PORTLAND—For the Portland Bulldogs, Tuesday evening’s 108th annual Battle of the Bridge at Fitzpatrick Stadium was another step in their quest for glory.

For the rival South Portland Red Riots, it was an abrupt and painful end to a season of promise.

The teams took the field four days later than scheduled, but the Bulldogs, who hadn’t played a game in 18 days, showed no rust, taking a quick 7-0 lead, as after junior Aidan McGowan returned the opening kickoff 74 yards, sophomore Cordell Jones scored on a 5-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.

Jones helped Portland add to its lead in the second period, first breaking free for a 16-yard touchdown run, then catching a gorgeous 30-yard TD pass from junior quarterback Louis Thurston to make it 21-0 at halftime.

South Portland got some life in the third quarter, recovering a fumble in Bulldogs’ territory, then getting on the board when junior quarterback Easton Healy found classmate Matthew Berry for a 17-yard touchdown pass, but Portland countered with a backbreaking 79-yard TD scamper from senior Hunter Temple before Jones’ fourth score, a 54-yard touchdown run, brought the curtain down on a 34-6 victory.

The Bulldogs finished the regular season with a record of 8-0, ended South Portland’s campaign at 4-5 and will host a semifinal round playoff game either Saturday or Monday against either Lewiston or Bangor.


“It’s been one of the stranger years I’ve had to coach with the bye weeks, but it’s great to go 8-0,” said first-year Portland coach Sean Green. “At the end of the day, we have a greater goal, but I’m just really proud of the kids for showing up and buying into the program and culture. They’re the ones executing on the field and doing their jobs.”

High stakes

Portland has dominated this year despite having more idle time that it would like and losing senior standout Reegan Buck to a shoulder injury at midseason.

The Bulldogs started in style with a thrilling 35-28 win at Thornton Academy, then downed visiting Edward Little (40-6) and host Lewiston (47-6). Portland was then scheduled to go to Falmouth, but instead was awarded a 2-0 forfeit victory after the Navigators were unable to field a team due to low numbers and injuries. The Bulldogs then defeated visiting Windham (35-7), visiting Noble (41-7) and host Scarborough (41-0) before having a scheduled bye.

South Portland, meanwhile, downed visiting Cony in the opener, 20-6, then lost at home to Lewiston, in a game played over two days due to weather, 19-16. After a 31-20 loss at Sanford and a 42-18 home win over Gorham, the Red Riots lost at Noble (28-20) and at home to Thornton Academy (14-0) before beating visiting Kennebunk (27-6) and host Scarborough (7-0).

A year ago, Portland won at South Portland in the regular season finale, 20-13, then did it again in the Class B South Final, 29-20, to cut the Red Riots’ all-time lead in the series, which dates to 1907, to 56-48 (with three ties).


Portland was scheduled to host South Portland Friday and again Saturday, but in the aftermath of the Lewiston mass shooting and the ensuing manhunt, the contest was eventually moved to Halloween Night.

Tuesday, with the temperature in the high-30s amid a postseason atmosphere, the Bulldogs came out fired up and were immediately rewarded.

Portland races on to the field prior to Tuesday’s home showdown versus rival South Portland. The Bulldogs captured the “Battle of the Bridge,” 34-6. Hoffer photos.

South Portland won the opening coin toss, but deferred possession to the second half and opted to kick off, a decision which backfired, as McGown took the ball at the Portland 21, raced up the middle, bounced off a tackle attempt, then ran up the right sideline before finally being knocked out of bounds at the Red Riots’ 5.

“We’ve had a couple good weeks of practice,” Green said. “I think we were more prepared than anybody else in the state for this schedule situation. We always talk about special teams being an opportunity for us to score and make explosive plays. They kicked it to one of the more explosive players I’ve coached. We had great blocking and Aidan took it. They barely caught him at the end, but it was an awesome way to start the game. ”

On the first play from scrimmage, Jones lined up in the Wildcat formation, took the snap and easily scored up the middle to break the ice just 18 seconds into the contest.

