SOUTH PORTLAND—Bonny Eagle got off to a slow start at South Portland on Friday night, Aug. 31: Will Whyte posted a short running touchdown in the first quarter, but otherwise the uphill half saw no scoring. In the latter quarters, though, the Scots settled into a groove, scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter alone for a decisive, 34-6 triumph over the Riots.
“It was not pretty,” Bonny Eagle head coach Kevin Cooper said. “We certainly don’t feel like we played our best. We played tough in the second half – we responded well. I’m very happy with our guys in that regard. But there’re a lot of things we’ve got to do better. We got caught up in some things we did poorly in the first half; we let it affect us in how we played. So we’ve got to work harder, we’ve got to coach better, we’ve got to regroup and come back and be better next week.”
The Scots’ defense played their role admirably to start the game: Aidan McGlone, Will Horton and Tyler Williams combined to choke off South Portland’s opening drive with a spectacular sack on QB Jake Poole, leaving the Riots no choice but to punt. Bonny Eagle’s offense then took immediate advantage of the opportunity afforded them, advancing from first and 10 at South Portland’s 40 on running by Whyte and QB Zach Maturo.
The Scots fought their way to first and goal at the Riots’ eight, where they capitalized on Whyte’s power and dexterity, direct-snapping the ball to him and letting him charge forward with it, across the goal line. He’s also the team’s kicker, and split the uprights on the PAT, leading to 7-0.
But the remainder of the first half unfolded as a scoreless stalemate. Mistakes made the stretch possible: The teams’ offensive lines proved too porous, for instance. Horton and fellow Bonny Eagler Nate Ferris laid sacks down on Poole, but Scots QB Keegan Meredith suffered multiple sacks as well. The teams also dropped the ball here and there, and incurred too many penalties.
Most of those missteps can be chalked up to inexperience, start-of-season jitters and other factors.
“We’ve certainly got to work on our protection,” Cooper said of the early pressure his QBs faced. “We don’t want our quarterback to throw the ball into danger; I would much rather him be secure with the football, rather than make throws he doesn’t feel comfortable with.”
“And we need to work on our ball-security,” Cooper said. “We work hard on our catching punts – we ended up dropping one. But it’s not for the lack of effort. Kids are trying hard. The penalties that we had, kids are giving great effort trying to sustain blocks; we’ve got to go back and look at that and make sure we’re always using good technique. We’ve got to block in the front; we can’t block in the back.”
The Scots tacked on another TD in the third, Dylan Cobbett contributing big running gains to a drive and Maturo capping it. Bonny Eagle tried like hell to tally at the tail end of the quarter, too, but saw a consecutive pair of scores called back: A long Whyte run on a holding flag and a fade-route pass-play from Meredith to Ferris on an illegal formation flag.
“Penalties and fumbles are really going to set you back,” Cooper said. “We’re not at a point where we’re going to look real good if we turn the ball over; or, a couple of penalties we had tonight, it just seem liked we marched back 25 yards. Those are drive-killers.”
The Scots’ twice-flagged series overlapped into the start of the fourth, when the team actually managed to make the TD stick. Meredith hurled to Shaun Brilliant – another fade shot – and Brilliant, ball in-hand, crossed the goal line at full-tilt. The Riots blocked Whyte’s kick attempt, however, keeping the score at 20-0.
“We did talk about, at halftime, we did want to be able to throw the fade-ball, and that’s when we ended up scoring,” Cooper said. “We said, ‘Let’s take a shot at that; we think we can complete it.’”
South Portland got on the board shortly thereafter: Poole connected with Josh Frank, who escaped Cobbett coverage for a 49-yard pass TD. But the Scots had two more TDs of their own up their collective sleeve: Maturo scored on a 27-yard run as the fourth neared its conclusion, and Cobbett on a two-yard run. Whyte continued to contribute impressive carries, including a spectacular dancing charge for 23 yards en route to Cobbett’s strike. 34-6 the final.
A more-varied attack proved a major factor in Bonny Eagle’s increased success in the second half. The team initially (and understandably) relied a great deal on Whyte’s running skills, but worked in additional plays and personnel as the game wore on.
“We kind of got behind schedule in the first half, trying to settle ourselves down a little bit,” Cooper said, asked about Whyte’s handling the ball a lot early. “And I think the easiest way for a football team to settle themselves down is to give the ball to the main runningback.”
“Certainly in the second half, when we were able to diversify a little bit more, be able to make a couple plays through the air – that was a big help,” Cooper said. “To be an effective offense, you can’t rely on just one guy. You can’t rely on two guys. You’ve got to be able to spread the ball around.”
Cooper also remarked on swapping back-and-forth between his two QBs, Maturo and Meredith: “It’s not something that’s traditional football,” he said. “Most people would say, ‘You need to settle on one.’ We haven’t, just because both bring a little something different to the table. They’re both fantastic young men; I’m very lucky to coach them. They work their butts off; they support each other – which is the best thing.”
Cooper elaborated: “Zach brings some amazing running ability, and Keegan can really throw the ball. Both kids made plays tonight; both kids made plays last week. We’ll use one or the other in certain situations, depending on how the game goes.”
“We faced some adversity, and we continued to battle, and we ended up winning fairly convincingly,” Cooper said, asked what his young crew will take away from the game. “It probably didn’t go the way most of us thought it was going to go at the beginning of the game, but football’s hard. You’ve got to learn to battle through all situations. With a bunch of kids that are first-year starters, being able to respond like that at halftime and come back and play well in the second half – I think that shows a lot about our kids.”
Bonny Eagle hosts Sanford (0-1, having fallen this past week to Scarborough) on Sept. 7. The Riots travel to Massabesic (0-1 now, after a thrashing on the road vs. Cheverus) that same night.
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.
Bonny Eagler Aidan McGlone jumps toward an early sack on SoPo QB Anthony Poole.
Will Whyte is the Scots’ lead runningback this season.
Bonny Eagle QB Zach Maturo breaks away from the South Portland pack on a keeper, headed for a TD.
Dylan Cobbett carried quite a bit for the Scots on Friday night, especially in the second half as the team’s offense settled in and diversified their approach.
Bonny Eagler Chase Graves confronts a SoPo opponent.
Bonny Eagler’s Tyler Williams chases down a Riot.
Bonny Eagler Andrew Thomas latches onto a South Portland opponent from behind.