Alex Rotsko directed the Marshwood High football program to five state championships in six seasons from 2014-19. The Hawks will need to knock off undefeated Portland on Saturday to return to the Class B championship game. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

It took several weeks before Portland High Coach Jason McLeod said he and his team could seriously entertain the notion that the Bulldogs might be playing for championship hardware in November.

With the 2020 season canceled because of the pandemic, everything was uncertain entering this fall.

“We weren’t sitting here in the preseason saying ‘Championship or bust,'” McLeod said. “We weren’t in any position to set those goals coming off a 1-8 season,” in 2019 that included a Thanksgiving Day loss to Deering.

In South Berwick, there was also uncertainty. After Marshwood lost 28-14 to Portland on Oct. 1, the Hawks were 3-2. “We felt we were in the middle (of the league) somewhere,” said Coach Alex Rotsko.

Now things are more clear. Portland is 10-0 and the top seed in the Class B South playoffs. And third-seeded Marshwood (7-3) is coming off its best all-around performance of the season, a 42-21 semifinal win at Kennebunk last weekend.

The two teams will meet at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Class B South final at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

Portland’s closest game this season was at Marshwood. Over the past five games, the Bulldogs have outscored opponents 220-35 and haven’t allowed a point in the first half.

McLeod said the team’s improvement was evident in its preparation for last week’s 28-6 semifinal win against Noble.

“One of the things we did far better was we immersed ourselves in the game plan,” McLeod said. “The kids really spent the time to know the ins and outs of Noble and they were doing it from a coach’s perspective. Because we did it right, we felt we had 11 coaches on the field when we played Noble.”

Brandon Boyle of Portland breaks a tackle on a run during the first half of the Bulldogs’ 28-6 victory over Noble last week. Boyle rushed for 139 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Rotsko directed Marshwood to five state championships in six seasons from 2014-19. This season, his patience was tested by the players’ steep learning curve after missing all of 2020.

“All of a sudden, it’s Week 3 and a kid asks a question about something you’ve been saying for three weeks and you realize they didn’t understand it,” Rotsko said. “You have a kid say, ‘What do you mean by a base block?’ A kid asks you that and it’s scary, actually.”

Both teams will be focused on stopping the other’s big-play threats.

“We’ll have our hands full with Cam Cornett,” McLeod said of the Hawks’ senior wing back, who had 242 yards from scrimmage and scored four touchdowns against Kennebunk.

“They’ve got good skill players at every position,” Rotsko said of Portland. “(We can’t) give up big plays. And if we do give up a chunk, make sure it’s not a touchdown and make sure you’re ready for the next play.”

FITZPATRICK STADIUM will be the site of three title games on Saturday.

The action starts at 11 a.m., when South champion Cheverus (7-0) takes on North champion Waterville (7-1) in the eight-man Large School state championship game. Cheverus has not allowed a point in 18 straight quarters.

Then comes the eight-man Small School state final, pitting North champion Dexter (6-2) against South champion Maranacook (5-3) at 2:30 p.m.

Regional finals are also being held in Classes B and C. In the B North final, unbeaten Windham (8-0), which was fortunate to escape last week with a 7-6 semifinal win against Skowhegan, will face No. 3 Lawrence (6-3) at Lewiston High at 7 p.m. Friday. It’s Lawrence’s fourth straight trip to the regional final. The Bulldogs have not played in a state final since 2012 when they were in Class A, losing to Thornton Academy. Windham’s last regional title also was in Class A, in 2017.

The Class C South final has the makings of a thriller, with No. 2 Cape Elizabeth (7-1) at No. 1 Leavitt (7-0) at 7 p.m. Friday. On Oct. 8, Cape lost 39-27 to the Hornets in Turner, allowing 19 straight points after leading 21-20 early in the fourth quarter.

“Leavitt’s always going to be hard to beat,” said Cape Coach Sean Green. “With that said, I do think there’s something to having traveled up there and playing on that (grass) field and being up there in that environment. I wouldn’t call it an advantage for us, but I just think it’s good that we have that experience.”

Class A and Class D are at the state semifinal stage.

In Class A, No. 3 Bonny Eagle (6-3) will be looking to avenge a 19-6 regular-season loss at Oxford Hills when it returns to South Paris at 1 p.m. Saturday. No. 5 Scarborough (5-3) probably has an even bigger task when it returns to Thornton Academy (9-0) for a game at 1 p.m. Saturday. In the regular-season finale, Thornton beat Scarborough, 51-0. Scarborough had been off for two weeks because of COVID protocols. While Thornton had a bye last week, Scarborough made the long trip to Bangor for a quarterfinal and won convincingly, 40-14.

In Class D, No. 3 Freeport (6-2) is at No. 2 Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale (6-1) at 7 p.m. Friday. Winthrop won the regular-season meeting, 40-14.

THE FRANK J. GAZIANO Offensive and Defensive Lineman Awards will return after a one-year hiatus. Nominations are now being accepted for the scholarship program that awards $14,000 to six linemen – $5,000 each for the two winners. Applications from all Maine high school football teams are accepted. Details can be found at gazianolinemanawards.org.


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