South Portland senior Keenan Jones chases in vain after Marshwood senior John Valentine as Valentine scores a touchdown in the Hawks’ 49-6 victory in Friday’s Class B South semifinals.

BOX SCORE

Marshwood 49 South Portland 6

SP- 0 6 0 0- 6
M- 23 13 7 6- 49

First Quarter
M— C Goodwin 7 run (Knowles kick)
M— Cornett 61 pass from Caverly (A. Goodwin pass from Sullivan)
M— Bryant 7 run (Casey pass from Caverly)

Second Quarter
SP—Desjardins 5 run (kick blocked)
M— Valentine 46 pass from Caverly (Knowles kick)
M— Cornett 2 run (kick failed)

Third Quarter
M— Bryant 18 run (Knowles kick)

Fourth Quarter
M— C Goodwin 32 run (no conversion)

SOUTH BERWICK—As if taking a long bus ride to play a semifinal round playoff game at a powerhouse, defending champion team wasn’t enough for South Portland’s resurgent football squad to overcome Friday evening at Marshwood, the Red Riots soon discovered they’d have to essentially have to play with one hand tied behind their back, as standout do-everything senior quarterback Anthony Poole was hindered by a knee injury and could only pass, but not run.

And while South Portland has spent three months overcoming and becoming a special team, the Red Riots finally met their match.

The top-ranked Hawks scored early and often, showing for one night at least, that they’re just as adept throwing the ball as running with it.

Marshwood scored on six of its first seven possessions and never looked back.

The Hawks went ahead to stay on a 7-yard touchdown run from senior Carsen Goodwin and by the time the first quarter was over, led, 23-0, thanks to a 61-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Connor Caverly to sophomore Cameron Cornett and a 7-yard touchdown run from senior workhorse Justin Bryant.

Fifth-seeded South Portland took advantage of a fumble recovery deep in Marshwood territory early in the second period and got on the board, as junior Luca Desjardins bulled in from 5-yards out, but Caverly hit senior John Valentine for a 46-yard score and Cornett’s 2-yard TD scamper spelled a 36-6 halftime advantage.

The Hawks induced a mercy rule running clock when Bryant scored on an 18-yard run in the third quarter and in the fourth, Goodwin’s 32-yard TD rush brought the curtain down on the Hawks’ 49-6 victory.

Marshwood generated over 400 yards of offense, improved to 9-1 on the season, advanced to set up a Class B South Final showdown versus No. 2 Kennebunk (8-2) next Saturday at 1 p.m., and in the process, ended a Red Riots’ season that was better than anyone back in August could have dreamed at 7-3.

“Without question, it’s been a special three months,” said South Portland first-year coach Aaron Filieo. “We certainly exceeded expectations.”

Something to aspire to

Marshwood is the program that everyone this side of Thornton Academy wants to be. The Hawks won Class B championships in 2014, 2015, 2017 and again last year (49-0 over Brunswick) and this fall, were nearly perfect in the regular season.

Marshwood opened with a 56-0 home win over Westbrook, then gave the aforementioned host Golden Trojans everything they could handle and more in the game of the season, as a late Hawks’ two-point conversion attempt fell short in a 28-27 setback. Marshwood bounced back nicely and defeated host Portland (49-3), visiting Gorham (52-0), visiting Biddeford (56-7), host Deering (36-0), visiting Kennebunk (48-14) and host Noble (56-14).

Last week, in the Class B South quarterfinals, the Hawks eliminated No. 8 Gorham, 41-12.

South Portland expected to improve on last year’s 1-7 record, but few dreamed the Red Riots to awaken the echoes quite the way they have this fall under Filieo, a one-time star player and assistant coach who had turned Cape Elizabeth’s program into a powerhouse.

South Portland dropped its opener, 30-14, to visiting Deering, then rallied to win at Cheverus, 19-14, before dominating visiting Noble, 49-7. After falling at home to Massabesic, 26-14, the Red Riots came from behind to edge host Gorham, 31-28, rolled at Portland in the “Battle of the Bridge,” 35-7, then blanked host Westbrook, 35-0, before closing with a palpitating 27-21 home win over Class A contender Sanford.

