PORTLAND—According to first-year coach Sean Green, Portland’s football team played its worst half of the season in the first half of Friday night’s home showdown versus Windham at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

But the Bulldogs still held a 14-7 lead at the break and the second half was something altogether different.

Sheer domination.

Portland, which got touchdown runs of 2- and 6-yards from junior Aidan McGowan to build an early lead before seeing the Eagles pull within seven on a 19-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Garrett Winslow to classmate AJ Moody, got the ball to start the third quarter and ran eight minutes off the clock before McGowan scored from the 6 to extend the lead.

The Bulldogs then put it away in the fourth period, as senior standout Reegan Buck scored on a 3-yard run and McGowan scored one final time, on a 21-yard scamper, to bring the curtain down on an impressive 35-7 victory.

Portland stayed undefeated on the year, improving to 5-0, and in the process, dropped Windham to 3-2.


“At halftime, in the locker room, we had a conversation of who we want to be,” Green said. “The guys know who they are and they embraced getting better. We came out in the second half and played our brand of football.”

It’s been awhile

For much of the previous decade, Portland and Windham battled for Class A North supremacy, meeting in the playoffs every year between 2012-17, with the Bulldogs prevailing on four occasions.

The teams hadn’t met since the 2018 season opener, however, a 49-0 road victory for the Bulldogs.

This fall, both squads are back in Class A North and along with reigning state champion Oxford Hills, are very much in the title hunt.

The Eagles won their first three outings, 35-0 over Skowhegan, 35-6 over Bangor and 48-0 over Edward Little. Last week, however, Windham had no answers for Thornton Academy in a 37-6 setback.


Even with a lot of new faces and a new coaching staff, Portland, a Class B state finalist last season, hasn’t missed a beat, opening with a thrilling 35-28 win at Thornton Academy, then downing visiting Edward Little (40-6) and host Lewiston (47-6). Last week, the Bulldogs were awarded a 2-0 forfeit victory over Falmouth after the Navigators were unable to field a team due to low numbers and injuries.

Friday, on a pleasant late-September evening (59 degrees at kickoff), Portland needed some time to hit its stride and eventually pulled away to a decisive victory.

The Eagles got the ball first, at their 20, but went three-and-out, as senior Marcus Tillery ran for three yards, Winslow threw incomplete, then Tillery was held to two yards on third-and-7. Senior Briggs Valliere came on to punt, but senior Isaak Alkafaji burst through the line and got a piece of the ball. Senior Myles Hang picked it up and returned it 10 yards to the Windham 28 and the Bulldogs were in business.

“I was trying to make up for my first drive because I wasn’t doing too well,” Alkafaji said. “I was trying to give the team some energy. I just went in and blocked it and got us the ball.”

Portland would need eight plays and 3 minutes, 7 seconds to march to the lead.

McGowan got the ball on successive plays and gained three yards each time. Buck then got three more, setting up fourth-and-inches, where junior quarterback Louis Thurston kept the ball and fought forward for the first down at the 17. Thurston then hit Hang for a dozen yards to set up first-and-goal at the 5 and after junior Lisandro Rodrigues gained three yards, then was held to no gain, the Bulldogs went back to McGowan and he burst in from the 2. Freshman Justin Bouchard added the extra point and with 7:26 left in the opening stanza, Portland was on top to stay, 7-0.


Rodrigues then pinned Windham deep on the ensuing kickoff, tackling Moody at the 15. Tillery ran for eight yards and after a bad snap cost the Eagles two yards, Tillery picked up four yards to move the chains. Another bad snap resulted in a 14-yard loss and while Tillery ran for 19 yards, on third-and-5, senior Tobias Perkins caught a Winslow pass for just four yards and Windham had to punt.

This time, Valliere got the punt off and the Bulldogs started their second drive from their 24.

Portland started to move the ball again, as Thurston connected with Buck for 10 yards. After McGowan ran for two yards, Buck caught a pass for seven, then Buck ran for 14 yards and a first down at the Eagles’ 43. After a bad exchange led to no gain, Perkins and junior Brayden Penney dropped McGowan for a three-yard loss. Windham jumped offsides, but Thurston threw incomplete, forcing a punt. After a false start penalty on the home team, Hang’s punt and a block-in-the-back penalty on Windham pinned the Eagles at their 14.

On the final play of the first quarter, Perkins ran for two yards. Tillery then started the second period with a two yard run before an incompletion forced another punt.

The Bulldogs started their next possession at the Windham 49 and embarked on an 11-play, 5:40 drive to double their lead.

