BOX SCORE

Portland 28 Noble 6

N- 0 0 0 6- 6
P- 0 14 7 7- 28

First quarter
No scoring

Second quarter
P- Charles 10 pass from Crosby (Vumpa kick)
P- DiMillo 48 pass from Crosby (Vumpa kick)

Third quarter
P- Boyle 3 run (Vumpa kick)

Fourth quarter
P- Boyle 7 run (Vumpa kick)
N- Boudreau 75 pass from Mulligan (run failed)

PORTLAND—This time, Portland’s powerhouse football team didn’t light up the scoreboard.

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And it didn’t matter.

As expected, the Bulldogs, the top-ranked team in Class B South, got tested by No. 4 Noble in Friday’s Class B South semifinal round playoff game against Noble at Fitzpatrick Stadium, but on a night where offense was a struggle, Portland’s defense continued its dominant ways to allow a special season to continue.

With the biggest test of them all still to come.

The Bulldogs couldn’t score in the first quarter, but on the final play, their offense got a jolt courtesy standout senior quarterback Grant Crosby, who made a huge play with his legs this time, not his cannon arm, racing 47 yards to set up the game’s first touchdown.

On the third play of the second period, Crosby displayed his patience and vision and found junior Kennedy Charles for a 10-yard score and Portland was on its way.

Later in the quarter, Crosby let it fly, hitting senior Aidan DiMillo for a 48-yard bomb and the Bulldogs were up, 14-0, at the break.

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Senior Brandon Boyle then put on a show in the second half.

Boyle, who earlier in the game had a costly fumble near the goal line, rushed for over 100 yards after halftime and had TD runs of 3-yards in the third period and 7-yards in the fourth quarter to provide breathing room and while the Knights got on the board late on a 75-yard touchdown pass from senior Dylan Mulligan to senior Brett Boudreau, that’s all the Bulldogs’ defense would allow and they went on to a 28-6 victory.

Portland improved to a perfect 10-0, dropped Noble to 7-3 and advanced to set up a compelling Class A South showdown versus No. 3 Marshwood (7-3) either next Friday or Saturday evening at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

“It was no different from the first (time we played them),” said Bulldogs coach Jason McLeod. “They made us work. They forced us to play simple, mistake-free football. You can’t do too much exotic against them because they’ll make you pay.”

One step closer

Portland has rolled through the 2021 season with limited opposition and the Bulldogs are now taking aim at the program’s first championship since 2002.

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After making a statement on Opening Night with a 30-18 win at Kennebunk, Portland blanked rival Deering (40-0), handled visiting Noble (21-6), won at Gorham (35-8), earned its biggest win of the season at reigning Class B champion Marshwood (28-14), then dominated visiting Biddeford, 55-8, before beating host South Portland, 32-7, in the “Battle of the Bridge” and closing with a 42-0 home win over Lewiston.

Last week, in the quarterfinals, the Bulldogs put forth their most impressive offensive show to date, scoring nine touchdowns in a 63-14 home win over No. 8 Biddeford.

Noble, meanwhile, started with wins over Messalonskee (18-12) and Gorham (28-0) and after a 21-6 loss at Portland, beat Massabesic (14-0) and Biddeford (44-0). After losing at home to South Portland, 30-14, the Knights closed the regular season with shutout victories over Edward Little (31-0) and Deering (34-0).

Last week, in the quarterfinals, Noble gave up an early touchdown, then rallied to eliminate No. 5 South Portland, 10-7.

In the teams’ regular season meeting Sept. 16, the Knights held the Bulldogs to a season-low points total and gave them their third-toughest game by final margin, but Boyle ran for 114 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while sophomore ReeganBuck also ran for a score to help Portland prevail, 21-6.

Noble and Portland had played just twice previously in the postseason, with the Knights prevailing, 28-7, way back in the 1998 Western A quarterfinals, and the Bulldogs enjoying a 27-7 win in the most recent encounter, the 2004 Western A semifinals.