South Portland then won a quarterfinal round playoff game for the first time in eight years last weekend when it beat No. 4 Biddeford, 41-19, at Waterhouse Field.

The Red Riots and Hawks didn’t meet this year and hadn’t squared off in the postseason this century. South Portland won both prior playoff meetings, 42-3 in the 1996 Western A Final and 30-13 in the 1997 Western A semifinals.

Friday, on a frigid evening (28 degrees and dropping at kickoff), after a poignant pregame ceremony honoring military members and first responders, Marshwood came out and made quick work of undermanned South Portland.

The Red Riots won the opening coin toss, but deferred possession to the second half and by the time they got the ball, they were behind on the scoreboard.

The Hawks began at their 23 and needed seven plays and 2 minutes, 32 seconds to march for the first touchdown.

After Bryant was stopped for a three-yard gain on first down, Caverly threw his first pass, finding Cornett for 18 yards and a first down at the 44. After an incompletion, Valentine ran a sweep to the right for 26 yards, moving the chains to the South Portland 30. Caverly then threw to Valentine twice, the first for 12-yards and the second for 11-yards, setting up a first-and-goal at the 7. Goodwin did the rest, scoring on a run to the left and with 9:21 left in the opening stanza, junior Aidan Knowles’ extra point made it a 7-0 game.

While Poole came out to play quarterback on the Red Riots’ first series, which began at their 31, it was clear he wasn’t going to be his usual hard-running, hard-to-tackle self. After senior Keenan Jones was thrown for a two-yard loss by Caverly on first down, Poole threw incomplete and while Jones gained seven yards on third-and-12, it wasn’t enough to move the chains and South Portland had to punt.

Marshwood started its second possession at its 44 with 7:21 left in the first period and in two plays and 60 seconds, was back in the end zone.

After an illegal shift penalty backed the Hawks up five yards, Caverly was held to no gain. He then dropped back and found Cornett open near the left sideline. Cornett caught the ball, made a move, broke a tackle, took off and outran the pursuit all the way to the end zone to complete a 61-yard TD reception.

“We thought we saw some things that allowed us to throw the ball tonight,” said Marshwood coach Alex Rotsko. “Our quarterback is really good. He throws the ball well and we have good receivers. We haven’t had an opportunity to throw the ball much this season, but when we have, we’ve thrown it well.”

On the PAT, the Hawks ran a fake, as sophomore holder Aidan Sullivan threw to sophomore Andrew Goodwin for a two-point conversion and a 15-0 advantage.

A nice return from sophomore Antonio Romero set the Red Riots up at their 40 to start their next possession, but on successive plays, Jones was thrown for a one-yard loss, the first time by senior Michael Cruz and the second by junior Colby Leach, to set up third-and-12, where Poole threw incomplete.

After a punt, Marshwood had the ball at its 35, but for the only time in the first half, the Hawks didn’t score, as a fumbled exchange was recovered by South Portland’s standout two-way senior lineman Nate Ellington, setting the Red Riots up at the Marshwood 34.

South Portland couldn’t take advantage of the Hawks’ largesse, however, as after Desjardins (who stepped in under center for Poole on the series) ran for one-yard, then for two and junior Connor Dobson gained five, Jones was dropped for a one-yard loss by senior Cullen Casey on fourth-and-2 and Marshwood got the ball back at its 27 with 1:56 on the first quarter clock.

Four plays later, the Hawks scored again.

Bryant did most of the heavy lifting, breaking away for a 60-yard run, as he scampered all the way to the Red Riots’ 13. After a holding penalty cost the hosts 10 yards and Caverly threw incomplete, he hit Valentine for 16 yards to the 7. Bryant then did the rest, bulling up the middle untouched into the end zone for the touchdown with 40.9 seconds left in the frame. Marshwood went for two again and Caverly connected with Casey for a 23-0 advantage.

