BOX SCORE

Cheverus 56 Waterville 0

W- 0 0 0 0- 0
C-12 24 14 6- 56

First quarter
C- R. Smith 11 run (pass failed)
C- M. Fowler 50 run (rush failed)

Second quarter
C- Mitchell 56 pass from Tremble (R. Smith rush)
C- M. Fowler 14 run (M. Fowler rush)
C- R. Smith 8 run (M. Fowler rush)

Third quarter
C- Guibord 47 run (M. Fowler rush)
C- R. Smith 80 run (rush failed)

Fourth quarter
C- Osei 22 run (rush failed)

PORTLAND—They might have been a one-year wonder, but the Cheverus Stags certainly made their mark at the eight-man football level this fall.

Saturday morning/afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium, the Stags concluded a season of absolute dominance with a superb display on both sides of the ball against Waterville in the large division state final.

Cheverus gave up some yardage to Purple Panthers’ standout quarterback Liam Von Oesen on the opening drive, but eventually took over on downs and marched for the only score it would need, an 11-yard touchdown run from junior Rilan Smith.

Senior Marshall Fowler added a 50-yard TD scamper to make the score 12-0 after one period.

The Stags then ended all doubt in the second quarter, getting a 56-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Richie Tremble to junior Peyton Mitchell, a 14-yard Fowler TD rush and an 8-yard Smith touchdown run to make it 36-0.

With the clock running due to the mercy rule in the second half, Cheverus got a 47-yard touchdown run from senior Orion Guibord and an 80-yard burst from Smith for a 50-0 advantage after three quarters, then sophomore Joe Osei scored from 22 yards out in the waning moments to bring the curtain down on a 56-0 triumph.

The Stags ended the year with five consecutive shutouts, posted a perfect 8-0 record, ended Waterville’s season at 7-2 and captured their first Gold Ball in a decade and the fourth in program history.

“It’s a great day for us,” said Cheverus coach Mike Vance. “This was about our players and who they are. The kids have been focused on this since we declared eight-man two years ago. It was a major commitment by all of these kids. A lot of time and effort.”

A wild odyssey

Cheverus was a competitive Class B South program in 2019, reaching the regional semifinals.

Following that campaign, however, concerns about having enough players in future seasons led the school to make the announcement it was moving to eight-man football (which features three fewer players and a more narrow field) for the 2020 season, which due to COVID-19, never happened.

As it turned out, numbers weren’t an issue and the roster was quite robust by the time the 2021 campaign began.

“We fully expected mid- to high-20s (number of players), but we got a flood of freshmen,” Vance said. “We don’t have a feeder system, so we had no idea what we were getting.”

This year was a rousing success for the Stags, although there were some hurdles to overcome.

After opening with an emphatic 54-8 home victory over Yarmouth, Cheverus had a game at Maranacook cancelled by COVID complications, then, the following week, literally minutes before kickoff against visiting Lake Region, COVID again forced a cancellation. When the Stags returned to action, they won at Spruce Mountain (34-8), rallied from a halftime deficit for an exciting 44-32 victory at Mt. Ararat, then closed the regular season with shutout victories over Gray-New Gloucester (48-0) and Sacopee Valley (52-0).

As the top seed in the large school Southern division, Cheverus earned a bye into the semifinal round, then continued its dominant ways by blanking fourth-ranked Lake Region (44-0) and second-seeded Mt. Ararat (48-0).

Waterville, meanwhile, went 5-1 in the regular season, scoring at least 30 points every time out, posting 50-plus points twice, 60 points in another game and 74 in yet another victory. The Purple Panthers’ lone loss came to Mattanawcook, but they still earned the top seed in the Northern division and after outscoring No. 4 Mt. Desert Island, 50-40, in the semifinals, rallied to edge No. 2 Morse, 22-20, in the regional final.

The teams didn’t play this year and had no playoff history.

The Stags had won three of four prior state game appearances (see sidebar, below, for results and links to stories).

Waterville, meanwhile, was awarded the Class B title in 1962 (there was no state game then), won the Class A state game in 1974 (23-8 over Thornton Academy) and lost in the Class A state game in 1993 (16-0 to Biddeford) and again in 1994 (35-28 to Biddeford).

Saturday, on a very pleasant mid-November afternoon (54 degrees and sunny at kickoff), Cheverus’ defense bent but didn’t break and its offense was simply unstoppable en route to an emphatic championship.

The Stags won the opening coin toss, but deferred possession to the second half, which proved to be a prudent decision.

