Football: Windham outlasts Cheverus in defensive back-and-forth

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Hunter Coffin jogs out of the end zone just after catching the game-winning TD.

WINDHAM—The Eagles – on TDs by Tanner Bernier and Hunter Coffin – battled past the visiting Stags, Friday night, Oct. 27. The teams stymied each other repeatedly through the first half, only figuring out how to score in the latter quarters. 12-6 the final.

“Guys got hurt, and other stuff,” Windham head coach Matt Perkins said, asked about the defense-heavy matchup, which turned into – at least for the Eagles – an ad hoc affair. “So we had to grab guys, and figure out who’s the next man up and coach ‘em up as best we could and move on to the next deal.”

Perkins was quick to praise Bernier and Coffin both. “Very gutty,” he said. “Just gave it everything they had. Seniors that just don’t want to be done. You’ve got to be very proud of them.”

Windham advances to 5-4 on the quarterfinals victory; up next on the Eagles’ hit-list is Edward Little, No. 1 in A North at 7-1. When Windham traveled to the Red Eddies in week seven of the regular season, they fell to their hosts 21-13.

Interestingly, Lewiston – whom Windham upended 20-14 in week three – is the only team to have taken down Edward Little. And actually, the Blue Devils didn’t just “take down” the Eddies; they throttled them, to the tune of 41-16.

It all boils down to one simple fact: The A North crown could ultimately land on any number of heads.

Friday night, the Stags showed up at the Eagles having done some homework since the squads first butted heads, back in week one. Windham hunted, killed, stuffed and mounted the Stags in that contest, 24-0; this time around, both sides tried and failed – over and over through the first half especially – to get on the board. Cheverus QB Perrin Conant, alongside his favorite runners and receivers, including Vic Morrone and Greyden and Teigan Lindstedt, couldn’t long sustain a drive against Eagles defenders like Nate Watson, Marcus Canty and Connor McInnis. Meanwhile, Windham QB Bernier, chief runningback Stuart Salom and top receivers Coffin and Treva Valliere fell short on several drives against the Stags’ defensive contingent.

Windham’s defense might’ve been cobbled-together, but clearly it performed well. “They really did a good job,” Perkins said, asked especially about the offensive line and their solid protection of Bernier. “We had two [backups], Kaleb Cidre and Logan Douglas, that had to go in and play, and they did a phenomenal job.” Cidre is a freshman, while Douglas is a junior.

“[I was] pretty frustrated,” Coffin said, asked to describe the feeling during the scoreless first half. “But we just kept pushing; coaches just kept giving us hope. We had a couple players go down, one get tossed, one with injury. And we had guys step in and do their jobs, and give the game everything they had, for the team.”

Midway through the third quarter, Cheverus broke the 0-0 deadlock, Teigan Lindstedt running home a nine-yard rush touchdown with 5:52 on the clock. The Stags’ gutsy attempt at a two-point conversion, however, failed.

Fired up – perhaps a little infuriated, perhaps a little worried – the Eagles answered with their best series of the game thus far. Coffin returned the kickoff to first and ten at Windham’s own 33; Valliere grabbed a short running gain from there, before Bernier picked up his boys’ offensive pace and strung together three rapid-fire completions, one up the middle to Valliere, one rightward to Watson and another up the middle to Valliere. Back-to-back Bernier attempts to Coffin then missed their mark. Bernier, not one to be denied, scanned for a viable pass option on the next snap. Seeing none, he carried leftward himself. He plowed into the end zone – positively annihilating a Stags opponent upon his arrival – only to have his TD called back on a holding flag. He tried twice more to cap the drive, looking first to hook up with Valliere and then with Coffin, but neither play unfolded as it needed to and Windham turned the ball over on downs.

“We were trying to go fast,” Perkins said, “because we were trying to out-flank them. It was starting to work. They had a lot of calls like we did, to adjust their personnel, and we were catching the, in adjustments that were favorable for us.”

“That was our gameplan,” Bernier said, asked about Windham’s faster pace. “Second half, we came out and were like, ‘You know what? Running isn’t working so well. Let’s pass it.’”

“We’ve had a lot of injuries, and it’s impacted our offensive side,” Bernier said. “And we’ve always been known for our defense, really. So we just come out and rely on our defense, and we make plays…It’s amazing: The coaches put so much time and effort into our defense, our special teams. Everything.”

“After they scored, we were pretty fired up,” Coffin said. “Ready to get back at it. We didn’t want to just roll over and die, say, ‘That’s the game.’ It was more mental than physical: We had to keep grinding and not give up. Play for the guy next to us.”

The Eagles forced another Cheverus punt as the third quarter wound down. Stags flags for unsportsmanlike conduct and a block in the back helped keep the ensuing Windham push alive, with a nine-yard Bernier connection to Coffin and a follow-up QB sneak providing a critical first down. From first and 10 at the Cheverus 14, Bernier tried once for Valliere, but missed; he tried again – and hit his target. Coffin then blocked as Valliere ran the ball home to tie things up at 6-6.

The Stags sure seemed hot to start their next possession: Conant hooked up with Morrone and Morrone broke away from the Windham 40, careening across the 60 yards between his team and the lead. But an ineligible receiver downfield erased the TD; once more a penalty had cost Cheverus dearly.

Soon, Windham took over – though they couldn’t do much with the opportunity, and punted again in short order. The Eagles regained control when Watson intercepted a tipped Conant throw; they failed to capitalize on the turnover, but Coffin’s punt from near midfield landed prettily around the Stags’ 15. More solid Eagles defense forced another Cheverus punt, a fairly ugly one, which Coffin fair-caught at the Stags’ 31.

“They’re a pretty well-balanced team,” Bernier said of the Stags. “So our gameplan was to come out in every aspect of the game and dominate. But our basic philosophy is to dominate two out of three stages of the game. If we do that, we believe we can win against anybody.”

Bernier took a sack for a loss of eight on the Eagles’ first down, but he responded to that little gut-punch with a long hurl to Coffin, setting up first and 10 at Cheverus’s 15. Bernier tried once to connect with Coffin in the right of the end zone, but missed – and so tried again, this time finding his mark for the go-ahead TD. With less than a minute to play, Windham were well-positioned at 12-6; still, their PAT attempt availed them nothing, leaving the Stags with a slim, but not negligible, chance to win it in regulation.

Cheverus, however, couldn’t assemble the sort of picture-perfect drive they needed to march the length of the field. The game ended when, with 19 seconds remaining, Conant fumbled and Valliere recovered. Bernier kneeled away the time to secure the W.

“Previous plays, I was pretty upset with myself after I dropped a couple,” Coffin said. “Pretty down on myself. But my coaches kept wanting to throw me the ball, never stopped believing in me. I knew [Tanner] was going to give me a nice ball; me and him have been balling out since day one. And I wanted to go and give everything for my teams, because of all the adversity we’ve faced. I just wanted to give us one more week…And I ended up making the play.”

In a low-scoring game, offensive output obviously becomes a point of concern. “When you have injuries, guys get hurt, or go out during the middle of the game, you’ve got to adjust on the fly,” Perkins said. “The staff that we have for coaches, I can never – people don’t understand how good they are. How much they know this game and know our kids and make adjustments. We ran a play two times in a row for a touchdown that we have not run this year. We made it up on the fly. Those guys saw it, called it, we did it.”

Adam Birt can be reached at abirt@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter @CurrentSportsME.

Hunter Coffin jogs out of the end zone just after catching the game-winning TD.

Treva Valliere runs a ball for the Eagles.

Tanner Bernier ditches a would-be Cheverus tackler.

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