PORTLAND—Fortune favors the bold.

And Friday evening at a rainy Fitzpatrick Stadium, Portland’s football team dared to be great, got a little luck along the way and made just enough to plays to hold off rival South Portland, 29-20, in an entertaining Class B South Final.

The top-ranked Bulldogs started fast, as senior standout Kennedy Charles capped an impressive opening drive by continuing his stellar postseason, scoring on a 6-yard run.

The third-seeded Red Riots then answered in the second quarter, as their star senior quarterback, Jaelen Jackson, threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to senior Johnny Poole for the lead, then Jackson added a 35-yard TD scamper to make it 14-6.

But with momentum firmly entrenched on the opposite sideline, Portland coach Jason McLeod rolled the dice and went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 41 and after the Bulldogs converted, they got a most fortuitous bounce, as Charles fumbled, but senior Andrew Brewer was in the right spot to scoop up the loose ball, then ran it in for a 27-yard score and after Portland produced some razzle-dazzle to produce the ensuing two-point conversion, the game was tied at halftime.

Portland then started the second half fast as well, as Charles intercepted a Jackson pass, then put his team ahead to stay with a 1-yard run and his subsequent two-point conversion rush made it 22-14 Bulldogs.


Proud South Portland fought back in the fourth period, as Jackson connected with freshman Darius Johnson on fourth-and-goal, but Poole’s two-point rush was stopped short, allowing Portland to cling to a two-point lead.

The Bulldogs then put it away with a clutch drive, again with Charles doing most of the work, and with 5:11 remaining, Charles’ 8-yard touchdown run and a critical extra point from junior Myles Hang made it a two-score game.

Portland’s defense slammed the door from there and the Bulldogs prevailed, 29-20.

Portland won its seventh straight game, improved to 8-3, ended South Portland’s fine season at 7-4 and advanced to the Class B state final, where it will take on Skowhegan (9-2) Saturday, Nov. 19 at a time to be announced at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

“Our resiliency makes us special,” said McLeod. “We don’t have egos on our team. We have a next-man-up mentality. Despite injuries and having to move guys around, we’ve persevered.”

A rare treat


Portland and South Portland both have rich football traditions and the annual “Battle of the Bridge” regular season finale is always highly anticipated, but the teams hadn’t met often in the postseason and in fact, last squared off two decades ago (see sidebar).

The Bulldogs and Red Riots played in the playoffs five times in an eight year span between 1995-2002, with South Portland winning the first four and Portland taking the most recent, 21-0, in the 2002 Western A quarterfinals, en route to the Bulldogs’ most recent state championship.

The teams had only played once with a trip to the state game looming, in 1995, when top-ranked South Portland rallied for a 28-24 victory over third-seeded Portland en route to a perfect season and a Class A state title.

This fall, neither squad appeared title-bound at midseason, but both have peaked down the stretch (see sidebar for links to previous game stories).

The Bulldogs lost three of their first four games, but once Charles took over behind center, the team hit its stride and closed the regular season with four consecutive victories to earn the top seed, then handled No. 8 Noble (42-13) in the quarterfinals before doubling up No. 4 Kennebunk (40-20) in last weekend’s semifinals.

The Red Riots were 2-2 after a four-touchdown home loss to reigning Class C champion Cape Elizabeth and as their coach, Aaron Filieo, said at the time, “We’re at a crossroads right now. We have a lot of soul searching to do,” but they won three of their final four outings and as the No. 3 seed in the region, South Portland ended sixth-ranked Marshwood’s four-year reign atop Class B with a 29-8 victory in the quarterfinals, then last Friday, the Red Riots avenged one of their losses with a 22-6 win at No. 2 Massabesic.


In the teams’ regular season meeting, Oct. 21, Portland only scored in one quarter, putting up 20 points in the second, but it was enough to produce a 20-13 win at South Portland to lock up the top seed.

Friday, a light rain began not long before kickoff and it picked up in intensity as the game went on, but the weather wasn’t a major factor.

In the end, it was Charles and his teammates who were just good enough to earn the hardware.

South Portland won the opening coin toss, but deferred possession to the second half and the Bulldogs made the Red Riots pay, driving 85 yards in nine plays to grab a quick lead, with Charles doing most of the work.

Charles ran left for six yards to get things started and after Brewer was held to no gain by South Portland junior Alex Dobson, Charles appeared bottled up on a keeper, but he eluded a tackler and wound up gaining 10 yards for a first down at the 31. After Brewer picked up another first down with a 12-yard burst, Charles did the rest, breaking three tackles while gaining nine yards, rushing for 13 more for a first down at the Red Riots’ 35, gaining six, then racing for 23 more before taking it in himself from the 6, bursting up the gut with 7:16 to go in the first quarter. Charles tried to add a two-point conversion rush, but it was stuffed, keeping the margin 6-0.