The Purple Panthers began at their 20 and after Von Oesen twice threw incomplete, he scrambled for 11 yards to move the chains. Von Oesen then passed to Billy Place, but the play resulted in a one yard loss. On the next snap, Von Oesen passed again, this time to Dustan Hunter, who eluded a tackler and wound up gaining 20 yards for a first down at midfield. After Hunter was held to no gain, he caught a pass for five yards, then, on third-and-5, Von Oesen found Place for 14 yards and a first down at the Cheverus 31. That’s as far as Waterville would go, however, as Von Oesen threw incomplete, threw the ball away under pressure from Stags senior Braden Smith for an intentional grounding penalty, then, after finding Hunter for four yards, Von Oesen was decked by Braden Smith and the ball sailed incomplete to give Cheverus the ball on downs.

The Stags took over at their 38 with 8:09 to go in the opening stanza and needed seven plays and 3 minutes, 14 seconds to drive for the lead, with Rilan Smith doing almost all of the work.

Smith gained three yards on first down and four on second, then he broke free for 19 yards and a first down at the Purple Panthers’ 36. After Smith ran for six yards, then picked up three, Guibord moved the chains on third-and-1, gaining four yards and a 15-yard personal foul facemask penalty was tacked on, putting the ball at the 11. Smith took it in from there, breaking a couple tackles en route to the end zone and with 4:55 remaining in the first quarter, Cheverus had a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

“I was just hitting the holes,” said Smith. “I didn’t think I’d be that big a part of the game plan. It was really nice to set the tone on defense, then we went down and scored on offense.”

A Tremble two-point conversion pass failed, but the Stags were up, 6-0.

Waterville began its next drive at its 24 and again began to march, as Von Oesen ran for 11 yards and a first down, then Von Oesen gained eight more. Braden Smith then threw Place for a three-yard loss, but Von Oesen bulled forward for five yards, setting up fourth-and-inches, before the quarterback gained two more for the first down. After a Von Oesen three-yard run put the ball at midfield, he threw incomplete on three straight downs and Cheverus took over at the 50 with 59 seconds left in the first.

This time, the Stags needed one play and 10 seconds to score again, as Fowler got the call, broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage, then raced free down the right sideline for a 50-yard TD run.

“I got through the hole, felt a couple people hit my legs and I took off and all I could think was to run faster,” Fowler said.

“(Waterville) set their defense very wide to take away our perimeter stuff, so it opened it up for our fullback game,” Vance said.

Rilan Smith’s two-point conversion rush was denied, but Cheverus was up, 12-0.

Hunter returned the ensuing kickoff 27 yards to the Purple Panthers’ 46, but as the first quarter gave way to the second, they weren’t able to take advantage.

Place caught a four-yard pass from Von Oesen on the final play of the first period (which saw the Stags hold a 112-72 edge in yardage), then Von Oesen had consecutive four-yard runs for a first down at the Cheverus 42. After Von Oesen threw incomplete, Hunter ran for five yards, Von Oesen gained three, then, on fourth-and-2, Von Oesen picked up three more for a first down at the 31.

But again, Waterville couldn’t complete the drive, as Guibord held Hunter to no gain and Von Oesen threw three straight incompletions, giving the Stags the ball back at their 31 with 8:01 to go before halftime.

“(Waterville) had the best scheme we’ve seen offensively this year and the best player in eight-man football in the state for sure in (Von Oesen) and they weren’t going to be easy to stop,” Vance said. “You can see why (Von Oesen’s) rushed for a million yards. He’s a formidable opponent at any level. Our kids worked really hard this week and did enough. We had to get used to their speed and tempo and it took us a couple series to really lock it in.”

This time, Cheverus needed 2:51 and five plays to reach the end zone and this time, the Stags would score through the air.

After three-yard runs from Smith and Fowler, Tremble made an instinctive play, scooping up a fumbled pitch and picking up three yards on the play, setting up fourth-and-1, where Guibord ran for four yards to move the chains. Tremble then got the snap and this time, faked a handoff, which caused the Purple Panthers defense to bite and Mitchell raced free behind the defense in the secondary where Tremble lofted a perfect bomb right into his hands and Mitchell coasted home for a 56-yard touchdown with 5:10 left in the half.

“Last week against Mt. Ararat, we started to throw more and I threw a touchdown on the same play,” said Tremble. “Peyton is a very good receiver. We connect well.”

“We like to play smash mouth, then we sprung the pass on them,” Fowler said.

“We are what we are,” added Vance. “We want to control the ball and when we throw, we want to throw for touchdowns.”

Cheverus was able to add the two-point conversion, as Smith ran it in, for a 20-0 advantage.