McGowan was held to no gain by Perkins on first down, but after Buck ran for four yards and McGowan gained one, Green went for it on fourth-and-5 and Thurston found Buck in traffic for an 11-yard completion, setting up first down at the Eagles’ 33. McGowan then ran for two yards, but Green called timeout because he was unhappy with his team’s execution. McGowan ran for four yards and on third-and-4, Buck picked up nine for a first down at the 18. After a six-yard loss due to a dropped snap, Thurston hit Buck on a quick slant and Buck fought his way to the 8. Sophomore Cordell Jones gained two yards to set up first-and-goal and on the next snap, with 5:15 to go before halftime, McGowan broke a pair of tackles and fought his way into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown. Bouchard added the PAT to make it 14-0.


Windham got the ball back at its 29, but couldn’t answer. After a false start penalty, Alkafaji held Tillery to no gain, but Perkins took a direct snap and took off for 42 yards to the Portland 34. That’s as far as the Eagles would get though, as senior Henry Spencer sacked Winslow for an eight-yard sack and two straight pass attempts fell incomplete. Valliere was able to pin the Bulldogs at their 5, however, and Windham’s defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball right back.

After Thurston kept the ball for two yards, Buck ran for one, but on third-and-7, a fumbled exchange moved the ball all the way back to the 2. Hang didn’t have much room to punt, but he did boot the ball 43 yards, only to see senior Ezra Foster return it 26 yards to the Portland 19.

And one play later, Windham finally found the end zone, as Winslow dropped back to pass and lofted the ball down the left side where Moody ran it down for the 19-yard score with 1:47 on the first half clock. Senior Finn Smith added the extra point and the Eagles were back within seven.

The Bulldogs hoped to answer when they got the ball back at their 34, but Thurston threw three straight incomplete passes, forcing a punt.

With 1:14 to go, Windham started at its 12 and when Tillery took off for 49 yards to the Portland 39, it had an opportunity to pull even by the break, but after an incomplete pass, junior Colin Kelly sacked Winslow for a loss of a yard before Tillery ran for three yards, running out the clock and sending the Bulldogs to the locker room with a slim 14-7 advantage.

During the break, Green had some choice words for his players.


And they responded.

Portland started the second half at its 36 and in a drive that chewed up just shy of eight minutes, it marched 64 yards in 13 plays.

McGowan was held to a yard by Perkins on first down, but Buck gained six, then McGowan picked up 10 for a first down at the Eagles’ 47. After Buck picked up four yards, McGowan gained six and Buck was held to no gain, setting up fourth-and-4. Rodrigues then got the ball and he barely picked up the four yards needed for a first down at the 37. After Buck was held to no gain, McGowan broke a tackle and pushed the pile for 15 yards and a first down at the 22. After McGowan ran for three more yards, a holding penalty backed the Bulldogs up to the 29, but Jones broke free for 12 yards, then McGowan gained 11 more, setting up first-and-goal at the 6. McGowan then capped the time consuming drive, scoring on a 6-yard run to the left, just sneaking inside the pylon. Bouchard’s extra point with 3:57 to go made it 21-7 Portland.

Windham hoped to answer when it started at its 17, but after another long Tillery run (31 yards), Winslow threw incomplete, Alkafaji knocked down another pass attempt, then Tillery was held to three yards on third-and-10, forcing a punt. The Eagles hoped to pull off a fake punt, but it was stuffed and with 2:46 remaining in the quarter, the Bulldogs started again with a short field, at the Windham 48.

This time, Portland needed seven plays and 2:53 to score again.

McGowan ran for five yards on first down, then gained 12 to the 31. After Buck ran for four yards, McGowan lost 13 yards on a reverse, as Perkins sniffed it out, but on the tackle, Perkins was called for unnecessary roughness, putting the ball at the 20. After Thurston threw incomplete, McGowan ran for five yards, then he picked up 12 more on the final play of the period, setting up first-and-goal at the 3.


The Bulldogs possessed the ball for nearly 11 minutes of the 12 minute third quarter.

The first play of the final stanza saw Buck take the ball and run up the gut for a 3-yard touchdown. Bouchard added the extra point and Portland had a more comfortable 28-7 advantage.

Running out of time, Windham started at its 25 and after Tillery was held to no gain, then was dropped for a five-yard loss by senior Brayden Wales, a personal foul call on the Bulldogs put the ball at the 34, then Portland jumped offsides to give the Eagles a first down. After an incomplete pass, Tillery ran for five yards, but Winslow lost four and Windham had to punt.

With 8:09 left, the Bulldogs got the ball back at their 20 and would drive 80 yards on nine plays in 4:07 to end all doubt.

On first down, Buck took off for 25 yards, but it was called back for holding. That wasn’t even the worst news for Portland on the play, as Buck suffered an injury and wouldn’t return.

Undaunted, the Bulldogs resumed their drive, as McGowan gained six yards on first-and-17, then senior Hunter Temple caught a Thurston slant and gained 17 yards for the first down. After Jones ran for five yards and Thurston threw incomplete, McGowan ran for 10 yards and a first down at the Eagles’ 49. After Jones ran for three yards and McGowan gained six, McGowan picked up 19 more for a first down at the 21. McGowan then capped the drive with a 21-yard TD burst to the left with 3:56 to go. Bouchard’s final PAT extended the advantage to 35-7.


