PORTLAND — Lewiston can point to far too many plays and missed opportunities to explain why it squandered an 18-point lead in the final 6:24 against winless Deering on Friday night.
Deering can point to itself and will happily take some of the blame for its dramatic 19-18 win, too.
Sophomore quarterback Travis Soule had a lot to do with it, overcoming four interceptions to throw touchdown passes on the Rams’ last three possessions. The Rams’ defense, which held Lewiston to 13 net yards and one first down (which came on the game’s final play) in the second half made the comeback possible.
But nothing was more symbolic than an onside kick by the Rams that skipped through the legs of one Blue Devil, then took a big hop through the hands of another.
Deering’s Keegan Stanton recovered Omed Habibzai’s onside kick at Lewiston’s 42, trailing by a touhdown with 2:07 left in regulation.
After a roughing the passer penalty (one of three key personal fouls in the second half by Lewiston), Soule scampered for an eight-yard run on 4th-and-5 to keep Deering’s hope alive.
Soule then connected with a leaping 6-foot-5 Ben Onek in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown to tie it with 22 seconds to go. Habibzai booted the extra point, time ran out on the stunned Blue Devils three plays later at Deering’s 43, and the Rams and their fans celebrated an unlikely comeback on their homecoming.
“I’ve played football with Ben since fourth grade. He’s a huge target,” Soule said. “I just saw him open and threw it up to him and just knew that he would get it.”
“Our coaches in the locker room were telling us ‘Play with your heart.’ And that’s what we did. We played with our heart,” Onek said. “I knew when we recovered the onside kick we were going to go in and score.”
Deering (1-4) committed seven turnovers, including four interceptions, three by Lewiston safety Tanner Cortes.
“It’s all about turning the page,” Soule said. “You see a turnover and your head goes down, but you’ve just got to pick it right back up.”
“What do you say?’ Lewiston coach Bruce Nicholas said. “It’s like when we were up at Windham 14-0 at half (and ultimately lost, 20-14). We get the ball to start the second half, we’re talking about maybe getting a first down or two and eating some clock, and bang, I think our first series we went negative-two (yards). We weren’t really doing anything different than we did the first half. It’s just the tale of two halves.”
Stanton sparked Deering’s comeback with a fumble recovery at the Rams’ 45 on the Devils’ first offensive series of the fourth quarter.
Helped by a roughing the passer penalty by Lewiston (3-2) and a seven-yard run by Soule on 4th-and-5, Deering got on the scoreboard with Soule’s four-yard TD pass to Luc Harrison with 6:24 left. Deering went for two but Soule’s pass fell incomplete.
Habibzai’s onside attempt didn’t travel the required 10 yards, giving Lewiston possession at midfield. The Devils went three-and-out, but Jason Willis intercepted Soule near midfield to give them the ball back with 3:56 remaining.
Deering stuffed three Lewiston runs in a row to force a punt. Helped by yet another 15-yard penalty on the Devils, Soule completed four of four passes to drive the Rams 63 yards on five plays. Wenston Deninzio made a leaping, fingertip grab around the 10 and weaved his way into the end zone. The two-point conversion pass was dropped to make it 18-12 with 2:14 to go.
“I told our special teams coach ‘Let’s put this guy and this guy in (for the onside kick), because normally we try to save those guys,” Jackson said. “There’s no need to save them now.”
Lewiston missed some opportunities in each half to make its cushion bigger than three touchdowns.
Connor Kaplinger recovered a fumble at Deering’s 45 three plays into the game. The Blue Devils got to the Rams’ 11, but couldn’t convert on 4th-and-10.
On the first play of Deering’s next series, Cortes forced a fumble and Dominick Colon recovered for Lewiston at the Rams’ 14. The Devils capitalized on their second chance as Hunter Landry scored on a nine-yard run up the middle. But Deering blocked the extra point, and that would come back to haunt Lewiston.
Dominick Colon sacked Soule to stop the Rams on 4th-and-3 and give the offense excellent starting field position again, this time at Deering’s 49. On first down, Garrett Poussard finished a long run by dragging a defender into the end zone. The Rams stopped him on the two-point attempt, though, to keep it 12-0.
Cortes returned his second interception 31 yards to the Deering 4, and again Poussard needed one play to take it in from there. Cortes’ two-point pass fell incomplete for an 18-0 lead with 9:30 left in the first half.
“They had 18 (points) and they probably could have had a about 40, but we had a couple of stops in the red zone,” Jackson said. “So we felt like we can stop these guys.”
A Kaplinger sack and short punt gave the Lewiston offense a short field again, starting at Deering’s 39, but the Rams’ defense stopped them on 4th-and-goal from the 4 to keep it 18-0 at the half.’
“I was telling them at halftime ‘We’re going to win. They’re not going to score in the second half,'” Jackson said. “They just dug deep. At halftime, the coaches let them have it, believe you me, more than we’ve ever had to let them have it.”
Deering came out fired up and cobbled together a good drive to open the second half by senior running back Dru Tillman up the middle and marched to the Lewiston 8. But a fumbled handoff drove them back to the 20, and Cortes picked off Soule’s desperation pass in the end zone to maintain the shutout for the time being.
Soule finished 11-for-25 for 85 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. He also rushed for 56 net yards on 26 carries.
Poussard finished with 19 carries for 87 yards and two touchdowns for Lewiston. Cortes was 4-for-15 passing for 31 yards.
This is a close-up of a football.