“That was very important to start fast,” said Jones, who transferred to Portland from Gorham on the eve of the season. “We always say we have to finish in the red zone and we did.”


Freshman Justin Bouchard added the extra point for a 7-0 Bulldogs’ lead.

South Portland started its first possession at its 36 and hoped to answer, but despite some initial success, couldn’t do so.

South Portland junior quarterback Easton Healy looks to throw as Portland senior Isaak Alkafaji bears down.

Senior Matthew Frey gained four yards on first down, then Healy scampered for 10 and a first down at midfield. After Healy picked up seven more, Berry was stuffed for no gain by junior Lisandro Rodrigues and after a false start penalty set up third-and-8, Healy only picked up three yards. A delay of game backed the Red Riots up five more yards, then Healy’s punt only went nine yards after being partially blocked by senior Isaak Alkafaji.

Portland took over at its 41 and had a good opportunity to double its lead, but went three-and-out, as Jones ran for five yards, McGowan was dropped for a two-yard loss by sophomore Josh Cyr, then Thurston threw incomplete, forcing a punt.

With 5:32 left in the first quarter, South Portland took over at its 25 and the Red Riots would control the ball the rest of the frame into the second period, but ultimately had nothing to show for it.

The drive began with a 10-yard run by Healy. After Healy ran for four yards, Frey picked up seven for a first down at the 46. After taking a false start penalty, South Portland got a 12-yard run from Frey, who broke multiple tackles, and after sophomore Connor Gerard was dropped for a two-yard loss by senior Brayden Wales, Healy ran left and picked up seven yards for a first down at the Bulldogs’ 42. Healy was then tossed for a three-yard loss by Alkafaji, junior Colin Kelly and junior Anthony Tavares, then a delay of game flag set up second-and-18, but Gerard caught a pass for 17 yards and Healy moved the chains with a four-yard pickup to the 29.


The second quarter began with Healy throwing incomplete. He then lost a yard, with Rodrigues and Wales making the tackle, before gaining the yard back, setting up fourth-and-11, where Healy threw incomplete, giving Portland the ball on downs at its 29 with 10:33 left before halftime.

The Bulldogs then marched 71 yards in nine plays and 4 minutes, 47 seconds to double its advantage.

McGowan got things started with a four-yard burst, then Temple had consecutive rushes of seven yards to put the ball at the 47. After Jones gained two, Jones broke away for a 28-yard pickup out of the Wildcat, good for a first down at South Portland’s 23. After McGowan ran for a yard, then was held to no gain, Jones gained six yards, setting up fourth-and-3, where Jones got the call again, rushing up the middle, breaking multiple tackles before finding the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown with 5:46 on the clock.

Portland sophomore Cordell Jones fights off the tackle attempt of South Portland junior Matthew Berry en route to the end zone.

Bouchard added the PAT for a 14-0 lead.

The Red Riots promptly went three-and-out when they got the ball back at their 33, as Healy threw incomplete, Healy ran for two yards, then he threw incomplete again, necessitating a punt.

With 4:26 remaining before halftime, Portland took over at its 34 and in three plays and 69 seconds, struck paydirt again.


McGowan did the lion’s share of the work, rushing for 13 yards, then gaining 18 more to the South Portland 35. After the Red Riots were flagged for being offsides, Thurston tossed a beautiful pass to a streaking Jones down the left sideline and all Jones had to do was cradle the ball to his chest to complete a 30-yard touchdown strike.

“It was simple, he put it where I needed to get it and where the defender couldn’t get it,” Jones said. “It was great play drawn up by Coach Green, who has the best offensive mindset I’ve ever seen. He’s probably the best coach I’ll ever play for.”

“Cordell is a tremendous athlete and he’s an even better young man,” Green said. “He’s extremely humble and coachable. There aren’t enough good things I can say about him. It’s awesome to watch him week-to-week become a staple in our offense. We ask him to do a lot and he hasn’t disappointed.”

Bouchard added another extra point to make it 21-0 with 3:17 to go before halftime.

South Portland had one final chance to answer before the break, as it started at its 31, but couldn’t capitalize.