The Eagles began their final drive at their 43. Tillery ran for a yard, then a bad snap led to a three-yard loss, but on third-and-12, Tillery ran for 14 yards and a first down at the Bulldogs’ 45. After a pass interference penalty on Portland moved the ball to the 30, Winslow threw incomplete, Tillery was held to no gain and after the Bulldogs jumped offsides, Alkafaji brought the curtain down on the victory by throwing Winslow for a seven-yard loss.

The clock expired and Portland was able to celebrate its 35-7 victory.

“We just needed to lock it in,” said McGowan. “Not playing last week didn’t help us. It made us nonchalant. When we were in the locker room at halftime, we knew we had to come out and give our all and have discipline. Our O line made the biggest change. We just locked down on technique and that was pretty much it.”

“We started off slow, but when we get momentum, we turn it up and go,” Alkafaji said. “We just had to bring some energy in for the second half. We had to step up. We did our jobs. We thought we’d do really well this year because of our work in the weight room. We knew we had a good squad coming back.”

“The first half was by far the worst half of football I’ve seen this team play,” Green added. “We played terrible. Credit to Windham. They game-planned well and came to play. We were running core plays, but we were missing assignments, not making blocks, backs weren’t hitting gaps. The defensive line was undisciplined. Defense was better than offense in the first half, but we didn’t play our brand of football.

“In the second half, we established the run game, especially on the inside. We just needed to get after it in the trenches. That’s who we want to be as a football team. Violence and physicality is something I always preach. We want to establish the run game. When we don’t, we’re not going to be the team we should be.”


The Bulldogs finished with 296 yards of offense, with 192 coming after halftime.

Buck ran for 43 yards on a dozen carries and caught four passes for 44 yards, but he was taken to the hospital for observation after his injury and following the game, the prognosis didn’t sound good.

“It’s a bummer (Reegan) got hurt, but we’ll keep going,” McGowan said. “It’s next man up. We’ll control what we can control.”

“He obviously had a pretty bad injury,” Green said. “It was a late hit that wasn’t called. He’s being evaluated right now. You never want to lose a Reegan Buck. First of all, the person he is, the leader he is. He’s never taken a play off. He’s the heart and soul of our skill group. It’s tough to see him get hurt, but it’s an unfortunate part of the game. It’s the most unfortunate part of the game. We have a lot of great football players and luckily, we’re deep at the skill positions, so the guys will have to step up and they’ll have to step up with Reegan in their hearts and play for him because we know he’d like to be out there.”

McGowan, who gained just 16 yards in the first half, finished with 147 yards and four touchdowns on 27 carries.

“My success was because of the O line, I’m not going to lie,” McGowan said. “Four touchdowns was nice.”


“I’m biased, but I think Aidan is the best back in the state,” Green said. “He’s a stud. He runs with power and explosiveness, a lot like (former Cape Elizabeth standout) Nick Laughlin in his balance and ability to come off tackles and stay up. Not a lot of guys have that intangible. He’s an animal in the weight room and with nutrition and it’s paid off on the field. He’s already in a lead role, but with Reegan going down, he’ll get an increased number of touches.”

Thurston completed 6-of-12 passes, good for 73 yards.

Portland was flagged eight times for 77 yards.

Windham finished with 193 yards of offense and was penalized four times for 40 yards.

Tillery had a strong game, gaining 139 yards on 17 carries.

Winslow went 2-of-11 passing for 23 yards and one TD.


“We had little mistakes here and there, but I’m really pleased with our effort,” said longtime Eagles coach Matt Perkins. “We took some major steps, but mistakes caught us in the second half for sure. We made (Portland) earn it and to their credit, they had a long drive, multiple plays, and they didn’t make many mistakes. They’re a very good team.”

On to October

Windham hopes to end its two-game skid next Friday when it hosts 1-3 Scarborough.

“We have to continue to have our young guys grow up and get some guys healthy and back,” Matt Perkins said. “The beauty of a long season is to keep growing and getting better. We’ll keep learning and improving.”

Portland remains home to take on resurgent Noble (4-1) next Saturday night. The Bulldogs then go to Scarborough and close at home in the “Battle of the Bridge” versus South Portland.

“We have to have better practices,” Alkafaji said. “Everyone just has to do their job and keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

“Noble is very athletic,” Green said. “They have a quarterback who’s a very good runner. They have a good offensive line. We know they have athletes all over the field. They’re good at spreading the field. They have some very good offensive minds. They want to run and take shots when they need to. It’ll be a good challenge for us. We have to go back to basics on the line. As dominant as we can be, we’re not consistent. We need to refine technique and mechanics.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. For game updates and links to game stories, follow him on Threads: @foresports2023

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