Cheverus junior Greyden Lindstedt looks for running room as Portland sophomore Aiden DiMillo prepares to make a tackle during the Stags’ 28-21 victory Saturday.

BOX SCORE

Cheverus 28 Portland 21

P- 0 14 0 7- 21
C- 7 14 0 7 0- 28

First quarter
C- Tompkins 12 run (Michaud kick)

Second quarter
P- Crosby 4 run (Vumpa kick)
P- Moriba 10 run (Vumpa kick)
C- Tompkins 72 run (Michaud kick)
C- Tompkins 30 run (Michaud kick)

Third quarter
C- Guibord 21 run (Michaud kick)

Fourth quarter
P-  Moriba 8 run (Vumpa kick)

PORTLAND—The old adage states that football is a game of inches.

Saturday afternoon, it was even less than that, as a tiny piece of Boulos Stadium real estate proved to be the difference between victory and defeat when longtime rivals Cheverus and Portland did battle.

Twice, the visiting Bulldogs had the nose of the football on the goal line and twice, they never advanced it further as Stags’ defensive stands turned the tide in a down-to-the-wire thriller.

Cheverus took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, as senior Sean Tompkins capped a long drive with a 12-yard touchdown run.

Portland then got in gear in the second period and pulled even on a 4-yard TD run from promising sophomore quarterback Grant Crosby.

The Bulldogs then recovered a fumble and drove for a go-ahead score, but Crosby was stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the 1.

Portland would take a 14-7 lead on a 10-yard touchdown run from senior Jamal Moriba, but late in the first half, Tompkins put on a show, first tying the score on a 72-yard burst, then putting the Stags ahead, 21-14, at halftime on a 30-yard rush.

The Bulldogs started the second half with a lengthy drive, but again, Portland couldn’t manage the final inch and Cheverus held on downs.

The Stags then got some breathing room, marching 99 yards and taking a 28-14 advantage when sophomore Orion Guibord scored on a 21-yard run.

That sequence loomed enormous, as the Bulldogs drew within a TD in the fourth period, on an 8-yard Moriba run, but the two scores Portland should have had but didn’t get ultimately spelled defeat, as Cheverus’ defense forced one final turnover on downs and the Stags held on for a 28-21 Homecoming Day victory.

Tompkins ran for three touchdowns and made a huge defensive play late to help Cheverus win its third game in a row, improve to 3-2 on the season and in the process, keep the Bulldogs winless at 0-5.

“This game was a sign of maturity and we’re happy about that,” said Stags coach Mike Vance. “Every team matures during the season and we had a lot of room for improvement. The kids have really put it together.”

So close

Cheverus came into the contest winners of two in a row and the Stags felt as if that streak should have been three, while Portland, meanwhile, dropped its first four contests against arguably the most difficult slate in the state over the first half of the year.

The Stags opened with a 48-13 loss at Kennebunk, then let a fourth quarter lead slip away in a 19-14 home loss to South Portland. After downing host Gorham, 35-21, Cheverus handled visiting Westbrook, 54-12, last week.

The Bulldogs started with a 42-3 loss at Scarborough, then fell at Biddeford (28-6), at home to defending Class B state champion Marshwood (49-3) and at home to Kennebunk (41-9).

Last year, at Fitzpatrick Stadium, Portland never trailed en route to a 37-7 victory, taking a 48-36 lead in the all-time series (with five ties) in the process.

Saturday, under very comfortable and sunny skies (57 degrees at kickoff), Cheverus returned the favor, doing just enough on both sides of the ball to prevail.

The Bulldogs won the opening coin toss and deferred possession to the second half.

The Stags started at their 20, but went three-and-out, as senior Ian Trafford ran for four yards, then lost one and junior quarterback Josh Paquet threw incomplete.

Portland’s first possession started at its 39, but the Bulldogs also failed to gain a first down, as sophomore Aiden DiMillo lost six yards, Crosby threw incomplete and on third-and-16, Crosby kept the ball and gained just four yards, necessitating a punt, which went just 18 yards, giving Cheverus the ball at its 45 with 8:56 to go in the opening quarter.

Ten plays and 4 minutes, 52 seconds later, the Stags struck first.

Tompkins’ first carry resulted in a seven-yard rush, which would pale in comparison to the next three times he touched the ball and took it to the house.