After Kelly and Wales held Healy to no gain on first down, Gerard took a screen pass and gained 19 yards to midfield, but Healy threw incomplete and after rushing for six yards, he threw incomplete again, setting up fourth-and-4, where Healy was dropped by Rodrigues for a three-yard loss.


Portland got the ball at its 47 with 51.2 seconds to go, but after Thurston was sacked by Frey, Jones’ nine-yard rush ran out the first half clock.

The Bulldogs not only had a 21-0 halftime lead, they also outgained the Red Riots, 149 yards to 84.

South Portland got the ball at its 30 to start the second half, but could do nothing with it, as Healy threw incomplete, Rodrigues dropped Frey for a two-yard loss and after an illegal shift penalty set up third-and-17, Frey only gained three yards.

Portland took over at its 46, in great position to drive and put the game away, but after Jones ran for six yards, a bad pitch from Thurston to Temple led to a fumble which Frey recovered at the Bulldogs’ 42.

That break got the Red Riots going and they needed just four plays and 75 seconds to find the end zone.

After Healy ran for eight yards, he hit Berry for 17 yards and a first down at the 17. Healy was held to no gain, but on the next snap, he connected with Berry on a slant over the middle and Berry took the ball across the goal line for the 17-yard touchdown. Junior Arnaud Sioho’s extra point was off target, but South Portland had cut the deficit to 21-6.


But not for long.

Portland took over at its 17 and in two plays, got the score back.

After McGowan ran for four yards, Temple got the call and he bulled up the middle and left the Red Riots’ defense in his wake en route to a 79-yard touchdown.

“I just cut back and I saw (senior) Anthony Laboy and (senior) Owen Swanson making tremendous blocks and I just hit the hole and kept going,” Temple said. “Without their blocking, I wouldn’t have scored.”

“There was an unfortunate turnover that (Hunter) was involved in, so I knew he wanted to get it back,” Green said. “He told me at halftime to run that play because it would be wide open. Obviously, it was a huge gain at a crucial point in the game.”

“We were misaligned and we went in the wrong direction,” said South Portland coach Aaron Filieo. “It was miscommunication, mental mistakes.”


Bouchard’s PAT was no good, wide right, but with 7:09 left on the third quarter clock, the Bulldogs had a 27-6 advantage.

The Red Riots got a chance to answer, starting at their 21, and began to march, as Frey gained 11 yards. After Frey picked up one yard, Healy gained three, then threw incomplete, forcing a punt, but on the play, a roughing the punter penalty was called, giving South Portland a new set of downs at its 45.

Yet another false start penalty backed the Red Riots up five yards and after Healy gained three yards and threw incomplete, Healy was off target again and this time, South Portland did punt and the Bulldogs took over at their 29 with 3:30 left in the third.

Thurston ran for seven yards on first down, then hit Jones for seven more and a first down at the 43. After a holding penalty and a false start set up first-and-21, Temple ran for nine yards and McGowan gained three, but Jones was dropped for a two-yard loss by Healy, Cyr and junior Isaac Perry to force a punt.

The Red Riots began the final stanza with the ball at their 44 and picked up a first down on a three-yard run by sophomore Alex Horton and a 10-yard pass from Healy to sophomore Darius Johnson, but after Frey was held to no gain and a bad snap produced a loss of six, Frey was stuffed by Wales for no gain and on fourth-and-16, a four-yard Healy scramble gave Portland the ball back on downs at its 45 with 8 minutes to go.

Two plays and 57 seconds later, the Bulldogs scored for the final time.


After McGowan picked up a yard, Jones flashed his skills again, breaking free up the middle for a 54-yard score. Bouchard added the PAT to make it 34-6 with 7:03 to go.

South Portland started at its 34 and began to drive, as Frey gained four yards, but the Red Riots had a false start and after Healy gained five yards and five more were tacked on for a facemask penalty, Healy was intercepted by senior Myles Hang, who returned the ball 24 yards to the Red Riots’ 41.

