BOX SCORE

Massabesic 26 South Portland 14

M- 6 6 6 8- 26
SP- 7 0 0 7- 14

First quarter
SP- Dobson 54 run (Tierney kick)
M- St. Laurent 1 run (kick failed)

Second quarter
M- Roberge 1 run (rush failed)

Third quarter
M- Roberts 2 run (kick blocked)

Fourth quarter
M- St. Laurent 5 run (Roberge pass to Hendrix)
SP- Sobey 9 pass from Desjardins (Tierney kick)

SOUTH PORTLAND—For the first couple of minutes Friday evening, everything came easily for South Portland’s football team as it looked for its third consecutive victory.

Hosting Massabesic on Homecoming at Martin Memorial Field, the Red Riots, despite playing without standout senior quarterback and inspirational leader Anthony Poole, who was sidelined by injury, forced a Mustangs’ three-and-out to start the game, then, on their second offensive play, got a 54-yard touchdown run from junior Connor Dobson for a 7-0 lead.

But that proved to be South Portland’s highwater mark, as turnovers and failure to convert in clutch situations allowed Massabesic to score the next 26 points to seize control of the game.

The Mustangs were close to unstoppable on the ground, as the three-headed monster of senior quarterback Nick Roberge and senior running backs Owen Roberts and Ryan St. Laurent wore the Red Riots down.

Massabesic got on the board midway through the first quarter on a 1-yard TD run from St. Laurent, but the extra point failed and South Portland remained on top.

In fact, the Red Riots led until just 16.5 seconds remained before halftime, when Roberge’s 1-yard plunge put the Mustangs ahead for good, 12-7.

After stopping South Portland on downs in Red Riots’ territory early in the third quarter, Massabesic scored again, taking an 18-7 lead on a 2-yard run from Roberts.

Then, early in the fourth period, St. Laurent scored on a 5-yard scamper and a two-point conversion pass all but put it away.

To its credit, South Portland fought hard until the end and late in the game, got a 9-yard touchdown pass from junior Luca Desjardins to senior Isaac Sobey, but it was far too-little, too-late and the Mustangs went on to a 26-14 victory.

Massabesic won its third consecutive game, improved to 3-1 and in the process, snapped the Red Riots’ two-game win streak, leaving them 2-2 on the year.

“(The Mustangs) played well and we turned the ball over too many times in crucial situations and didn’t convert at crucial times,” lamented South Portland first-year coach Aaron Filieo. “We didn’t make plays when we had to.”

Wild horses

South Portland’s football resurgence has been quick this fall under Filieo. The Red Riots dropped their opener, 30-14, to visiting Deering, then rallied to win at Cheverus, 19-14, and last week, dominated visiting Noble, 49-7.

Massabesic dropped a hard-fought 27-23 home decision to Biddeford in the opener, then beat host Noble (19-13) and visiting Deering (13-6).

Last fall, South Portland’s lone victory came at Massabesic, 20-14, in overtime.

Friday, on a cool but comfortable evening for football (61 degrees at kickoff), the Red Riots looked for their first three-game win streak since a four-game streak in 2014, but instead, the Mustangs beat South Portland for the first time this century after eight previous defeats.

The Red Riots won the opening coin toss, but deferred possession to the second half and their defense made a quick statement.

Massabesic started at its 18, but went nowhere, as Roberge threw incomplete, Roberts was held to no gain by senior Caleb Viola and Roberge kept the ball for no gain.

With 10:26 to go in the first quarter, South Portland got the ball at its 43 and two plays and 51 seconds later, had its partisan crowd energized with the game’s first score.

After Desjardins handed off to senior Keenan Jones for three yards, Dobson took an end around to the left side, broke through and ran down the sideline. Around the Mustangs’ 10, he juked one defender, then raced into the end zone to complete the 54-yard TD run and with 9:35 to play in the first quarter, Tierney’s PAT gave the Red Riots a 7-0 lead.

Then, Massabesic got its ground game in gear.

The Mustangs started at their 43 and drove 57 yards in 10 plays and 5 minutes, 7 seconds to answer, with Roberts doing most of the heavy lifting.

After running for five yards on first down, Roberts gained 13 for a first down at South Portland’s 39. After Roberts ran for 15 more and a first down at the 24, he picked up three yards, then 10 more for a first down at the 11. St. Laurent got the call for five yards, then Roberts picked up four and Roberge lunged for one and a first-and-goal at the 1. After Sobey stuffed Roberts for no gain, St. Laurent capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to the left with 4:20 remaining in the quarter. Sophomore Jacob Raymond’s extra point was no good, but Massabesic only trailed 7-6 and had momentum.

