KENNEBUNK — After not playing a tackle football game in nearly two years, there is a bit of an identity question around every team. What do we really have? Who are we? How do we stack up?

Well, the Portland Bulldogs can feel good about themselves after opening the season Thursday night with a convincing 30-18 victory at perennial Class B contender Kennebunk, despite basically handing the Rams their first two touchdowns.

“I don’t think we had a sense of what really our identity was,” said Portland Coach Jason McLeod. “I think we’re good enough where if we can just limit the self-inflicted mistakes, we can do good things each week.”

Thursday marked the official return of high school football in Maine since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The season was canceled last fall and Maine, and was one of only four states that did not play high school football at all in 2020-21.

Portland, 1-7 in 2019, scored on its first possession, led 18-6 at the half, and then controlled the second half with a punishing ground game that piled up 217 rushing yards and a fast, aggressive defense that had Kennebunk quarterback Keegan Andrews constantly under duress.

Brandon Boyle, a senior transfer from Deering, was key for Portland. A fast and powerful running back and strong safety, Boyle muffed a punt to set up Kennebunk’s first score – a 10-yard run by Andrews that tied the game 6-6 midway through the first quarter. But after taking a few plays off to calm himself, Boyle came back with a vengeance. He gained 138 yards on 22 carries.

Boyle’s 1-yard touchdown run with 3:30 to play in the first half gave Portland a 12-6 lead (neither team had a successful conversion).

On Kennebunk’s next possession, Boyle pressured Andrews into a hurried throw that Kennedy Charles intercepted and returned 55 yards to the Kennebunk 10. On the next play, Portland senior quarterback Grant Crosby (8 of 13, 120 yards) dropped a fade pass into the corner of the end zone, and Boyle went up and snagged it against tight coverage.

“After I muffed that punt, I knew I had to make up for it,” Boyle said.

Charles, a junior, rushed for 47 yards and two touchdown runs on nine carries.

Charles’ first TD, from the 3, came shortly after Crosby had shocked the Rams’ defense with a well-thrown deep ball to Aidan DiMillo for a 53-yard gain on the game’s third play.

“Over two years, like 22 months of not playing tackle football, we made some adjustments because our team was very young then,” Charles said. “People grew up, of course. The big post by Aidan DiMillo, I think that gave us the edge right off the bat, helped us to get energized.”

Kennebunk cut the lead to 18-12 on the third play of the second half with a 69-yard pass from Andrews (8 of 17, 156 yards) to Jack Cataldi against busted coverage on third-and-16. The Rams, who gained only 57 yards on the ground, didn’t make another first down until after Portland stretched the lead to 30-12 on a 13-yard run by Reegan Buck and Charles’ second score off a direct snap from the 6.

“We just got to focus on what we do. We had a lot of kids get a lot of playing time,” said Kennebunk Coach Joe Rafferty. “We’ll be OK. I’m sure we’ll bounce back. It’s just mentally, trying to find an identity is hard this year. I thought we looked good in our scrimmages against teams that were pretty good, but (Portland) was the best team tonight, and the best team we’ve played so far.”

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