Romero had an even better return on the ensuing kickoff, racing all the way to the 46, and on the final play of the first period, Dobson ran for two yards.

The Hawks had a 205-12 advantage in first quarter yardage.

After Poole threw incomplete on the first play of the second period, Desjardins ran for three yards, but the Red Riots had to punt, where they got a big break.

Cornett fielded the ball, but was stripped and senior Elijah Azimi recovered for South Portland at the Marshwood 5.

Desjardins then got the Red Riots on the board with a 5-yard TD rush up the middle with 10:49 left in the half. Junior Frank Tierney’s PAT was blocked by Cornett, however, keeping the score 23-6.

The Hawks then returned to their scoring ways, starting at their 35, then needing four plays and 1:47 to march to paydirt.

After Bryant ran for two yards, Caverly hit Casey for 11-yards, then found Valentine for 11 more and a first down at the South Portland 41. After an incomplete pass and an ineligible man downfield penalty moved the ball back to the 46, Caverly hit Valentine on a slant and Valentine took it to the house for a 46-yard touchdown with 9:02 remaining in the second quarter.

“Anytime a team that has run the ball 70 percent of the time with success, then they can come out and spread out and throw like they pass 70 percent of the time, that’s tough,” Filieo said. “And defensively, they’re just as good. They’re a well-rounded football team.”

Knowles added the extra point for a 30-6 lead.

The Red Riots got the ball back at their 25 and after Jones ran for 12 yards and a first down, Poole hit Dobson for eight yards and Jones was stopped for no gain, but a facemask penalty set up first down at midfield. After Jones caught a pass for no gain, then ran for two yards, Poole was intercepted by junior Parker McPherson, who brought the ball all the way back to South Portland’s 19.

It would take five plays and 2:35 for Marshwood to score its final touchdown of the half. After Azimi held Bryant to no gain, Caverly hit Casey for five yards and Bryant ran for four. On fourth-and-1, Bryant got the call again and moved the chains with a three-yard run. Cornett then finished it off, scoring on a 7-yard run on a sweep left and with 3 minutes to go before halftime, after Knowles missed the PAT wide left, the lead was 36-6.

The Red Riots got one final possession before halftime, starting at their 34. After Poole threw incomplete, Jones ran for five yards, then Poole for the only time all night, used his legs, on a scramble, and moved the chains to midfield. After Jones ran for four yards, South Portland was flagged for illegal procedure and after Poole threw incomplete while being pressured, Poole ran for two yards to end the first half.

In the first 24 minutes, Caverly threw for 191 yards and two scores, Bryant ran for 79 and a touchdown and Marshwood enjoyed a 289-64 advantage in yardage.

With the competitive phase of the contest over and the temperature continuing to drop, there weren’t many on hand who were disappointed when the Hawks scored again in the third period to get the clock running.

First, South Portland got the ball to start the second half and its possession came with a changing of the guard.

The Red Riots started at their 35 and Poole dropped back to pass on first down and threw the ball up for grabs at the midfield. It landed incomplete, but pass interference was called and after the ball was moved to the 50, Poole came out of the game for the final time and was given a hero’s welcome on the sidelines.

Sophomore Nate Rende took over at quarterback and handed to Jones, who was held to no gain, but on the play, a facemask penalty allowed South Portland to gain a first down at the Marshwood 35. After senior Theo Burns-Bethune was dropped for a four-yard loss, Jones ran for 10 yards, but on third-and-4, Jones was dropped by Caverly for a three-yard loss, then Rende threw incomplete to give the Hawks the ball on downs at their 32.

Marshwood marched 68 yards in seven plays and 3:30 to extend the lead.

After an eight-yard run by Bryant, Valentine rushed for six and a first down at the 46. Bryant ran for nine yards and after Valentine was held to no gain by senior Tyler Small, Bryant moved the chains with a three-yard run. Casey then made a highlight reel leaping catch on a Caverly pass, good for 29 yards and a first down at the 13. After an illegal motion penalty cost the hosts five yards, Bryant broke free for an 18-yard score and Knowles’ extra point made it 43-6 with 5:22 to go in the third.