South Portland began its first drive at its 33, but went backwards. Portland jumped offsides to set up first-and-5, but a holding penalty backed up the Red Riots, then Jackson was held to a one-yard gain on his first carry and Poole only picked up three. After a false start penalty, Jackson threw incomplete and South Portland had to punt.


The Bulldogs got good field position for their second series, at their 43, but also went backwards, as an illegal shift penalty set the tone and after Charles ran for two yards, then was held to no gain by senior Josh Lamour, a holding penalty backed Portland up further and Charles only picked up four yards on third-and-23.

Jackson then gave the Red Riots a spark, returning the ensuing punt 27 yards to the Bulldogs’ 38. After Jackson kept the ball for seven yards, he twice threw incomplete, but on fourth-and-3, Jackson moved the chains with a four-yard pickup. On the final play of the first quarter, Jackson connected with senior Ben Smith for nine yards, then on the first snap of the second period, Jackson rolled right, drew the defense, then threw back to the left where Poole was wide open waiting to haul the ball in and take it across the plane for an 18-yard score just seven seconds in. Senior Colin Banks added the extra point to put South Portland on top, 7-6.

Portland started its next drive at its 20 and it began auspiciously, as senior Reegan Buck gained 18 yards on a sweep right, but on the next snap, Charles, under pressure, threw a deep pass to senior Remijo Wani, but senior Lucas Mehlhorn ran it down for the interception as the Red Riots’ 30.

South Portland couldn’t ride the momentum to another score, however. The Red Riots did pick up one first down, as Jackson ran for four yards, Poole gained three, then senior Josh Sparacio caught a little flair pass out of the backfield for 17 yards to the Bulldogs’ 46, but an illegal motion penalty, two incomplete passes and a fumbled exchange (which Jackson recovered for a three-yard loss) forced a punt and Sparacio only kicked the ball eight yards, setting Portland up at the South Portland 46.

The Bulldogs got a first down, as Charles ran for five yards, then for two more before connecting with Buck for 12 and a first down at the Red Riots’ 35. After Buck ran for a yard, a holding penalty backed Portland up, then Charles again threw a deep ball up for grabs and Smith intercepted it at South Portland’s 25 and returned the ball down the right side all the way to the Bulldogs’ 35.

On the next snap, Jackson made Portland pay, as he found a huge hole to the right and raced untouched into the end zone from 35-yards out. Banks added the PAT and with 6:03 to go in the half, the Red Riots enjoyed a 14-6 advantage.


The Bulldogs needed to rise off the deck and thanks to a little daring, and a little luck, they were able to roar back.

Portland started at its 32 and after Brewer ran for four yards and Charles gained five, Charles was held to no gain by Sparacio, setting up fourth-and-1. The Bulldogs initially set up to punt, but called timeout, then went for it and Charles rolled right and lobbed a pass just over the outstretched hand of a defender to Brewer along the sideline for a five-yard gain to move the chains.

Charles kept the ball for two yards, then he hit Buck for 13 more to the South Portland 39. After Brewer was held to no gain, Buck caught a pass for seven yards, setting up a fateful third-and-3 from the 32.

Charles then ran up the middle but was stripped of the ball. Fortune was smiling on Portland, however, as the ball bounced right to Brewer who scooped it up and raced past the surprised Red Riots’ defense for a 27-yard score.

“It just bounced in my hands,” said Brewer. “Then, I ran into the ref and had to get him out of the way, but I scored. That really turned the game around. It was a sloppy first half, but that gave us the feeling.”

“I give all glory to God on that play especially,” Charles said. “Andrew’s instincts just kicked in.”


“Sometimes you need a little bit of luck,” added McLeod.

Luck, of course, is a two-sided coin and South Portland didn’t see the play quite the same way.

“That’s the old saying, the bounce of the ball,” lamented Filieo. “We’ve gotten a few of those bounces, but I’d like to have more come our way. What can you do? Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.”

The Bulldogs then went for two and ran a variation of the “Philly Special,” as Charles flipped the ball to Buck, who rolled right and found a wide-open junior Brayden Wales in the end zone to make it a brand new ball game, 14-14, with 1:31 left in the half.

“Brayden Wales hadn’t had a pass thrown to him all year long, so chances are, they weren’t going to defend him and we just tried to take advantage of that,” McLeod said.

