Seniors Grant Crosby, left, and Brandon Boyle have helped the Portland High football team get off to a 4-0 start. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

As the Portland High football team struggled through the 2019 season with a 1-7 record, then-first year head coach Jason McLeod knew his young team was building toward something.

That something might be now.

At 4-0, the Bulldogs are one of the surprises of the first half of the season in Class B South. The Bulldogs face their toughest opponent so far when they travel to Marshwood (3-1) for a game at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

“In 2019, a lot of these kids were freshmen and sophomores we had to play,” McLeod said. “We saw the talent level of those two respective classes. We were coming off a state title game appearance in Class A (in 2018), but we graduated a lot and had to play the young guys and take our lumps.”

Portland opened the season with an impressive 30-18 win at Kennebunk. It was a game that highlighted what McLeod saw as the team’s strengths, particularly speed on both sides of the ball. Like every team in the state, the Bulldogs were coming off a 2020 season of 7-on-7 flag football, and McLeod was unsure how that would affect the development begun in 2019.

“We’re not immune to what every team in the state is dealing with, in terms of COVID. We keep things simple and we’re working hard to get better every day,” McLeod said. “I was happy with how well we played and how fast to the ball we were (at Kennebunk).”

Among Portland’s leaders are senior Brandon Boyle, a transfer from Deering who leads the Bulldogs in all-purpose yards and tackles. Senior quarterback Grant Crosby has been playing efficiently and mistake-free football over the past few games, McLeod said, and junior middle linebacker Andrew Brewer is the leader of the defense.

Marshwood’s lone loss came to Class A powerhouse Thornton Academy. The key in playing the Hawks is to “not kick ourselves in the foot,” McLeod said.

“They’re not going to give you the opportunity to capitalize on their own mistakes, and we need to reciprocate that,” McLeod said. “They do a good job of limiting big plays. They force teams to drive the field and score the hard way against them.”

THE PORTLAND-MARSHWOOD game is one of several intriguing matchups throughout southern Maine this weekend, including a Class A game between Thornton Academy (4-0) and Bonny Eagle (3-1) on Friday night in Standish.

In Class C South, York (3-0) plays Friday night at Cape Elizabeth (3-0) in a battle between two of three undefeated teams in the division. Defending champ Leavitt (2-0) is the other.

York’s strength has been its run defense. In each of the Wildcats’ last two games – wins over Gardiner (21-8) and Westbrook (55-18) – they held their opponents to negative yards rushing.

“Cape Elizabeth is not a one-dimensional team. They run the ball well and their passing game is very good,” said York Coach Matt Nelson, adding he considers the Capers’ all-purpose threat, Nick Laughlin, one of the top players in Class C.

The Capers average close to 57 points per game, the most of any team in an 11-man football division in the state, and put up 78 points in last week’s shutout win at Hampden. Along with Laughlin, Cape Elizabeth quarterback Caden McDuffie and running back Colin Campbell are threats to score.

“We’ve got a lot of guys we trust with the ball in their hands,” said Cape Coach Sean Green.

To stop York, Green said the Capers must contain Hayden Henriksen, who had three touchdown catches in last week’s win over Westbrook. Two-way linemen Will Orso and Matt Charpentier are players who can control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, Green added.

In the eight-man large school division, Cheverus (2-0) is scheduled to travel to Topsham to face Mt. Ararat (4-0) in a Friday night contest between the only two undefeated teams in the South.

This is the first time this season Cheverus will play back-to-back weeks. The Stags’ Week 2 and 3 games against Maranacook and Lake Region were canceled because of COVID-19 outbreaks affecting their opponents.

“I don’t think Mt. Ararat has ever played Cheverus, but obviously they have really good coaches and a history of being a great football program,” said Mt. Ararat Coach Frank True. “They’re new to eight-man, but playing at a high level. I like the challenge. It should be a good game.”

Mt. Ararat has four seniors on its roster. The senior group is led by two-way linemen Elliott Douglass and Kyle Graffam and running back/outside linebacker Kaden Getchell. Getchell splits carries with junior Shea Farrell.

Of Farrell, True said, “He’s played extremely well. He’s one of those tough, hard-nosed kids. He comes from a football family, but he hadn’t played since middle school when he came out last year during 7-on-7, and he’s been a welcome addition for sure.”

THE CLASS D state championship game will be played at Bangor’s recently refurbished Cameron Stadium. The game is still set for Friday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m. The Class D final was to have been played at the University of Maine’s Alfond Stadium in Orono, but with the women’s hockey team playing at home against Boston University and the men’s basketball team hosting UMaine-Fort Kent in the Pit that evening, moving the game to nearby Bangor prevents parking and traffic issues for high school football fans.

The home field for Bangor High, Cameron Stadium completed the installation of an artificial turf field this summer.

AS OF THURSDAY afternoon, one high school football game scheduled for this weekend had been canceled because of COVID issues: the Class D showdown between Lisbon/St. Dom’s and Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale. Winthrop Athletic Director Joel Stoneton announced Thursday morning that the game was called off because of COVID issues with Lisbon/St. Dom’s. The Ramblers were looking for a new opponent, Stoneton said.

Staff writer Steve Craig contributed to this report.

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