The Red Riots hoped to answer when they started at their 31, but after Jones was thrown for a one-yard loss by sophomore Sean Wakefield and Desjardins was tackled for a three-yard loss by freshman Collin Scully, a two-yard scramble by Desjardins forced a punt.

The Mustangs got the ball back at their 29 and marched into South Portland territory as the first period gave way to the second.

After senior Braden Daigneault was held to no gain, Roberts took off for 13 yards, then he gained 18 more for a first down at the Red Riots’ 40. A two-yard Roberts pick-up ended the first quarter (which saw Massabesic enjoy a 90-60 advantage in yardage).

On the first play of the second period, Roberts ran for seven yards, but on third-and-1 from the 31, senior Charles Salow dropped Roberts for a three-yard loss. The Mustangs prepared to punt, but were able to draw South Portland offsides, continuing the drive. Massabesic wouldn’t score, however, as after St. Lauren was dropped by Jones for a two-yard loss and the visitors took a delay of game penalty, Roberge ran for a yard, then was sacked for a seven-yard loss by Viola, forcing a punt.

The Red Riots got the ball back at their 17 and began to march.

After Desjardins kept the ball for three yards, Jones gained four. After an illegal motion penalty, on third-and-8, Jones caught a nicely designed screen pass and picked up 29 yards for a first down at the 48. Jones ran for seven yards and junior Shamus Cole picked up nine more for a first down at the Mustangs’ 36. After Desjardins kept the ball for two yards, disaster struck for the hosts, as Desjardins fumbled and Massabesic junior Ben Carroll recovered at the Red Riots’ 34.

That set the stage for a drive that would chew up most of the 4:12 remaining in the half and put the Mustangs ahead for good.

Roberts started the drive with a three-yard run, then he gained nine more for a first down at the 46. After a false start penalty backed Massabesic up five yards, Roberts ran for four yards, then Roberge completed his first pass, a quick hitter over the middle to Daigneault, good for 16 yards and a first down at the South Portland 39. Roberts ran for three yards, then Roberge kept for eight and a first down at the 28. After Roberge ran for three more, he threw incomplete, but on third-and-7, Roberts weaved through traffic, good for 14 yards and a first down at the 11. After Roberge broke a couple tackles and got the ball to the 1, Roberge kept the ball on a keeper and scored from a yard out with 16.5 seconds on the clock. A two-point conversion rush was no good, but the Mustangs had a 12-7 advantage, a lead they would take to the break after the Red Riots had Jones rush for five yards on the half’s final play.

In the first 24 minutes, Roberts gained 118 yards on 17 carries, helping Massabesic hold a 152-114 yardage advantage.

The second half would feature more of the same.

South Portland got the ball first and started at its 29, but after rushing for three yards, Desjardins was stripped of the ball and junior Ricky Hendrix recovered for the Mustangs at their Red Riots’ 38.

Massabesic couldn’t score, however, as after successive holding penalties and a 12-yard Roberts run, Roberts fumbled and senior Tyler Small recovered for South Portland at its 29.

The Red Riots tried to capitalize on the sudden change by throwing the ball deep, but Desjardins’ pass fell incomplete. After Tierney caught a pass for eight yards and Desjardins kept the ball for one, Filieo gambled and went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 38 and Jones was brought down behind the line of scrimmage, giving Massabesic the ball at the South Portland 37.

Ten plays and 4:45 later, the Mustangs had a two-score lead.

Roberts ran for a yard on first down and a fumbled snap on second down set up third-and-10, but Roberge found Daigneault for 12 yards and a first down at the 25. After an incomplete pass, Roberge kept the ball for seven yards, Roberts gained two, then on fourth-and-1, Roberge ran a sneak for a yard and a first down at the 15. St. Laurent picked up 11 yards on a counter and Roberts moved the ball to the 2. Roberts then was rewarded for his hard work, getting the call again and scoring on a 2-yard rush with 4:43 left in the third period. Raymond had his PAT blocked, but Massabesic was up, 18-7.

South Portland, starting at its 19, hoped to answer, but went three-and-out, as Jones ran for five yards, Dobson gained three on an end-around and Cole got a yard-and-a-half, setting up fourth-and-short, but this time, Filieo opted to punt and the Mustangs took over at their 37 with 2:30 left in the frame.

This time, Massabesic would march 63 yards on eight plays and 4:21 to end all doubt.

A three-yard keeper by Roberge got things started. Roberts then ran for four yards and gained five more on third down to move the chains to the 49. After a hold backed the Mustangs up, Roberts ran for a yard on the final play of the third quarter.