Waterville got the ball back at its 22 and quickly went three-and-out, as Von Oesen ran for two yards, then threw a pair of incomplete passes. Von Oesen then punted the ball and the Stags took over again, this time at their 44 with 3:57 to go before halftime.

Cheverus would embark on another five-play scoring drive, this time chewing up 2:41.

Smith got it started with a six-yard run and after junior Matthew Fogg gained two yards, Smith broke an initial tackle, then rumbled 33 yards to the Purple Panthers’ 15. After Smith gained one yard, Fowler got the ball and he cut back to get free, then carried a tackler into the end zone for a 14-yard TD with 1:16 on the clock. Fowler added a two-point conversion rush to make it 28-0.

The Stags weren’t done, as they forced another three-and-out before scoring one final time before the break.

Waterville started at its 21 and after Von Oesen hit Spencer Minihan for six yards, he threw two incompletions, forcing a punt.

With 47.8 seconds remaining, Cheverus got the ball at its 44 and that was ample time for a three-play drive which required just 20 seconds to reach its destination.

After Fowler ran for five yards, the Tremble-to-Mitchell combination struck gold again, with the long pass this time gaining 43 yards, setting up first-and-goal from the 8. Smith then took the handoff, ran left and raced into the end zone with 27.2 seconds to go. Fowler’s two-point conversion rush made it 36-0 and after Waterville took a knee, that score carried into the break.

If you glanced at the first half statistics and saw that the Purple Panthers ran 39 plays to just 21 for the Stags, you might have expected a closer score, but Waterville, despite 56 rushing yards and 52 passing yards from Von Oesen, couldn’t finish drives, while Cheverus, which managed 293 yards of offense, finished all five of its possessions in the end zone.

The mercy rule running clock was in effect the whole second half, but the Stags weren’t done scoring.

Cheverus got the ball to start the third quarter at its 48 and after Fowler ran for five yards, Guibord got his moment in the sun, taking a handoff, finding room up the gut, then breaking free for a 47-yard touchdown with 10:55 on the clock, culminating a two-play, 40 second drive. Fowler’s rush made the score 44-0.

After a touchback, the Purple Panthers started their first possession of the second half at the 20 and after a pair of incompletions, Von Oesen found Place for 31 yards, as Place came back to the ball and was ruled to have caught it inches off the turf for a first down at the Stags’ 49. After Von Oesen kept the ball for four yards, then hit Hunter for four more, he was held to no gain, but on fourth-and-2, Von Oesen kept the ball for 16 yards and a first down at the 25.

But that’s as far as Waterville would get, as Von Oesen’s pass into the end zone was intercepted by Tremble.

With the touchback, Cheverus started at its 20 and struck quickly.

After Fowler was held to no gain, Smith got the call, found room up the middle and was off. Hunter tried to run him down but could never quite catch up and Smith completed an 80-yard scoring burst with 3:47 on the clock.

“The line has given me holes all year,” said Smith. “It’s been really nice. I just saw a hole and I just hit it. I knew (Hunter) was right on me, but I was able to hold him off.”

Fowler’s two-point conversion rush was stopped, but the Stags had a 50-0 advantage.

The Purple Panthers started at their 20 and after Fowler dropped Hunter for a two-yard loss, Hunter caught a pass for 11 yards and on the play, legendary Cheverus assistant coach John Wolfgram was knocked down along the sidelines. Adding insult to near-injury, the Stags sideline was called for a violation for being on the field and five yards were tacked on for a first down at the 34. After Von Oesen threw incomplete, he ran for four yards, then threw incomplete on the final play of the third quarter.

On the first play of the fourth period, Von Oesen threw incomplete again and Cheverus took over on downs at the Waterville 38.

The Stags then put their second-string offense in and Osei ran four times for just three yards and the Purple Panthers got the ball back at their 35.

On first down, Von Oesen was stacked up, dropped for a one yard loss and unfortunately, injured his lower leg on the play and had to leave the game. Wyatt Gradie came on to play quarterback and after an offensive pass interference penalty, Gradie threw a pass that resulted in Tremble’s second interception of the game. Tremble hoped to return it to the end zone, but was tripped up and Cheverus took over at the Waterville 22.

“I knew they had good, quick receivers and I tried to stay on their inside hip and play the ball as well as I can and I came away with two picks on the day,” said Tremble.

One play later, with 6:08 left, Osei broke free up the middle for a 22-yard score. The Stags didn’t try to run the ball in on the conversion and the score remained 56-0.

The Purple Panthers had one final possession, starting at their 23. After an eight-yard run by Place, Hunter gained seven for a first down at the 38. After Place ran for two yards, Hunter lost two yards, Place ran for five, then, on fourth-and-5, Place was dropped for a four-yard loss, giving Cheverus the ball at the Waterville 39.