South Portland hoped to rally before halftime and from its 34, moved the chains, as Jackson ran for nine yards, then, after throwing incomplete, gained four more to the 47. After Jackson hit senior Nolan Hobbs for 10, he ran for four, but he threw incomplete and a pass downfield was intercepted by junior Hunter Temple with 5 seconds left.


After Charles took a knee, the game went to the break deadlocked, 14-14.

And the fun was just beginning.

By virtue of deferring possession to the second half, the Red Riots got the ball first after halftime, but in a sign of things to come, Jackson couldn’t handle the kickoff, had to go back to the goal line to pick it up, then was only able to return the ball to the 19.

After Jackson ran for two yards, things went from bad to worse for South Portland, as on three straight plays, a false start penalty was called. Jackson then tried to throw over the middle to Hobbs, but Charles intercepted the ball at the 15. Charles would score on the return, but while the touchdown was nullified by a personal foul penalty, Portland did get the ball at the Red Riots’ 16 and two plays later, took the lead for good.

Charles nearly scored on the first play, as he got free to the right, but Jackson hauled him down at the 1. Then, with 9:32 to go in the third quarter, Charles bulled in and he added a two-point conversion rush to the left to make it 22-14.

South Portland tried to answer, as it started at its 35. After Jackson pushed the pile for 11 yards and a first down, he hit Hobbs for five yards, but junior Matthew Frey was held to no gain before Jackson found senior Lucas Mehlhorn for five yards and another first down at the Bulldogs’ 44. After Brewer held to Jackson to no gain, he ran for one yard, then three, but that set up fourth-and-6 and Filieo brought in Sparacio to punt the ball away and it proved the right call, as Sparacio’s punt was downed at the 1.


Portland was able to move out of the shadow of its end zone, as Charles picked up three yards, then broke a tackle en route to a 14-yard pickup to the 18. After Charles kept the ball for seven more yards, he was held to no gain, then a penalty set up third-and-15 where Charles only gained four yards, forcing a punt and after a penalty moved the ball back to the 12, Brewer produced a 36-yard kick.

The Red Riots started at the Bulldogs’ 48 with 1:19 to go in the third and in a 10-play drive that chewed up 4 minutes, 9 seconds, they marched to make things most interesting.

Jackson ran for 10 yards to get things started and after Charles broke up a Jackson pass to Hobbs, Jackson gained seven yards on the final play of the quarter.

Facing third-and-3 to start the fourth, Jackson connected with Sparacio out of the backfield, who made a nice one-handed catch to set up first down at the Portland 21. Jackson ran for seven yards, then gained six more for first-and-goal at the 8. After a false start penalty, Jackson ran for three yards, then picked up one more on a sneak before scrambling for five, setting up fourth-and-goal from the 4. Jackson then dropped back and found an open Johnson in the back of the end zone for the touchdown with 9:10 to play. Poole got the ball on a direct snap on the two-point conversion, but was stopped cold and the Bulldogs still clung to a 22-20 advantage.

Portland then embarked on a nearly four-minute drive of its own to add to its lead.

From their 45, the Bulldogs got things started when Charles ran for five yards, then Brewer gained nine for a first down at the Red Riots’ 41. After Charles ran for six yards, Brewer was held to no gain, but Charles wouldn’t be denied on third-and-4, running left and finding just enough room for a big play, 26 yards, down to the 9. Charles ran six more yards before a false start penalty moved the ball back to the 8. Then, with 5:11 to go, Charles ran left again, broke a tackle, then fell across the goal line for the touchdown.


Portland had gone for two all night, but McLeod called on Hang to come out for the all-important extra point and Hang sent it through, making the score, 29-20.

“We go for two a lot after touchdowns, but we knew if we kicked the PAT it would be a two-possession game,” McLeod said. “It wasn’t pretty, but Myles got the job done.”

South Portland had time to answer, but the Bulldogs’ defense refused to let it happen.

An illegal block penalty on the ensuing kickoff forced the Red Riots to start at their 14. After picking up a first down on a pass interference penalty, Jackson hit Mehlhorn for 20 yards, as Mehlhorn made a couple nice moves, but after an intentional grounding penalty backed South Portland up, Jackson rolled right, then overthrew a receiver down the right sideline and junior Hunter Temple intercepted the ball at Portland’s 45.

The Bulldogs took over with 3:38 remaining and hoped to run out the clock, but couldn’t do so.

After Charles for 11 yards and a first down, he gained one yard, a holding penalty set up second-and-20, then Charles ran for seven yards before being dropped for a four-yard loss by Jackson, forcing a punt.


The Red Riots had one final chance, starting at their 25 with 1:41 to play, but a miracle rally wasn’t in the cards.

