Football: Windham scorches Portland for A North title

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Tanner Bernier skirts a would-be Portland tackler in the Eagles' win on Friday night.

WINDHAM—From the opening kickoff onward, the Eagles thoroughly controlled the Bulldogs in Friday night, Nov. 10’s A North Final. Windham QB Tanner Bernier needed just three plays (and some great protection) to put his boys ahead at the start of the first quarter, and led them to a 42-6 victory after that.

“We just wanted to execute,” Bernier said. “We wanted to get out there, score first and then just keep scoring and never look back.”

“We felt like we had everything squared away,” Windham head coach Matt Perkins said, “and it certainly looked like it in every phase tonight.”

Arctic temps and lashing winds gave both sides hell all night – even freezing the scoreboard so the numbers wouldn’t budge and the officials constantly needed to call out the time remaining. And yet, Windham made the brutal slog – against a Portland squad that’s put together a respectable post-season run, no less – look easy. Bernier returned the ball to start the game, carrying 57 yards to the Bulldogs’ 22. He followed that explosion with two more, for 16 and 6, thus reaching the end zone for the first time. 7-0.

Through the rest of the first half, while Portland managed barely more than a dozen yards’ running, the Eagles tallied 22 further points. On a drive early in the second quarter, following a sequence of Bernier, Stuart Salom and Treva Valliere rushes, the team arrived near Portland’s 30; from there, Valliere broke through the middle and escaped. He zoomed across the goal line to push Windham ahead 14-0. 

The Eagles forced Portland to punt on their ensuing series, then repeated their earlier strategy to score again. This time, it was Bernier who slipped through the middle, high in the Bulldogs’ territory, and barreled ahead for the TD. He next tossed a successful two-point conversion to Matty Babb for 22-0.

Bernier was quick to praise his offensive line. “They did a great job. They work so hard and we don’t even have to do anything.”

Windham notched one more before the break: With maybe ten seconds to play, the team expertly hurried to the line, got set and fired off the snap; Bernier then lofted up a 12-yard pass, which a nimble Nate Watson grabbed in the end zone for 29-0.

When the Eagles and the Bulldogs clashed in the regular season, Windham narrowly took the W, 7-6. “We had a bunch of injuries, we had a bunch of stuff going on,” Bernier said of the teams’ first meeting. “But we’ve had everybody back. Justin (Labrecque, senior lineman) finally came back, and he was an animal this week in practice. He was possessed. Everybody, every single one of them, I love them to death.”

“[Portland] does a really good job on defense,” Perkins said. “And we’ve really put our nose to the grindstone this week, with the kids and coaches, and just really hammered down with what we thought we could execute. The guys were awesome all week; we had really phenomenal practices. And when you do that, you have nothing but a good feeling, coming in.”

The Eagles added 13 more points in the downhill half: Watson carried an eight-yarder in, early in the third, and Salom a 24-yarder later in the same stretch. The Bulldogs did eventually hash a touchdown of their own, on a Terion Moss four-yard rush. That strike came with almost no time left on the clock, however. Windham had won, and they had won big.

“Honestly, hard work,” Bernier said, asked what the overall key was for his boys in the triumph. “We’ve never had a week of practice so successful as this week. Everybody chipped in…This is what happens when our team completely works together and we believe.”

Liam McCusker, it should be noted, nailed four of his five PAT kick attempts for the Eagles. In a 42-6 win, extra points aren’t even the icing on the cake, they’re more like the little candy decorations. In a much tougher matchup, though, extra points can make a world of difference – and Windham’s next matchup will no doubt be much tougher: The Eagles meets Scarborough in the State Final on Saturday the 18th at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. 

The Storm stomped all over Thornton Academy in Friday night’s South Final to earn their first shot ever at a Class A title. The team won States back in 2002 as a Class B outfit. For their part, Windham has been to two Championships already, winning over Bangor 35-21 in 2009 and falling to TA 35-14 in 2014.

Perkins expressed pride in his boys’ progress this season. “When you’ve been around teams, and you can feel when they’re starting to climb…and they’re believing in everything you’re doing, it’s a different feeling. And we finally got that stride. They’re buying into each other, they’re buying into everything. The vibe in practice alone is so different. 

“We were really dialed-in last week,” Perkins said of the Eagles’ semifinals win over No. 1 Edward Little. “To be honest with you, I was a little afraid, coming in tonight, because we were so amped up last week. But they took another step this week.”

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

Tanner Bernier skirts a would-be Portland tackler in the Eagles’ win on Friday night.

The Eagles hoist their new hardware.

The Eagles Captains – from left, Tanner Bernier, Nate Watson and Connor McInnis – show off their new A North Champions plaque.

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