Windham’s Tanner Bernier carries the ball as Portland’s Jonah Green moves in during the Class A North football championship Friday night at Windham High. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald)
WINDHAM — Counted out of the championship picture a month ago, Windham High’s football team has found its identity.
Fourth-seeded Windham dominated from the start and rolled over sixth-seeded Portland 42-6 Friday night in a frigid Class A North championship game. With a bone-chilling wind blowing across the field from sideline to sideline, the Eagles overwhelmed the Bulldogs defensively – holding them to one first down in the first three quarters – and used a punishing running game to pile up 275 yards in three quarters.
Quarterback Tanner Bernier rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and threw a touchdown pass on the final play of the half, making it 29-0.
The Eagles (7-4) will play Scarborough in the Class A state championship game next Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium. It will be the Eagles’ third appearance in the state final, and their first since 2014. It’s probably the most unlikely, as well, with Windham standing 3-4 after a 21-13 loss to Edward Little on Oct. 13.
“This is very special, it really is,” said Windham Coach Matt Perkins. “To think what these guys, how they’ve been doubted, and the adversity they’ve gone through … to fight back and do this, it really says a lot about their character.”
Portland, which had won the last two regional championships, finished 4-7.
“It just wasn’t our night,” Portland Coach Jim Hartman said. “We couldn’t catch a break. They wanted it more. It came down to who wanted it more and they wanted it more. We got outcoached and outplayed.”
Windham defeated Portland 7-6 in the regular season when a last-minute field-goal attempt by Portland was ruled no good. This one got away from the Bulldogs quickly, however.
Windham received the kickoff and went 79 yards in just three plays. Bernier carried the ball on each play, going 57 yards on the first play, 16 on the next and the final six for the touchdown. No one is sure how quickly it happened because the clock wasn’t working – the controls froze. No matter, the Eagles had set the tone.
“We just wanted to execute,” Bernier, a senior, said. “We wanted to get out there and score first and just keep scoring and never look back.”
Portland could get nothing going offensively in the first half, running just 15 plays and recording one first down. Windham, meanwhile, scored three touchdowns in the second quarter to end any suspense.
Treva Valliere scored on a 25-yard run and Liam McCusker added the PAT to make it 14-0. After a short Portland punt, Bernier scored his second touchdown, a 33-yard run off left tackle, and then threw a conversion pass to Matty Babb to make it 22-0.
A botched snap on Portland’s next punt attempt gave the Eagles the ball at Portland’s 10. On the last play of the half, Bernier faked a sweep toss and then lobbed a pass to Nathan Watson down the right seam for a 12-yard touchdown. McCusker’s kick made it 29-0 at the half.
Watson scored on an 8-yard run and Stuart Salom scored on a 24-yard run to make it 42-0 in the third quarter.
Bernier wasn’t surprised at the outcome after what he called a successful week of practice.
“Hard work, we put it in,” he said. “Everybody chipped in, and this is what happens when our team completely works together and we believe.”