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Friday, on a chilly (42 degrees at kickoff, dropping to 35 by game’s end) but dry evening, Portland proved victorious, but not without some anxious moments.

The Bulldogs won the opening coin toss but deferred possession to the second half and Noble made some immediate noise, as on the opening kickoff, senior Caden Barish fielded the ball at his 10 and in a dose of razzle-dazzle, handed it over to senior Alex Marchand, who took off for 35 yards, setting the Knights up at their 45.

It was clear from the get-go that Noble would go as far as senior Anthony Prak would take it and after Prak’s first three runs gained nine yards, on fourth-and-1, he broke free for 18 more and a first down at Portland’s 28. Boyle then threw Prak for a three-yard loss and after an offsides penalty on the Bulldogs put the ball at the 26, Boyle held Prak to no gain and after Mulligan threw incomplete, Mulligan was dropped for a four-yard loss by Portland junior Xander Smith and the Bulldogs got the ball on downs at their 30.

The Bulldogs would move the chains once on their first series, but couldn’t advance beyond midfield.

Crosby threw on first down and hit Charles for nine yards, then Buck picked up six more for a first down at the 45, but after Charles gained three yards, he was dropped for a one-yard loss by Barish, then Crosby threw incomplete, forcing a punt.

The Knights got the ball back at their 34 and Prak broke away for 16 yards on the first snap to put the ball at midfield, but after Prak was held to no gain, then ran for a yard, he caught a pass from Mulligan, but was tripped up by senior Nathan Isajar for a six-yard loss, forcing a punt.

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With 1:43 remaining in the opening stanza, Portland took over at its 26 and in a drive that chewed up the rest of the first quarter and the early portion of the second, the Bulldogs marched 74 yards on eight plays, in 3 minutes, 26 seconds to the game’s first score.

Crosby threw incomplete on first down, but on second, Boyle’s first rush resulted in a 19-yard gain and a first down at the 45. After Boyle ran for four yards, Crosby threw incomplete again, but on third-and-6, on the final play of the first quarter, Crosby faked a pitch, kept the ball, found room up the middle, then, when confronted by a defender, he cut to the left and raced down the sideline all the way to the Noble 4 before being stopped.

“That was so important,” Crosby said. “The whole week was about pitching the ball to the athlete, but I saw my opportunity and I took it.”

“That was (Grant) on his own,” said McLeod. “We had a pitch called and he made the right decision and didn’t pitch it, thankfully, and that set a spark for us offensively.”

While Portland had first-and-goal at the 4, the touchdown didn’t come easily, as a fumbled exchange resulted in a nine-yard loss, then Crosby kept the ball for three yards, setting up third-and-goal from the 10. Crosby then dropped back, had time to throw, then waited for Charles to break free in the back left corner of the end zone before firing a strike that was caught for a 10-yard score with 10:17 to go before halftime.

“I saw a soft Cover-2 (defense) and I gave a pump fake and the corner bit just enough for me to thread the needle,” Crosby said. “I was very happy with that.”

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Senior Cristo Vumpa added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.

Noble hoped to answer, but after Barish returned the ensuing kickoff 24 yards to the 38, it went backwards.

Senior Anthony Thach dropped Prak for a two-yard loss, then a holding penalty set up second-and-23. After Prak ran for four yards, Mulligan tried to pass, but found himself under pressure and threw the ball away to the side where no receiver could be seen and an intentional grounding penalty was tacked on, setting up fourth-and-35 from the 13. Barish’s punt then traveled only seven yards, giving Portland the ball at the Knights’ 20.

But the Bulldogs couldn’t take advantage, as a costly turnover, at the worst possible time, kept the game close.

Boyle ran for two yards on first down, then got the ball again and found room down the right side, but he was tripped up just before the goal line and the ball squirted free and rolled into the end zone for a touchback and Noble had dodged a bullet.

Boyle didn’t like the call.

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“I didn’t think that was fair,” Boyle said. “I tried to dive for the end zone and I felt the ground, then the ball came out. The play should have been blown dead. I wanted to make up for that bad.”

