SACO — Portland High’s football team made an immediate statement Friday night that it’s ready to compete with the heavyweights in Class A.

With the game tied late in the fourth quarter against perennial powerhouse Thornton Academy, Louis Thurston dropped a perfect throw into the arms of a speeding Reegan Buck for a 31-yard touchdown pass with 48 seconds to play, giving the Bulldogs a 35-28 season-opening win.

“That was scary. I was waiting for the ball to come down. Then once I got it in my hands, I looked down. My foot was in bounds and Oh, my God. The excitement was just absurd,” Buck said.

Thornton had one last chance, but Portland secured the win when Colin Kelly and Lisandro Rodrigues combined to sack quarterback Wyatt Benoit on a fourth-down pass attempt near midfield.

Portland’s winning drive began after Thornton’s JP Baez pushed a 26-yard field-goal attempt just right with 6:43 to play.

“Nobody thinks we have anything, but this team had a lot coming back,” said Portland’s new coach, Sean Green. “We lost a lot of great players, but we have dudes everywhere. On the offensive line, on special teams, in skill positions, in the defensive secondary. There’s a lot of football players on this team.”


Portland, which moved up to Class A after going 8-4 last season and winning Class B South, trailed 21-14 at halftime. The Bulldogs tied the game by converting a fumble recovery on Thornton’s second play of the second half. The Bulldogs scored on a nine-play, 32-yard drive, finished off on fourth down with a 1-yard run by Buck.

After a defensive stop, Portland regained the lead on a 10-yard run by Buck, who found a crease and accelerated past and through arm tackles. The 85-yard drive was highlighted by a 51-yard run by Aidan McGowan. McGowan showed a combination of power and speed, rushing for 163 yards on 19 carries.

McGowan said he and his teammates expected to beat Thornton (9-3, Class A runner-up in 2022). Thornton was ranked first in the preseason Varsity Maine poll. Portland was ranked fifth.

“We all came into this game knowing we were going to win it because of the work we put in and the coaches we have and the players we have,” McGowan said. “They all voted TA because TA’s supposed to be the school. We definitely did make a statement, that we are the best team in the state and nobody’s stopping us.”

Buck finished with 77 yards on 18 carries and had two catches for 58 yards. Thurston finished just 3 of 9 and threw two interceptions, but his completions were all important – a 27-yard toss to Buck on the game’s opening drive, a 26-yard throw to tight end Brody Viola on the winning drive; and then the winner to Buck.

An announced crowd of 1,275 fans who paid to see the action at Thornton’s Hill Stadium got a great game and a potential preview of a state title matchup. Portland is in the North and Thornton is in the South.


Down 28-21 after Buck’s second touchdown, Thornton put together a 55-yard drive to tie the game, the score coming on a 2-yard swing pass from Benoit to Xander Cantara.

But the Bulldogs had the upper hand most of the night.

Portland scored on its opening possession – after Buck’s apparent game-opening kickoff return touchdown was nullified by a penalty. Thurston converted a third-and-long with a crisp pass to Buck. The junior quarterback finished the drive with a 30-yard run behind a crushing open-field block from Anthony Tavares on third-and-15.

Thornton tied the game on an 82-yard kick return by Ryan Camire.

Portland broke another long run for a 14-7 lead. On fourth-and-2, McGowan slipped a tackle at the line, spun out of another and went 48 yards. Freshman kicker Justin Bouchard made his second of five point-after kicks.

Three straight completions by Benoit, a junior, got the Trojans inside the Portland 30. Benoit ran for 23 yards on a nice option run to set up Harry Bunce for a 1-yard touchdown. Baez tied it 14-14 with his second of four PATs.

After a high punt snap led to a minus-5 yard punt by Buck, Thornton went to the ground game. Mauricio Sunderland gained 36 yards on four carries, including a 24-yard drive starter. Connor Ayoob finished the drive with a 5-yard inside run to give Thornton what would be its only lead, 21-14, after Baez’s kick.

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