Cheverus football players celebrate after receiving the plaque for winning the eight-man Large School South championship last weekend. The Stags have not allowed a point for 18 straight quarters entering Saturday’s state title game. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Cheverus High cornerback Richie Tremble realized that the Stags’ strong defense was playing at an even higher level on Saturday during the Eight Man Large School South final. Tremble, you see, also serves as the team’s punt returner.

“They were just punting every couple of plays, and I’m back there returning every couple of plays,” Tremble said.

Mt. Ararat went three-and-out on each of its first six drives, didn’t gain a first down until late in the third quarter and finished with just 45 yards in a 48-0 Cheverus victory.

Saturday’s effort was a high point for a Cheverus defense that has improved each week. Since allowing 32 points in the first half of a 44-32 win over Mt. Ararat on Oct. 1, the Stags have posted four consecutive shutouts and have not allowed a point in 18 straight quarters.

The undefeated Stags (7-0) will have their toughest test of the season Saturday when they face Waterville (7-1) in the Large School state championship game. The Purple Panthers average 46.5 points per game. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium.

To Cheverus Coach Mike Vance, his team’s defensive success is the result of good players playing smartly. Many of the Stags saw significant playing time in 2019 as sophomores when they competed in Class B, before Cheverus moved to eight-man football.

“We just have good players. That’s the truth. We have good kids who are really plugged in right now, and they want this really bad. They’re focused, and they’re a senior group with some experience. They’re a mature group to begin with,” Vance said.

Senior middle linebacker Orion Guibord said the team’s biggest defensive strength is its discipline.

“We’re all on our assignments. We all pick each other up, and it all comes together,” Guibord said.

Waterville Coach Isaac LeBlanc has seen enough of the Stags on tape to know his team will have to be at its best to move the ball.

“They’re big and strong and fast, and you can tell they’re smart football players,” LeBlanc said. “They get to the ball very fast.”

Waterville quarterback Liam Von Oesen (8) leads a high-powered offense that is averaging 46.5 points per game. Waterville meets Cheverus on Saturday in the eight-man football Large School state championship game. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Everything the Purple Panthers do offensively flows through quarterback Liam Von Oesen, who accounted for 342 yards and two touchdowns in Waterville’s 22-20 win over Morse in the North final.

“They do some interesting things,” Vance said. “Technically, they’re an empty backfield (offense) and you have to spread out and cover those guys. But they don’t empty too far. They’re close enough to the box that they can step in and block … (and Von Oesen’s) impressive. They’ve got some good players around him, but he really makes them go. We’ve got to swarm to the ball carrier and try to limit the damage he can do, but it won’t be easy.”

With the exception of that first half in the regular-season meeting with Mt. Ararat, the Stags have made it look easy. They’ve allowed just 48 points all season, with 67 percent coming in two quarters against the Eagles. That game was shortly after Cheverus had a pair of games canceled because of COVID issues with opponents. A game against Lake Region on Sept. 18 was canceled minutes before kickoff. The Stags’ rust was apparent as they figured out Mt. Ararat’s counter-heavy running attack.

It was apparent early in Saturday’s rematch that the Stags had completely solved that problem.

“Like Coach Wolfgram (Cheverus assistant coach and former head coach John Wolfgram) said, we knew them better than they knew themselves. We knew what was coming,” Tremble said. “All of us except one or two people have all started together since sophomore year. We all know each other so well.”

The shutout streak began with a 48-0 victory over Gray-New Gloucester. Cheverus followed that with a 52-0 win over Sacopee Valley in the regular-season finale. When Cheverus finally did get to play Lake Region in the regional semifinals, the Stags won 44-0.

Typically, Cheverus has used a base 4-2 defensive front, but that’s subject to change week-to-week, and sometimes midgame.

“We’re running the same things we did with 11-man, just with a couple less guys. We have more areas to cover,” said senior defensive back Brett Bogosian.

Against Waterville, a key will be another hot start, Guibord said. Last week, Mt. Ararat’s longest play of the first half went for 3 yards, and the Eagles had just 9 yards on 15 plays in the first half.

“We’ve got to set the tone in the first quarter,” Guibord said.

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