Noble wasn’t able to take advantage, however, as Prak ran for two yards, a holding penalty set the visitors back, then Prak ran for two yards and Mulligan threw incomplete to force a punt.

This time, the Bulldogs started at the Knights’ 48 and in one quick strike, doubled their lead.

Crosby dropped back and watched as DiMillo got a step on a defender down the right side. Crosby then aired the ball out, but the pass was actually underthrown. That was no problem for DiMillo, however, as he worked his way back to the ball, through a defender, then caught it a couple steps shy of the end zone before racing in to complete the 48-yard pass and catch.

“That’s the first time I’ve underthrown (Aidan) all year, but he still got it,” Crosby said. “I just gave him a chance. That’s what the coaches ask and that’s what I did.”

Vumpa added the extra point and with 4:33 to go before the half, Portland led, 14-0.

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Noble, starting from its 36, went three-and-out again, as senior Franco Katunda and junior Gavin Bennett combined to throw Prak for a three-yard loss, Prak ran for five yards, then junior Romano McIllwain sacked Mulligan for a five-yard loss.

With 1:36 left in the half, the Bulldogs got the ball back at the Knights’ 40 with a chance to extend their lead, but it wasn’t to be.

After Crosby kept the ball for five yards, he threw incomplete, then, on a reverse, Buck appeared to rumble 35 yards for a score, but the play was called back for an illegal block. Crosby hit Charles for 15 yards and a first down at the 30, but his next pass was dropped, then Crosby was sacked by Barish and senior Stuart Powers. After DiMillo caught a pass for seven yards, Crosby threw another bomb to DiMillo in the end zone and while the receiver came down with the ball, he did so out of bounds, giving Noble the ball back on downs.

The Knights took a knee and the contest went to the break with Portland in the lead, 14-0.

The Bulldogs had a 165-9 edge in first half yardage and while Prak gained 50 yards, he needed 15 carries to get them.

“Our game plan all week was to try to stop (Prak),” said McLeod. “We know he’s special and dynamic. I’m really proud of how our defense played. They set the tone for us from the first series of the game throughout.”

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Portland added to its lead in the third period.

The Bulldogs got possession to start the half and began from their 40 and eight plays and 3:36 later, found the end zone.

After Boyle ran for three yards and Crosby threw incomplete, Boyle broke free for 16 yards and a first down at the Knights’ 41. After a long pass to the end zone was dropped, Charles gained a yard, then Boyle had a 30-yard burst, setting up first-and-goal from the 10. Boyle gained seven more yards, then got the ball again and bulled in over right tackle for a 3-yard score with 8:15 to go in the frame. Vumpa’s PAT extended the lead to 21-0.

Noble, which started at its 37, then went quietly again, as Boudreau caught a pass for two yards, Prak ran for three, then Smith buried Mulligan for a four-yard sack.

After a mere 15-yard punt, Portland got the ball back at its 47, but couldn’t take advantage of good field position.

After a personal foul facemask penalty on the Knights set the Bulldogs up at the Noble 38, Boyle was held to a one-yard gain, Crosby passed to Isajar for no gain, then Crosby threw incomplete, forcing a punt.

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The Knights got the ball back at their 13 and began to drive.

After a false start penalty moved the ball to the 8, Prak ran for eight yards, Boudreau ran for five, then on third-and-2, Prak broke free for 12 yards and a first down at the 33. After a penalty cost Noble a yard, McIllwain sacked Mulligan for a four-yard loss. Prak gained seven yards, then Mulligan hit Marchand for nine yards and a first down at the 44, but Isajar dropped Prak for a two-yard loss on a reception and on the final play of the quarter, Mulligan threw incomplete.

The fourth period commenced with Mulligan throwing another incomplete pass on third-and-12, then one more on fourth down, giving the Bulldogs first down at the Noble 42 with 11:52 to play.

Portland needed just four plays and 1:58 to end all doubt.