An incomplete pass, a holding penalty, two more incompletions and a one-handed 14-yard reception by Poole on fourth-and-22 turned the ball over on downs with a minute to go.

Charles then twice took a knee and at 8:33 p.m., Portland’s 29-20 victory was official and one year after walking off their home turf in agony after a regional final loss, the Bulldogs were able to celebrate a regional title.

“It definitely feels great,” Charles said. “We’ve been through so much this season. We lost our starting quarterback (Sam Esposito to injury), I moved to quarterback where I never played before, but we made the most of what we had and we’ve come this far. We capitalized on the opportunity. We didn’t bend or break. Remijo and (sophomore) Colin Kelly got injured and they’re big starters for us, but guys behind them, (senior) Harry Rubin and (junior) Anthony Laboy, stepped up and came to play tonight. Harry didn’t get reps all year, but on the big stage he capitalized and made the most of his minutes. ”

“This was the best week of practice we’d had all year,” Brewer said. “It wasn’t our best game, but we got the job done. The defense really stepped up in the second half.”

“It’s really emotional,” added McLeod. “We’ve worked so hard. For us, it was 365 days of forgetting about the experience we had last year. We wanted to do all the work we had to do to overcome that demon. The biggest thing for us is at halftime, we made the adjustments in all three phases and didn’t make the mistakes we did in the first half. We gave them some opportunities in the first half, but we took those away in the second half. Harry Rubin had some phenomenal blocks on the perimeter. He stepped in for an injured player and did a lot of great things. I’m really happy for him in particular.”


Charles had another monster game, rushing for 203 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. He also completed 4-of-6 passes for 37 yards with two interceptions.

“He’s a very good player,” Filieo said, of Charles. “It must have been entertaining for fans to watch Jaelen and Kennedy do their thing. It’s great for Maine high school football. They’re great kids, highly-competitive kids.”

Brewer, who had arguably the biggest play of the night, gained 52 yards with a touchdown on seven rushes. He also had one reception for 5 yards.

Buck gained 19 yards on two runs and caught three passes for 32 yards.

Portland was able to overcome two turnovers and 11 penalties for 98 yards.

Building block


For South Portland, Jackson capped his terrific season and career with 112 yards and one TD on 22 carries, while completing 10-of-25 passes for 112 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

“We planned to throw the ball,” said Filieo. “Jaelen’s been throwing it well. They play aggressive in-the-box defense, so we weren’t afraid to throw it.”

Poole had two catches for 32 yards and a touchdown and ran twice for 6 yards.

Hobbs caught two balls for 15 yards.

Sparacio had two receptions for 27 yards.

Mehlhorn caught two balls for 25  yards.


Johnson had one catch for 4 yards and a TD.

Smith had one reception for 9 yards.

The Red Riots turned the ball over three times and were penalized 11 times for 97 yards.

“I don’t know if we were a little juiced up because we were out of our minds with a few of our penalties, but sometimes that’s the way it goes,” Filieo said.

Despite the disappointment of falling short Friday, South Portland came a long way in a short time and it’s not the last time the Red Riots will find themselves advancing deep into the playoffs.”

“We learned a tough lesson in that (Cape) game and we ascended after that,” Filieo said. ‘Even though we had the (earlier) setback to Portland, we felt good about coming here and winning and we had our chances.


“This is just the beginning for the program. My first freshman class got us to a regional final and we’ll just go up from here. I couldn’t be more proud of what these guys have done to buy in and carry us forward and their legacy will continue on.

“The standard has been set and the young guys know the expectations. We’ll just continue to climb from here. This isn’t devastating because we’re in this for the long haul. We’re in this for the city of South Portland and the school and the program.”

End of a drought

Portland last won a state title in 2002, when it captured the Class A Gold Ball. The Bulldogs have returned to the big stage three times since, but lost to Thornton Academy in 2015 and 2018 and to Bonny Eagle in 2016. Portland will be seeking its third crown next weekend (1982 was the other).

Portland and Skowhegan did not play this year and have no history.

The Bulldogs are ready to end their title drought.


“We’ll have a hard week of practice and we’ll go out Saturday and execute,” Charles said. “We’ll play to our fullest and play Bulldog football. Whatever it takes.”

“Every 20 years we win a state championship,” Brewer said. “It happened in 1982 and 2002, so I think it might be meant to be.”

“We have to do a lot of the same things we’ve been doing,” McLeod added. “We have to play mistake-free football. If we limit mistakes and play sound, fundamental football in all three phases of the game, good things will happen for us. I don’t know a lot about Skowhegan. I know they’re big and physical and they have a tall, athletic quarterback who can do dynamic things.

“It’s going to be a fun week preparing for it.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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