After Dobson returned the ensuing kickoff 33 yards, the Red Riots started at their 41 and chewed up the rest of the time in the frame, producing a promising drive.

After an incomplete Rende pass, Jones ran for three yards and Jones broke free into the secondary for 19 yards (only a diving tackle by Valentine prevented a score). After junior Shamus Cole ran for 12 yards on his lone carry, Rende was sacked by Cruz for a six-yard loss and Rende ran for four yards on the final play of the quarter.

On the first play of the final stanza, Jones was dropped for a one-yard loss and on fourth down, Rende was intercepted by Sullivan, who returned the ball to the Marshwood 9.

The Hawks took their starters out, but chewed up nearly seven minutes before giving the ball back.

Sullivan ran for three yards, then Carsen Goodwin gained four before McPherson picked up four more for a first down at the 20. After a one-yard run by junior Ethan Rockafellow, McPherson broke free for 13 yards and a first down at the 34. Rockafellow ran for nine yards, then after a fumbled exchange cost Marshwood four yards, Carsen Goodwin gained two yards, forcing a punt.

South Portland got the ball back at its 36, but a fumbled exchange was recovered by Hawks’ sophomore Ryan Tarr at the Red Riots’ 32.

Carsen Goodwin then delivered the coup-de-grace, breaking away for a 32-yard touchdown run with 2:19 left. Marshwood took a knee instead of kicking the extra point, keeping the score 49-6.

South Portland got the game’s final possession and started at its 32. After Romero ran for eight yards, he picked up 10. Rende kept the ball for five yards and Romero picked up five more yards, but that ran out the clock and the Hawks advanced.

“I feel like we just played a small college,” Filieo said. “They’re that good.”

“We played physical and we played well and the big thing we worried about was them throwing a bunch of shifts at us, but we were ready and the kids did an outstanding job,” Rotsko said. “We adjusted well to their different looks.”

Marshwood finished with 421 yards of offense.

Caverly completed 10-of-12 passes for 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Valentine caught five passes for 96 yards with a score.

Cornett caught two passes for 79 yards and a TD and had a 7-yard touchdown run.

Casey had three receptions for 45 yards.

Bryant ran for 117 yards and two TDs on 11 carries.

The Hawks turned the ball over twice and were flagged six times for 50 yards.

A magical ride

South Portland mustered 147 yards of offense.

Jones ran 17 times for 55 yards.

Desjardins ran four times for 11 yards and a TD before leaving with an injury.

Poole bowed out with one rush for 11 yards and 2-of-8 passing, good for 8 yards, with an interception.

“We were kind of hoping (Anthony would) be able to come out here and feel good, but it just wasn’t in the cards,” said Filieo. “He got hurt last week and it affected his throws and ability to run. Then, Luca went down. That obviously put us at a huge disadvantage.

“(Anthony was) a once-in-a-generation player. His level of leadership is as good as his level of play.”

Rende was 0-of-3 with an interception in relief.

The Red Riots had two turnovers and were flagged twice for 10 yards.

South Portland exceeded even the wildest of expectations this autumn and you can’t quantify Filieo’s first season as anything short of a rousing success.

“The senior class and their ability to understand their roles and how to compete like a team, they set the tone,” Filieo said. “It matched up well with the coaching staff and our vision. It was an incredible season.”

The Red Riots lose more than just Poole. Fifteen seniors graduate and while their impact was enormous, several younger players will return to lead the way in 2020.

Expectations will be different next fall, but it’s safe to say this program is back where it belongs.

“We have to continue on the trajectory we’re on,” Filieo said. “We’re on a good path. I can’t see how this season won’t get people in the community excited and kids in South Portland excited to play football. We’ll harkon back to these seniors in the future for sure.”

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

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