Junior Greyden Lindstedt moved the chains with a four-yard run to the Portland 47. Lindstedt then ran for seven yards and five more for a first down at the 35. After Lindstedt ran for five yards, then for four, he gained 19, dancing along the left sideline before being dragged down at the 7. After Lindstedt picked up one more yard, Paquet was sacked for a six-yard loss by senior Garrett Stewart, but on third-and-goal from the 12, Tompkins got the call on a sweep and found room to his right, outrunning the pursuit to the end zone with 4:04 remaining in the opening stanza. Junior Teddy Michaud’s extra point put Cheverus on top, 7-0.

After the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, the Bulldogs started at their 35 and again, failed to drive, as after Crosby hit junior Joseph Pike for seven yards, a false start penalty moved them back five yards and a sack by Stags senior Gavin Callahan was followed by a one-yard run by Moriba on third-and-15. Moriba then punted just 14 yards and Cheverus was set up at Portland’s 45.

The Stags weren’t able to add to their lead, however, a on the first play, Paquet was strip sacked by sophomore Grant Haron and the Bulldogs recovered the loose ball at the Cheverus 48.

As the first quarter gave way to the second, Portland drove 52 yards in 10 plays and 5:10 for its first touchdown.

After Crosby kept the ball for six yards, he hit Pike for nine more and a first down at the 33. After Crosby was dropped by senior Sean Sullivan for a two-yard loss, Moriba ran for eight yards to bring the curtain down on the opening stanza (the Stags outgained the Bulldogs, 51 yards to 15, in the frame).

On the first play of the second quarter, Moriba ran for five yards and a first down at the 22. After senior Sam Knop caught a pass for five yards, Crosby kept the ball for two and on third-and-3, Moriba gained four for a first down at the 11. Crosby then did the rest, rushing for seven yards, then bulling in from the 4 with 9:10 to play in the half. Sophomore Cristo Vumpa added the PAT to tie the game, 7-7.

Portland sophomore quarterback Grant Crosby runs into Cheverus senior Tim O’Brien (left) and sophomore Marshall Fowler.

Cheverus started its next drive at its 24 and again, gave the ball right back, as a fumbled snap was recovered by Portland senior Ryan Howell at the Stags’ 19.

The Bulldogs had a golden opportunity to go ahead, but Cheverus’ defense would rise up and make the first of its two goal line stands.

After Moriba ran for 12 yards to set up first-and-goal at the 7, Moriba was held to a yard and Crosby gained three. On third-and-goal from the 3, Crosby fought his way forward for two yards, but that set up fourth-and-goal from the 1. There, Crosby got the call again and while he tried to get the ball to the goal line, he was ruled short and the Stags took over at the shadow of their goal line with 6:48 left before halftime.

Cheverus would immediately get some breathing room, as Trafford broke for 34 yards. Trafford then gained eight more, but Lindstedt was held to one yard and on third-and-1, Knop threw Trafford for a three-yard loss, forcing a punt.

With 4;28 to go in the half, the Bulldogs got the ball back at their 31 and this time, a promising drive ended in points.

Crosby hit Pike for 30 yards over the middle on first down, then the tandem connected again for 22 yards, as Pike broke tackles and moved the ball to the Stags’ 17. After Crosby kept the ball for seven yards, Moriba got the call and he burst through the line and scored on a 10-yard run with 2:47 to play in the half, capping a four-play, 1:41 march. Vumpa’s PAT put Portland on top, 14-7.

But just when it appeared the Bulldogs were primed to seize control, Cheverus needed just one play to answer.

Starting at their 28, the Stags gave the ball to Tompkins, who found room to his left, turned the corner and once he had daylight, no one was catching the speedster and Tompkins completed a 72-yard run with 2:31 to go before halftime. Michaud’s extra point tied it up.

Portland hoped to retake the lead, but on the ensuing kickoff, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty forced it to start at its 15 and after Trafford dropped Crosby for a five-yard loss and Moriba ran for one yard, an incomplete pass forced a punt and under pressure, Moriba’s punt only went 19 yards.

That allowed Cheverus to start at the Bulldogs’ 30 with 1:10 on the clock and seven seconds later, the Stags had the lead for good, courtesy Tompkins, who again found room to his left and broke away for a 30-yard TD.

“I was just running behind my blocks and they over-pursued to the outside, so I just cut back where my blocks were,” said Tompkins. “I like to run everywhere. I trust my O line and wherever the hole is, I’ll hit it.”

Michaud’s PAT made it 21-14 Cheverus.

Portland got the ball back at its 38 with 55 seconds showing and after Moriba ran for five yards and Crosby hit Pike for seven, the ball was at midfield, but Crosby was sacked by Stags junior Giovanni Fornaro and that brought the half to a close with the hosts up by a touchdown.