On the initial play of the final stanza, Roberge kept the ball and rumbled for 30 yards to the Red Riots’ 29. After Roberge kept it for five yards, he rattled off 19 more for a first-and-goal at the 5. Roberge then kept the ball and ran to his right, but as a South Portland defender confronted him, he pitched the ball to St. Laurent, who easily raced into the end zone for the 5-yard TD with 10:09 to go.

“The triple option is nearly impossible to prepare for, as far the speed and execution,” said Filieo. “All triple option teams have that advantage. (Roberts) is a very good football player and their quarterback is good too.”

Massabesic went for two and Roberge hit Hendrix for a 26-7 lead.

Now desperate for points, South Portland started its next drive at its 40 and began to march, as after an incomplete pass and a four-yard Jones run, Desjardins found Dobson for eight yards and a first down at the Mustangs’ 48. A pass interference penalty moved the Red Riots 15 yards closer, but after successive incompletions and an eight-yard pass to Dobston, Desjardins was sacked on fourth-and-2 by Hendrix and that gave Massabesic the ball back on downs at its 28.

The Mustangs wouldn’t score on this occasion, but only because they took a penalty at a most inopportune time.

After a delay of game penalty, Roberts ran for a yard, then gained eight. On third-and-6, senior Blake Proctor picked up seven yards for a first down at the 39. After a fumbled exchange and a three-yard loss by St. Laurent (with Sobey making the tackle), Roberge broke away for an apparent 64-yard touchdown, but a holding penalty brought it back. After Proctor gained three yards, Massabesic had to punt.

With 3:23 remaining, South Portland got the ball at its 47 and the Red Riots proceeded to get back in the scoring column, thanks to a seven-play, 53-yard march, that needed just 98 seconds.

After Dobson ran for nine yards and Desjardins threw incomplete, Jones ran for five yards and a first down at the Mustangs’ 39. Desjardins then hit Small for 19 yards and after an incompletion, he connected with Dobson for 11 more. Then, with 1:45 to go, Desjardins rolled right, then threw back to his left into the end zone, where Sobey made a nice over-the-shoulder grab for the score. Tierney’s extra point cut the deficit to 26-14.

South Portland attempted an on-sides kick, but it was recovered by Massabesic and after Proctor ran for nine yards, Roberts’ 12-yard scamper allowed the Mustangs to twice take a knee, which ran out the clock on their 26-14 triumph.

“It all came together in the huddle actually,” Roberts said. “We talked about banding together and we made it happen. It was the whole team coming together as one. The whole team has worked hard and we really wanted it.”

“Our guys just settled down,” said Massabesic coach Eric Ouellette. “We were a little up-tight off the bus, then we became comfortable and played hard. Our linemen have been working a lot. They come off the ball quickly and they’re aggressive and it’s good to see.”

Roberts led the way with 168 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.

Roberge ran for 86 yards and a TD on 15 carries and completed 2-of-5 passes for 28 yards, both to Daigneault.

St. Laurent scored twice and gained 17 yards on six rushing attempts.

The Mustangs mustered 279 yards of offense, turned the ball over once and were penalized nine times for 52 yards.

South Portland managed 226 yards, but was hindered by two turnovers.

Desjardins completed 7-of-13 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. He ran six times for 7 yards.

Dobson gained 66 yards on three carries with a TD. He also caught three passes for 27 yards.

Jones finished with 31 rushing yards on nine attempts and caught one pass for 29 yards.

The Red Riots took two penalties for 10 yards.

“Anthony is a special player and he’s a natural leader, just his presence on the field helps, but I thought things were there and we were moving the ball,” Filieo said. “Luca did a good job. The offensive line was pretty good.

“It’s tough for (the guys) because they wanted to win on Homecoming and Massabesic was their only win last year and they thought they should have won (tonight).”

Movin’ on up

Massabesic is back on the road Friday, when it will be tested at Kennebunk (3-1).

“People doubt us because we’re Massabesic, but we’re coming,” Roberts said. “We just have to work hard and if we do, I think we can accomplish anything.”

“We haven’t won in a long time and we can still do more,” Ouellette said. “We’re playing some tough, well-coached teams. We have a test against a really good Kennebunk team next week. That’s a big measuring stick for us. All we can do is work hard and prepare. If we do those things, things will fall into place.”

South Portland travels to 3-1 Gorham next Friday. The teams didn’t meet last year.

“Every week is a dogfight in this conference,” Filieo said. “Next week will be the same. The guys should respond. They have to be prepared to grind and fight every single week and that’s we’ll get ready to do.”

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

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