Boyle got things started with a fabulous run down the right sideline, as he twice cut back to elude tacklers before being brought down at the 11 for a 31-yard pickup. Boyle lost a yard on the next play, but he gained five, then, on third-and-6, got the ball again, swept right and burst into the end zone for a 7-yard TD with 9:54 to play. Vumpa’s extra point made the score 28-0.

Noble went three-and-out again, as Prak ran for two yards, Mulligan threw incomplete and Barish was held to no gain on a reverse.

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With 8:03 to play, the Bulldogs got the ball back at their 39, but went three-and-out as well, as Thach ran for three yards, Thach lost four yards, then Crosby gained just two on a keeper.

The Knights got possession again at their 25 and got a dose of good fortune to finally find the end zone.

On first down, Mulligan dropped back and he threw a long pass down the middle of the field where Boudreau, despite being surrounded by blue Portland jerseys, managed to catch the ball in traffic, then break free and he raced untouched all the way for a 75-yard score with 5:10 left. Noble went for the two-point conversion, but Boudreau’s rush was stopped cold and the score remained 28-6.

The Knights then attempted an on-sides kick, which was recovered by Isajar.

After Boyle gained five yards and Buck lost one, a delay of game penalty was called on Noble’s defense, then Boyle picked up the two necessary yards for a first down.

“I take a lot of pride in running out the clock and I take a lot of pride in my offensive line too,” Boyle said. “I’m honored to be the guy who gets to milk the clock.”

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“When it came time to use the clock, (Boyle) was the guy, but all of our athletes made plays tonight,” McLeod said. “I’m really proud of all of them.”

From there, Crosby took a knee four times and the clock ran out on the Bulldogs’ 28-6 victory.

“We love the target on our back,” Crosby said. “If you wear a big bulls-eye, you want to come out and defend that bulls-eye every week.”

“I think we have a lot of kids who can play,’ said McLeod. “We don’t just have 11 kids on offense and 11 on defense. We’re deep on both sides of the ball. We don’t have to play a ton of guys both ways. If something happens, whether it’s injury or ineffectiveness, we have a next guy up mentality and it works well.”

Portland finished with 283 yards of offense, turned the ball over just once and was only penalized three times for 15 yards.

Crosby went 6-of-15 passing for 89 yards with two touchdowns. He also ran four times for 57 yards.

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Boyle was held in check in the first half, but in the second, he gained 109 yards and finished the day with 148 yards on 15 carries with two TDs.

Charles had three receptions for 34 yards with a score, while DiMillo had two catches, good for 55 yards and a TD.

The Bulldogs only allowed the Knights to gain 116 yards, with 75 coming on the late touchdown pass.

“I think Coach Rudy (Mike Rutherford) is a fantastic defensive coordinator,” said Boyle. “Our defense wouldn’t be where we are without him. I think defense is important. Holding teams to zero (points) is our goal.”

Prak got a lot of work for Noble, rushing 20 times for 82 yards and catching two passes as well, for negative-four yards.

Mulligan wound up 5-of-11 passing for 78 yards and a score.

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Bouchard had two receptions for 77 yards and a TD.

Noble committed eight penalties for 60 yards.

Here come the Hawks

Portland split two prior playoff meetings with Marshwood, beating the Hawks, 34-23, in the 1995 Western A semifinals and losing, 19-0, in the 2006 Western A quarterfinals. On Oct. 1, the Bulldogs surprised many of the “experts” with a 28-14 victory in South Berwick.

Now, Portland faces the daunting task of having to beat the Hawks a second time.

But the Bulldogs welcome the challenge.

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“I think it’s going to be a dogfight, a good game overall,” said Boyle.

“I’m pumped,” said Crosby. “We just had our best week of practices and we want to do that again. We just have to stay mentally strong. We need to move the ball on offense on the ground and through the air and the defense just has to stay disciplined.”

“It’s the same thing as previous weeks, it starts with us playing defense,” McLeod added. “(Marshwood’s) very exotic offensively and we’ll have our work cut out for us.”

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

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