In the first 24 minutes, Cheverus had an 188-132 advantage in yardage. Tompkins touched the ball on offense just four times, but he scored three touchdowns and gained 113 yards in the process.

Crosby threw for 80 yards and ran for 28 more and Moriba had 42 yards and a score on seven carries, but the Bulldogs trailed.

After Cheverus’ 1969 football team was honored on its 50th anniversary at halftime, Portland got the ball to start the third quarter and began at its 32. The Bulldogs went to the air and began to march, as Crosby hit Pike for 12 yards as a defender slipped on the play, then Knop caught a pass for 11 yards and a first down at the Stags 45. Pike then caught a short pass, broke a tackle and faked out two others to move the chains to the 33. After Moriba was held to no gain, an illegal procedure penalty backed Portland up to the 38. Pike then had a 16-yard reception for another first down. Sullivan sacked Crosby on the next play for a one-yard loss and another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty backed the Bulldogs up 15 more yards, but after a pair of incomplete passes, Crosby connected with sophomore Nathan Isajar, who appeared end zone-bound before Cheverus sophomore defensive back Bryant Nsengiyumva dove and tripped him up at the 1.

At the time, that diving tackle appeared a mere footnote and it appeared Portland was going to score the tying touchdown regardless, but instead, the Stags rose up for their second impressive goal line stand.

On first down, Moriba was held to no gain. Moriba then lost a yard, courtesy Fornaro and sophomore Brett Bosogian. Crosby then kept the ball and spun forward, but he fell just short of the goal line, again setting up fourth-and-goal.

Again, Crosby kept the ball, but once again, he ran into a brick wall and was stopped short and Cheverus protected its lead and took over at its 1 with 7:37 left in the third quarter.

“We played like a shell of ourselves a few weeks ago, but now we’re playing like I know we can play,” Tompkins said. “Our D line just dug deep. It came down to every last man. That meant everything for our energy. We always talk about sudden changes and to stop them at the 1-yard line multiple times took their energy away.”

“I think we wore them down a little bit,” Vance said. “They’re a little bit bigger, but we got a little more physical in those moments.”

“That may be a sign of where we haven’t been put in that situation and we hadn’t been battle-tested,” Portland first-year coach Jason McLeod said. “That gave us the realization we have to toughen up a little bit. We’re just going to have to get better. It’s as simple as that.”

Not only had the Stags come up huge on defense, their offense would march 99 yards on 13 plays in 7:10 for a crucial insurance TD.

Lindstedt was held to no gain on first down, but Portland was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and that moved the ball to the 16. After Trafford rushed for three yards, Cheverus was backed up five yards with a false start, but Lindsedt gained four yards and on third-and-8, Paquet rolled right and hit Tompkins for 11 and a first down at the 29. After Trafford twice ran for three yards, he got the call again on third-and-4 and gained five for a first down at the 40. Guibord then got his first carry and picked up four yards before Tompkins burst free for 18 yards and a first down at the Bulldogs’ 38. A three-yard Trafford run was followed by an 11-yard pick-up by Guibord, moving the chains to the 24. After Tompkins was held to three yards, Guibord got the call again and broke free up the middle and raced into the end zone for a 21-yard score.

“That was good for our momentum to be up two scores and have a cushion,” Tompkins said.

“We have a couple fullbacks we rotate in and Orion got his chance and took advantage of it,” said Vance.

Michaud’s extra point made it 28-14 Cheverus with 27 seconds left in the period.

Starting at its 39, Portland picked up seven yards on the final play of the third, as Crosby connected with Isajar, then on the initial play of the fourth period, Moriba broke free, turning the corner and breaking tackles all the way to the Stags’ 20.

But again, the Bulldogs couldn’t finish the drive.

After Moriba ran for six yards and Pike had a two-yard catch, Crosby threw a pass to the right flat which was intercepted by Guibord. Guibord returned the pick 18 yards and another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was tacked on at the end, giving Cheverus the ball at its 40 with 10:20 to play.

The Stags had a chance to ice it, but they fumbled the ball and senior Ryan Howell recovered for Portland at its 48.

Five plays and two minutes later, the Bulldogs were right back in it.

After Moriba ran for five yards and Crosby threw incomplete, Moriba broke several tackles en route to a 36-yard gain and a first down at Cheverus’ 11. After Moriba ran for three more yards, he got the call again and swept right and scored on an 8-yard burst with 7:36 to go. Another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty backed Portland up on the extra point, but Vumpa still managed to drill the kick to pull the Bulldogs within 28-21.

The Stags took over at their 37 and looked to drive for the score that would put it away, but again, they failed to do so.

