BANGOR, Maine — In a game dominated by the impressive offensive lines, it came down to a pair of crucial defensive plays that decided the 125th renewal of the Portland High School-Bangor High football rivalry Saturday afternoon.
Portland used a clutch fourth-down stop midway through the fourth quarter and a 45-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Matt Talbot four minutes later to subdue the Rams 33-20 during Bangor’s Homecoming at Cameron Stadium.
Portland improved to 3-1 while Bangor fell to 2-2.
With the Bulldogs holding a tenuous 25-20 lead and the Rams marching down the field, Justin Zukowski and Ronald Hargrove stopped hard-running Logan Lanham a yard short on a fourth-and-three option play at the Portland 36-yard line.
“I just followed the football. Winners have to make plays so we had to come in there. We knew it was coming,” said Zukowski.
“Big players make big plays in big situations,” said Hargrove who pointed out that he knew it was going to be an option play after Ram quarterback Xavier Lewis faked to the fullback.
“I saw No. 27 (Lanham), because he’s my man on the pitch, then I saw (Zukowski) fly up and I was like ‘It’s coming, we’ve got to make the play,” said Hargrove.
Moments later, one play after Bangor defensive end Jordan Ayer stripped Hargrove of the ball, Hargrove and Joe Esposito caused a Lanham fumble and Talbot picked it up and sprinted into the end zone to sew up the win.
“(Hargrove) made up for his mistake,” said Talbot. “The ball took a couple of hops. I was going to dive on it but I didn’t see anybody around so I scooped it up.
“We made big plays when we needed to,” added Talbot.
“I got hit and the ball popped out. It was totally my fault. I was disappointed with that,” said Lanham.
Bangor coach Mark Hackett said Lanham’s determined, hard-nosed running style is bound to result in a fumble from time to time because “he runs so hard and he always gives you second, third and fourth efforts. The ball will pop out. You can’t fault him for that.”
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the first quarter on touchdowns four minutes apart.
Zukowski finished off a nine-play, 80-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown run and, on Bangor’s ensuing possession, a bad snap on a punt set up the Bulldogs at the B-23 and Zukowski ran two yards to cap a five-play drive.
But the Rams responded with a 13-play, 56-yard drive with Lewis carrying the final seven yards on an option to make it 12-7.
The Bulldogs stung the Rams in the final two minutes of the first half as a 51-yard pass play from Jordan Talbot to an open Hargrove on a 2nd-and-15 play put the ball on the B-25.
Three plays later, Jayvon Pitts-Young ran 10 yards with 41 seconds left in the half to give the Bulldogs a 19-7 intermission lead.
The Rams answered with two touchdowns in the third quarter to take their first lead of the game at 20-19. Both were set up by fumble recoveries.
Adam Allen recovered a fumble at the P-45 and Lewis hooked up with Alex Welch on a 25-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-seven as Welch made an exceptional play by sifting through three defensive backs to make the grab.
On Portland’s next possession, Tyler Flanagan pounced on a fumble on the B-33 and the Rams marched 67 yards on 10 plays as Lewis ran eight yards on a broken play and Brennen Corliss kicked the extra point.
But Portland scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown courtesy of an 11-play 57-yard drive.
Four different players ran the ball on the drive and a costly Bangor offsides penalty gave the Bulldogs a first down on a third-and-five at the B-19.
Zukowski capped the drive by going five yards with 8:43 remaining in the game.
Zukowski finished with 106 yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns. Hargrove contributed 71 yards on 11 carries and Pitts-Young lugged the ball six times for 45 yards. The offensive line of center Steve Walsh, guards Luigi Grimaldi and Josh Sullivan and tackles Dominic DiMillo and Jake Dunton used its quickness and athleticism to open holes for the backs.
“Their line was just as athletic as their backs,” said Lewis, who was pleased with his team’s performance.
“Overall, this was our best game of the year. Even though it’s a loss, they have a talented football team and we’re young and inexperienced. To do what we did today is a great accomplishment,” said Lewis.
Workhorse Lanham, who broke a ton of tackles, ran for a game-high 111 yards on 26 carries for the Rams and Lewis accounted for 133 total yards as he ran for 65 yards (12 carries) and threw for 68 more (4-for-11).
Bangor’s offensive line of Brendan Moore, Cameron Cota, Langston Hamer-Nagle, Zach LeClair and Josh Clement parlayed its size and physicality into a dominant performance.
“We knew it was going to be a good game. Their line is big and tough and we’re tough,” said Portland tackle Dunton.