Henri Kuntz lines up for Gorham. Adam Birt / American Journal

WESTBROOK—The Blazes’ offense – quarterback Carter Dow and wide receiver Brayden Demers at the helm – put up good points, 18 of them, vs. visiting Gorham on Friday night, Oct. 25. And for much of the game, Westbrook kept close on the Rams’ heels.

In the late going, though, Gorham pulled away, surging on back-to-back TDs by Tyler Rollins and Beck Carrier. 38-18 the final.

“We just have to decide that we want it more than the other team,” Gorham Head Coach Andy Hager said. “That’s been the key with our guys all year. Sometimes, we’ve come up short because teams are better than us. But when we decide to impose our will, we can play with the best of them.”

Gorham struck first in the outing: Early in the opening quarter, Rollins grabbed six for the team on a 10-yard run. Westbrook soon answered, however, Demers breaking away on a reverse for a 50-yard run and a touchdown of the Blazes’ own.

6-6.

Midway through the stretch, the Rams arrived on Westbrook’s doorstep once more. Stamping and snorting on fourth and four at the Blazes’ 12, Gorham could clearly taste 12-6, or maybe 13-6 or 14-6. They fumbled though – coughed up the ball on the run, frustratingly. Westbrooker Shane Lowell recovered.

“Defense: Our coach tells us about alignment assignment all the time,” Dow said. “We’ve just got to follow what he’s saying, because when we do, we’re tough to beat, and when we don’t – you see what happens. We get beat off the ball, we lose our composure, we lose everything. It’s not good.”

The ensuing drive was not the Blazes’ best. Westbrook gained little ground – almost none, really – against the Rams’ d and soon found themselves punting. Gorham took over at the Blazes’ 40. But the Rams’ series ended on a sour note, too: After Westbrooker Seamus Dillon sacked Gorham QB Isaac Rollins, the Rams also punted.

The Blazes’ follow-up drive began slowly, but picked up steam when Dow connected on three beautiful passes in a row. Dow, running left, hit Demers for 15 as Demers slid into the grass. He hit Demers again with a long, rightward bomb for 30. And he hit Jared Johnson up the middle for 13.

Man, it was pretty. The net result? First and goal at Gorham’s five.

Dow quarterbacked well all night. He acted decisively. On pass plays, he surveyed the field before pulling the trigger. He threw on the move – and somehow remained mostly accurate. He hit his targets, usually square-on. Perhaps most impressively: He’s just a freshman.

Asked about his performance, Dow demurred, “I feel like it starts with my teammates,” he said. “They back me up, let me do what I try to do. I’m just thankful for them.”

“It’s our wide receivers and it’s our runningbacks,” Dow continued. “Brayden’s working like a dog; all the wide receivers are working like a dog. Our line does an amazing job too. It’s just, some plays they get beat off the ball. But our line, they’re working like dogs. We don’t have much substitutions, so thank you to them for doing everything they can do. Everyone does their job; it’s just, that last half, everyone gets gassed because we don’t have subs that play the way our starting varsity plays.”

First and goal at Gorham’s five. Faced with falling behind on the scoreboard, the Rams showed great grit: They stood up defensively and kept the Blazes from notching. Tyler King even blocked Westbrook’s field goal attempt.Ram Kyle Skolfield recovered the loose ball and scurried away with it.

Skolfield grabbed something like 40 yards before the Blazes halted his progress. Soon, Gorham took another turn on Westbrook’s doorstep, this time converting. Beck Carrier did the honors on a short run. Isaac Rollins then hit Tyler Rollins for a successful two-point conversion and 14-6.

The Blazes looked solid on their next series, with Dow, Demers and Johnson succeeding on a reverse option: Dow flipped to Demers and Demers fired off for Johnson, who reeled in the ball and 20 yards. Dow added a 13-yard run and a couple connections on the drive, but Westbrook failed to capitalize, eventually turning the ball over on downs.

No more points went on the board until late in the second, when Carrier added his second touchdown of the night. The Rams piled another two-point conversion on top for 22-6.

Demers returned the ensuing kickoff to the Blazes’ 29. Dow scuttled left on first down, eventually firing off a pass attempt his intended receiver couldn’t quite grab. He hit Demers after that, however – and Demers broke away for another long TD, roughly a 60-yarder.

22-12 heading into the break.

“We knew they had talented skill kids,” Hager said of Westbrook. “I’ve been an 0-7 team going into week eight and you just pull out all the stops and play with pride. And those kids did, they battled their hearts out for the town of Westbrook. I know it stings right now, but they’ve just got to keep doing what they’re doing.”

“We were definitely fighting,” Dow said. “We lose our pride halfway through the game; we’ve got to learn to keep fighting. We fought for the first three quarters of the game, we’ve got to bring that leadership back. We’ve got to fight until we can’t fight no more.”