Two knees later, the horn sounded and at 12:59 p.m., the Stags were state champion by virtue of a 56-0 victory.

“This means so much,” Braden Smith said. “It’s even sweeter after not having a season last year. Ever since I came in as a freshman, I’ve looked forward to this moment.

“This means everything,” Rilan Smith said. “Especially to win with my brother.”

“We wanted to get Coach Wolfgram one more Gold Ball, so we did it for him,” said Tremble. “It’s been a long four years, moving from Class A to Class B to eight-man, which there seems to be a stigma around which I don’t understand why because there are some really good football players at this level.”

“This means everything to win a state championship for Cheverus,” Fowler said. “I’m so grateful to get to play this year. I thought we had this kind of potential. Coach told us in the preseason that he thought we had the skill to be state champs. We put in hard work every day and just followed our game plan. We play Stags football, which means playing as a team. We’re very tight-knit.”

“Our kids really showed up today,” Vance added. “We started the season with some experience and that was important. We didn’t necessarily start at zero. We had some things we’d already accomplished in the past and the kids brought with them into the season. We have a few kids who played varsity playoff football as sophomores and it showed today.”

Cheverus finished with 447 yards of offense, didn’t turn the ball over and was penalized just once, for five yards.

Rilan Smith rushed 12 times for 177 yards and three touchdowns.

“Rilan’s a hard runner,” said Braden Smith. “He has a low center of gravity and runs well.”

Fowler added 77 yards and a pair of scores on six attempts.

Guibord rushed three times for 55 yards and a touchdown.

Osein gained 25 yards on five attempts in his limited duty.

“Our running backs are fantastic,” Fowler said. “We have a lot of depth in the backfield.”

“I think we have the most dynamic backfield in eight-man, if not the entire state,” Tremble said. “Great running backs, great receivers. I’m trying to be a leader at quarterback. We’re very well-meshed together.”

Tremble ran the ball once for 3 yards and more importantly was a deadly 2-of-2 passing for 99 yards and a score. Mitchell was the receiver on both completions.

As impressive as Cheverus was on offense, its defensive brilliance was even more awe-inspiring.

The Stags didn’t allow a point the final five games of the season.

“It’s truly amazing to think about, not giving up a single point in five games,” Tremble said. “Really unbelievable. Not a single point.”

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Braden Smith said. “We just worked together as a team, all eight of us. The ‘Gold Wave Swarm.'”

Waterville had 170 yards of offense, but was penalized three times for 38 yards and committed two turnovers.

Before leaving the game, Von Oesen ran for 79 yards on 16 carries and went 10-of-31 passing, good for 98 yards with an interception.

Von Oesen made an impression on the Stags.

“He was tough,” said Braden Smith. “I had a play where I brought him over on myself and it knocked the wind out of me. He’s a hard runner.”

“He’s the hardest guy to bring down in the entire league,” Tremble said. “He’s a train and he’s very accurate with his throws. We have a lot of respect for him.”

Hunter caught five passes for 43 yards and gained 8 yards on six rushes.

Place had four catches for 48 yards and ran five times for 8 yards.

Minihan had one catch for 6 yards.

Gradie threw an interception on his lone attempt.

“We were hanging tough for a while,” said Waterville coach Isaac LeBlanc. “We just ran into a phenomenal football team. That’s by far the best team we’ve seen this year and we knew that going in. It doesn’t change anything about what we did this year. I’m proud of my guys. This is the first time we’ve been to a state title (game) in 27 years. These guys haven’t had this type of success before.”

What does the future hold?

While realignment in the works, Cheverus can examine where it best fits and the 2022 campaign could find the Stags still playing eight-man football, or returning to 11-man.

Regardless, the program will boast talent, confidence and pride and this won’t be the last time a Gold Ball is raised to the heavens.

“I feel very good about the future of the program,” Tremble said. “We have a very big freshman class. We have a lot to look forward to.”

“A lot of our players this year were seniors, but we had some juniors starting and we have some other promising players coming back,” Fowler said.

“I think we’ll be really good next year,” said Rilan Smith. “Some young kids have really developed.”

“It’s hard to say (what will happen) right now,” Vance added. We don’t have to make that decision today.

“We’ve got good things going on right now with Cheverus football.”

Press Herald staff writer Travis Lazarczyk contributed to this story.

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

Previous Cheverus state games

2013
Bonny Eagle 31 Cheverus 28

2011
Cheverus 49 Lawrence 7

2010
Cheverus 46 Bangor 8

1985
Cheverus 65 Lewiston 13

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