After a two-yard run by Guibord, Tompkins swept left one final time and broke away once more, but he wasn’t able to go all the way, being brought down at the Portland 9 after a gain of 52. After Trafford ran for three yards, then two, Stewart dropped Lindstedt for a one-yard loss and on fourth-and-goal from the 5, Vance elected to bring on Michaud for a 22-yard field goal.

After a timeout, however, Michaud missed wide right and with 3:39 to play, the Bulldogs had one final chance from their 20.

But Portland couldn’t take advantage, as after Moriba ran for a yard, Fornaro sacked Crosby again, for an 11-yard loss. On third down, Crosby hit Moriba for eight yards, setting up fourth-and-12 from the 18. The Bulldogs came oh-so-close to converting, but Crosby’s pass to Pike for an apparent first down was broken up at the last split second by Tompkins and Cheverus took over with 1:49 remaining.

“I played (Pike) hard on the outside, because he’d run hitches and outs all game,” Tompkins said. “He cut back and beat me on a step, but I read him and I caught up and dove and got my hand in there, the way we coach in practice.”

After an off-sides penalty on Portland, Trafford picked up two yards, then a four-yard rush by Trafford finished it off. One Paquet kneel down later and the Stags were able to celebrate their hard-fought 28-21 victory.

“This means the world, especially as a Portland boy,” said Tompkins.

“We need to be able to execute late in the game and the kids did a good job closing it out,” Vance said. “For some of these guys, it’s important because they’re from Portland. Portland always shows up to play and the kids know that.”

Cheverus mustered 367 yards of offense, as Tompkins led the way with 186 yards and three TDs on just seven carries. He also caught a pass for 11 yards.

“Sean’s dynamic,” Vance said. “We can’t give him the ball every play, so we try to develop all areas of the offense, but he’s a difference-maker. He’s a captain. We need him to make plays.”

Trafford gained 83 yards on 14 rushes, Lindstedt picked up 55 yards on 11 attempts and Guibord had 38 yards and a score on four carries.

Paquet passed just twice, completing one, good for 11 yards.

The Stags were only penalized once for five yards and overcame three turnovers.

Portland gained 298 yards, but was penalized eight times for 90 yards, with five of those penalties being unsportsmanlike conduct calls for 15 yards a pop.

Crosby had his best effort to date, completing 15 of 21 passes, good for 180 yards. He was intercepted once. Crosby also rushed 13 times for 29 yards with a TD.

“(Grant) matured a lot today,” said McLeod. “He kept mistakes to a minimum. He played well. He has talent, especially throwing the ball. It’s just a case of putting it all together.”

Moriba, who was hampered by injury all week, came up huge with 138 yards and two scores on 17 rushes. He also caught a pass for 8 yards.

“(Jamal’s) battling some nagging injuries and he didn’t practice all week, but he was ready to go and he did some phenomenal things today,” McLeod said. “At the end of the day, I should have given him the ball more.”

Pike had 10 receptions for 117 yards, Isajar had two catches for 44 yards and Knop caught two passes, good for 16 yards.

“We were finally able to get in a situation to play all four quarters and despite what the scoreboard says, I’m proud of the guys,” McLeod said. “We were able to move the ball effectively and efficiently and do what we thought we could do, whether it was on the ground or in the air.”

Following the contest, the long-standing Duffy Awards, given to the top player from each squad, weren’t bestowed as they have been for decades, but Crosby and Tompkins were named their team’s Air Force Player of the Game.

Three left

Portland (10th in the Class B South Crabtree Points standings) will try again for its initial victory Friday when it hosts 3-2 South Portland in the renewal of the “Battle of the Bridge,” which this year is played in week six, not the regular season finale. Last year, the Bulldogs blanked the Red Riots, 35-0. A trip to Noble and a home tilt versus resurgent Massabesic also await.

“We’re taking it week by week,” McLeod said. “We have to get better. Whether it’s one play, one assignment, one quarter at a time. We know if we do that, we’ll be competitive at the end of the season.”

Cheverus (now sixth in Class B South) travels to 3-2 Biddeford, which features Marc Reali, last year’s Stags’ quarterback, as their signal caller. The teams didn’t play in 2018. Cheverus then travels to powerhouse Bonny Eagle before closing the regular season at home versus Deering.

“It only gets better from here,” Tompkins said. “We have to stay focused and keep having good weeks of practice.”

“We have to continue to grow as a team,” Vance said. “We talk about getting better every time we meet and we’ve done that. We’re excited to continue to improve.”

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

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