Portland High football head coach Jason McLeod instructs players during practice on Tuesday. The Bulldogs have won seven straight heading into the Class B state title game Saturday versus Skowhegan. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

When Brayden Wales talks about his teammates on the Portland High football team’s defensive unit, he gets excited.

“We’ve got some dogs, you know what I mean? Kennedy Charles, Andrew Brewer, Colin Kelly on the D-line, Isaak Alkafaji, Brody Viola too. We just got some real animals out there,” said Wales, a junior linebacker. “High-motor guys. Guys you want to be around. When everyone’s swarming, when everyone’s got that same mentality, good things happen.”

Since late September, a lot of good things have happened for the Bulldogs, and a lot of that stems from a defense that found its identity as a unit with a knack for making the big stop and causing turnovers. Since a 28-16 loss to Class A powerhouse Oxford Hills on Sept. 23, Portland (8-3) has won seven games in a row heading into Saturday’s Class B state championship game against Skowhegan (9-2). Kickoff at Fitzpatrick Stadium is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

In last week’s 29-20 win over South Portland in the B South final, Kennedy Charles’ interception on the second play after halftime was the spark the Bulldogs needed to pull away from a 14-14 tie. The week before, Viola’s 35-yard interception return for a touchdown capped the scoring in a 40-20 win over Kennebunk. In the regular-season finale, a 20-13 win at South Portland, the Bulldogs held the Red Riots to 9 yards in the fourth quarter to clinch the top seed in the Class B South playoffs.

Senior co-captain Andrew Brewer, center, huddles with Portland High teammates during practice on Tuesday. “We’re not the biggest team but we have a lot of heart,” he says. “Our physicality makes up for the size. … The best thing we an do is gang tackle.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

On the season, the Bulldogs have forced 21 turnovers and allowed an average of 225 yards per game, while opponents have completed just 40% of their passes (86 of 214) against Portland. The Bulldogs’ defensive success has come against one of the toughest schedules in the state. Two of Portland’s opponents, Class A Oxford Hills and Class C Leavitt, are undefeated heading into Saturday’s state championship games. As a whole, Portland’s opponents, including Skowhegan, boast a .580 winning percentage (58-42).

“We’re not the biggest team but we have a lot of heart. Our physicality makes up for the size. We’re just running to the ball. The best thing we an do is gang tackle,” said Brewer, a senior co-captain and linebacker who leads Portland with 83 tackles.


It took some time for the Bulldogs to jell. After a win over Kennebunk to start the season, Portland allowed a season-high 42 points in the loss to Leavitt.

“You could tell we had some guys who weren’t in midseason form. I was one of those guys, too,” said Wales, now second on the team in tackles with 67.

After a 12-8 loss to Class A Bonny Eagle on Sept. 23 dropped Portland’s record to 1-2, Coach Jason McLeod and defensive coordinator Mike Rutherford decided to let their defense loose, changing the scheme to allow the Bulldogs to play more aggressively and use their athleticism. While Portland dropped its next game to Oxford Hills, 28-16, it hasn’t lost since.

“That goes through all three levels, our defensive line, our linebackers, and our secondary. We started playing a lot more man defense. We can go to a zone anytime we want to, but it’s good knowing that we can line up man-to-man athletically with just about any team we face,” McLeod said.

Junior defensive back Hunter Temple has a team-high four interceptions for Portland High. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Portland’s defense started to recognize opponents’ tendencies quicker, McLeod said, and that helped put them in the right spots to make big plays. Junior defensive back Hunter Temple, for example, has a team-high four interceptions while often covering the opposing team’s top receiver. Temple said he’s simply in the right place at the right time and is able to come down with the ball.

“I think we’ve been getting a lot more physical, especially on the defensive line. QBs have been feeling a lot more pressure, so they throw easier balls for our DBs to pick off,” Temple said.


In Skowhegan, Portland faces an offense similar to one it has seen twice this season. The River Hawks are led by 6-foot-7 quarterback Adam Savage, who is a threat to run or pass. In that regard, he’s a bigger version of South Portland quarterback Jaelen Jackson, who the Bulldogs faced twice.

“(Savage is) a big dude. It’s ridiculous,” Wales said.

With receivers Quintcey McCray and Tyler Annis, as well as running back Hunter McEwen, Savage isn’t the only Skowhegan weapon the Bulldogs need to account for. For a defense that’s met every challenge for nearly two months, this is just one more.

“We feel it’s going to be a real good game, and we’ll have some challenges along the way,” McLeod said.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.