Portland didn’t score this time, as an illegal man downfield penalty moved the ball back five yards and after McGowan ran for three yards and Hang took a shovel pass for three more, Jones gained three yards before a sack by South Portland sophomore Tristen Sanders gave the Red Riots the ball on downs at their 42 with 1:45 to play.

Frey lost a yard on first down, as he was smothered by Alkafaji and Tavares, then Frey picked up seven yards on his next attempt. After Gerard gained seven yards, Healy threw incomplete before a two-yard Frey run brought the clock to zero, allowing the Bulldogs to celebrate their 34-6 victory.

The scoreboard tells the final story.

“It was a great team win over our rivals, but now everybody’s 0-0,” said Jones.

“We’ve always had the mindset of being the underdog,” said Temple. “We knew we had to step it up because last year was (Kennedy Charles’) show. Being able to spread the ball out this year has been great. Cordell came in. Reegan was huge early in the year. Aidan is just a dog. Everyone has been stepping up.”


Portland finished with 295 yards of offense and overcame one turnover and six penalties for 40 yards.

Jones led the way with 132 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries. He also had two receptions for a 37 yards and a TD.

“It was tough coming here and learning new plays, but I got it figured out and I’ve been playing a bunch of roles on both sides of the ball,” Jones said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates.”

Temple had 102 yards and a score on four rushes.

Thurston completed 3-of-4 passes for 40 yards and a score.

McGowan rushed for 45 yards on 10 attempts.


The Bulldogs’ defense also excelled, per usual, and has surrendered just 60 points all season.

“Our defensive line has been great,” Temple said. “We have Lisandro and Isaak on the edge and they just demolish the other team’s offensive line. They can’t run or pass. It makes our job in the secondary so easy. We don’t have to do much.”

“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” said Green. “People thing our coaching staff is an offensive-minded staff, but I feel like we’re well-rounded. We have good special teams. Our defensive scheme is right up there and our kids have been executing at a high level. Mike Marston is a tremendous defensive coordinator. We’re a complete team at the end of the day and that’s what we want to be known as. We want to be violent and physical and do that in all three phases.”

A gut punch

South Portland finished with 159 yards of offense, turned the ball over once and committed 10 penalties for 50 yards.

“It’s kind of our Achilles’ heel all year, hurting ourselves,” Filieo lamented. “Just like when it felt like we had some things going and were going toe-to-toe, we shot ourselves in the foot and missed opportunities. It’s hard to play from behind against a team like (Portland). It’s hard to sustain any rhythm or drive offensively or defensively if you’re not sharp and playing disciplined football.”


Healy wound up completing 5-of-16 passes for 80 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran 21 times for 70 yards.

Frey bowed out with 13 carries for 48 yards.

Gerard had two receptions for 36 yards and Berry caught two balls for 34 yards and a score.

Making matters worse for the Red Riots, they found out at game’s end that Sanford had edged Noble, 21-20, meaning the Spartans will get the final playoff spot in Class A South.

At South Portland’s expense.

“We just didn’t get enough wins,” said Filieo. “I knew when we lost to Lewiston it could potentially come back to bite us and it did. We’ll carry it into the offseason. We’re a young team and we’ll be back. I thought we had more left in us, so it’s tough to go out like this. These guys really surprised us and showed they had a lot of heart and passion and fight. We just have to clean up the schematics and execution and need to be more disciplined, plain and simple.”


The title road goes through Fitzy

Portland wasn’t sure of its opponent or the date of its next game at press time, but the Bulldogs, who fell six points shy of a championship a year ago, have a single purpose this fall.

Good luck stopping them.

“We’ve talked about it since November of last year and how we’d bring it home this year,” said Temple. “Everyone’s been locked in all season. Going 8-0 is nice, but we want the Gold Ball.”

“The job’s not finished,” Jones said. “We have to come out strong and defend our home turf and finish out the season with a bang and hopefully bring the Gold Ball home for ‘Bucky.'”

“We’re excited to play at home and it’s tremendous to be here, but we have to perform regardless of where we play,” Green added. “We’ve talked since the beginning of the season about the potential for a championship run being there, but potential doesn’t mean anything. We know what we can be, but we have to go out there and take it.”

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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