down at the 19. Poole ran for nine yards, then was dropped by Guibord for a one-yard loss, but on third-and-2, Jones gained two for a first-and-goal at the 9. Poole did the rest, dropping back and hitting Small on a quick slant over the middle and Small crossed the goal line to give South Portland its first lead of the season.

“Credit goes to Coach (Jason) Cooke (South Portland’s offensive coordinator),” Poole said. “He’s worked a lot on getting me better reading defenses pre-snap and throwing it to open space. That was a trap pass. The linebackers came up and we had the middle wide open. It was there.”

“I wanted to call timeout because it looked to me like it wouldn’t be there, but Coach Cooke is such an incredible teacher of his route concepts,” Filieo said. “He was fully confident and he was right.”

South Portland senior Tyler Small (12) exults after catching the go-ahead touchdown.

Poole threw incomplete on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, but with 3:29 to go, the Red Riots were on the brink of victory.

Cheverus then drove and almost stole it.

Starting at their 34, the Stags immediately threatened when Tompkins took a sweep toss to the right and wasn’t brought down until he reached the South Portland 34, after a gain of 32 yards. Lindstedt ran for two yards, but Dobson knocked down Paquet’s pass to Tompkins at the last possible instant and Paquet threw incomplete again, setting up fourth-and-8.

Cheverus kept hope alive, as Paquet’s high throw was hauled in by a leaping Tompkins at the left sideline, setting up first-and-goal from the 10.

Tompkins ran for four yards and after Paquet threw incomplete, Tompkins ran for four more yards, setting up the fateful fourth-and-goal play from the 2 inside the final minute.

The Stags hoped score the winning touchdown on the ground, but the Red Riots’ defense got solid penetration, affected Paquet’s pitch and the ball wound up on the turf.

“That was a gut-check,” Filieo said. “We talk all the time about fighting for every inch, every play and our defense was resilient. Their snaps were wobbly throughout the game and our little nose guard got one to pop loose.”

“We just had a miscommunication in the backfield,” lamented Vance. “It was a toss to the left to the tailback. It just didn’t work.”

South Portland would have held either way, but when junior Colby Wyman recovered the fumble, that served as the punctuation mark.

All that was left was for Poole to take a knee and at 2:41 p.m., the Filieo Era had its first memorable victory, 19-14.

“It means so much for us,” Poole said. “We’ve worked so hard. The new coaching staff has pushed us so hard. It’s a new culture in South Portland and I think we showed that today. We never quit. That’s all it was. It’s an amazing feeling, really hard to explain. (Coach Filieo is) a South Portland alum and I’m so happy we got that (win) for him.”

“We gained momentum, lost momentum, then we found the character these guys have,” Filieo said. “We saw it last week. The big question was if it was a one shot deal and today, we proved we have a lot of fight. We were patient. We’re still trying to figure out our identity on offense. We had a few things go our way. Defensively, we bent but didn’t break, as much as Cheverus wanted us to. The guys played inspired.”

South Portland finished with 323 yards of offense and overcame four penalties for 30 yards.

Poole had himself a day, rushing for 190 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, catching one pass for 9 yards and completing 7 of 15 passes, good for 116 yards and a score.

“Anthony is one of 70 (guys on the team), but he means everything,” Filieo said. “You need the captain of the ship. That’s his role and he does that with his actions more than his words. He shows these guys how to compete and how to finish a game.”

Dobson had four catches for 80 yards.

Small caught two balls for 26 yards and the winning touchdown.

Desjardins ran once for 2 yards, went 1-of-2 passing for 9 yards and caught a pass for 10 yards.

Jones rushed seven times for 20 yards.

Cheverus gained 284 yards, but was done in by two turnovers.

Tompkins impressed with 124 yards and touchdown on 13 carries. He also caught one pass for 22 yards and had the kickoff return TD as well.

“We got running vertical on them and that opened things up for us and Sean’s a big-play kid,” Vance said.

Lindstedt rushed for 88 yards on a dozen carries.

Trafford gained 57 yards on 13 rushes.

Paquet completed 2-of-9 passes for 28 yards.

Guibord had one catch for 6 yards.

“They put together a couple good drives and we fumbled the ball and that put us in a tough spot,” Vance said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow. These kids have to mature. That’s all there is to it. The team played well overall.”

South Portland coach Aaron Filieo, left, and Cheverus assistant coach John Wolfgram, who coached Filieo at South Portland in the early 1990s, shake hands after the contest.

On to week three

Cheverus hopes to get in the win column Friday when it goes to resurgent 2-0 Gorham.

“We’ll cling to our culture which is excellence with integrity,” Vance said. “We do everything to the best of our ability every day. We’ve got some challenges with maturity, but I’m excited. We have some great kids.”

South Portland hopes to keep the good times rolling and eclipse last year’s win total Friday when it returns home to meet 0-2 Noble.

“It’s on to the next game,” Poole said. “Every day, we have to come to practice and get better.”

“We’re just thinking about growth,” Filieo said. “We’re just trying to bring the guys along and coach them up. We’ll enjoy it now and tomorrow, the coaches will evaluate this game and we’ll turn the page to who’s next.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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