The Blazes began the third with possession. Demers returned the kickoff to Westbrook’s 33 – good field position. Caleb Toman tried the middle, Dow hooked up with Johnson for nine, a Gorham facemask penalty handed the Blazes a big chunk, Dow hooked up with Demers for 11.

Dow overthrew a ball after that – one of his few real misses – and Demers dropped a ball Dow hit him with. Finally, Dow found Johnson and Johnson crossed the last 21 yards between Westbrook and the Rams’ end zone. The Blazes pulled within four: 22-18.

But 18 is where the Blazes stalled out. All looked good for them, initially: Another Gorham fumble turned into another Blazes possession. Dow hit Demers for 15, Toman ran for eight, Dow connected with Toman twice in a row. But then the Rams sacked Dow and Westbrook punted.

Tyler Rollins ran and ran and ran – he’s really good at it – on Gorham’s next series, but Johnson tipped and intercepted an Isaac Rollins pass attempt. It was the Rams’ third turnover.

“It wasn’t last year,” Hager said, asked if taking care of the ball has been a persistent problem for the Rams. “Turnovers and execution [have] been problems for us, especially in our tight games against SoPo and Oxford Hills. Six points separates two wins, against two very quality teams that played their tails off against us.”

“We didn’t execute when we needed to and it came up to bite us in the behind,” Hager continued. “And if we kept doing what we did tonight, it would’ve as well. Westbrook battled their behinds off; I have all the respect in the world for how hard they played.”

Westbrook took over at the Gorham 28 with 2:12 to play in the third. Under pressure, Dow scrambled with the ball; nearly sacked, he flipped it to a close-by teammate just before hitting the turf. Dow’s savvy cut the Blazes’ loss on the play by a yard or so – a yard may not seem like a lot, but of course it is. Every yard is a mile.

But Westbrook didn’t get the yards they needed to extend the series. They almost did – on third and 18 at their own 35, Dow hurled over the middle for a leaping Johnson. Dow bull’s-eyed Johnson, but the grab was difficult and Johnson couldn’t quite make it. He was airborne, after all, and covered.

Gorham hashed the next two TDs, the last of the evening. Tyler Rollins broke through the middle of the pack for the first of them, zipping away for a 70-yard score. Carrier powered home the second of them from fourth and two at the Blazes’ four. Add in a two-point conversion and a successful PAT, and the Rams sat on top 38-18.

And 38-18 was all she wrote.

The win bumped Gorham to 3-5 on the fall. And since Portland dropped their contest to Massabesic the same night, the Rams advanced to the postseason. They face off at No. 1 Marshwood on Friday night, Nov. 1.

“I think our guys just have a lot of game experience, and have had to play all full games this year,” Hager said, asked if the Rams simply outgassed Westbrook. “They’ve had to play down to the wire and give it their all, the entire year. I do think that has given us a leg up in tough games.”

Hager applauded a number of his guys.

“Tyler Rollins obviously played really well, but I think the offensive line played great. Henri Kuntz and Beck Carrier are two guys that get lost in the shuffle and just dominate on both sides of the ball for us – guys that go a little bit unnoticed, but are the heart and soul of our team. I can’t say enough about Henri Kuntz and Beck Carrier.”

Westbrook concludes their 2019 at 0-8: That’s an ugly record, no two ways about it, but if the Blazes’ performance vs. the Rams is any indication, 0-8 is not an entirely truthful record, since it doesn’t reflect the team’s capabilities. Hopefully 2020 will unlock a bit more of their potential – hopefully, they can continue building for the future.

Westbrook is quite young: Demers is the lone senior dotting the roster. The Blazes’ freshmen contingent outnumbers him 10-to-1, and their sophomore contingent 12-to-1. So the team remains wet behind the ears – but only for now. Fans can indulge in optimism about next autumn and beyond.

“We feel like this was a building year,” Dow said. “We had one senior this year, and he definitely stepped up. We had three, and two quit; that could’ve brought the team down, but we stayed strong and did what we needed to do, most of the time … Our coaches preach about fighting until we can’t fight no more. We tried to feed off that, live off that. When we did, things went right; when we didn’t, things didn’t go so well.”

Caleb Toman runs a caught pass. Adam Birt / American Journal

Peter Richards lines up on the outside for Gorham. Adam Birt / American Journal

Westbrooker Brayden Demers fends off would-be Gorham tackler Zach Shaw. Adam Birt / American Journal

Carter Dow played an excellent game for the Blazes, despite their ultimately losing. Adam Birt / American Journal

Tyler Rollins runs for the Rams in their win over Westbrook. Adam Birt / American Journal

Max Dobkowski lines up for Westbrook. Adam Birt / American Journal

Standout runningback Tyler Rollins powers upfield for Gorham. Adam Birt / American Journal

Carter Dow unwinds into a pass for the Blazes. Dow has a good arm and spot-on aim. Adam Birt / American Journal

Rams QB Isaac Rollins runs a keeper. Adam Birt / American Journal

Ram Zach Shaw repositions. Adam Birt / American Journal

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