Portland High senior Sam Knop throws a pass while rushed by Rylen Schenk of Scarborough during the season opener Sept. 6. “Just because we go down (0-2), we can still make it as far as we need to go,” Knop says of the Bulldogs’ start this season. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

There’s not much point in sugarcoating things.

Portland High’s 0-2 start to its first season in Class B is about to get even tougher.

The top two teams in B South are coming to Fitzpatrick Stadium. Defending state champion Marshwood is in town Friday with Kennebunk to follow Sept. 27.

While Portland has been outscored 70-9 in its first two games, Marshwood is coming off a 514-yard offensive show in a 28-27 loss at Thornton Academy. Kennebunk is 2-0 and has scored 118 points.

“The kids are smart. It takes very little discussion to let them know what’s being put in front of them,” said Jason McLeod, Portland’s first-year head coach.

“We’re going to face a lot of adversity and pretty much everyone thinks we’re going to lose,” said senior captain Jonah Green, a standout 6-foot-5, 250-pound two-way lineman. “We just have to forget about that, and go out there and play as hard as possible.”

At Wednesday’s practice, Portland’s players were energetic and focused. Veterans like senior captains Green, Jamal Moriba and Sam Knop are reminding the youthful roster (11 sophomores, 15 freshmen) that it’s possible to overcome a slow start.

Two years ago Portland started 0-5 but still reached the A North final, where it lost to Windham.

“We look at that season as inspiration. We can do this,” said Knop. “Just because we go down two games, we can still make it as far as we need to go.”

Of the six former Class A teams now playing in Class B, the Bulldogs clearly have the toughest schedule over the first four weeks. They opened at Class A Scarborough (42-3 loss) and last week had to go to Biddeford, suffering their first loss against a Class B team, 28-6.

Moriba, who gained 114 yards rushing against Biddeford, believes the early-season tests will pay off.

“It’s going to help us, especially through the season when we get to those really hard games in the playoffs,” he said. “When we get to those fourth-quarter moments when everyone’s down and everyone’s gassed and tired, we’ll end up being able to fight through it.”

Even without such a daunting schedule, the Bulldogs likely would have experienced early-season difficulties. As Green pointed out, they graduated “nine or 10 starters,” from last year’s Class A North championship team. McLeod, a former assistant, has installed a spread offense that is vastly different from former coach Jim Hartman’s ground-and-pound attack. The defense is also new under first-year assistant Skip Capone, the former Bates College coach.

Prior to the Biddeford game, McLeod named sophomore Grant Crosby as the starting quarterback. Knop, the former starter, is now a slot receiver.

“I think the important part is just getting better each week,” McLeod said. “We’re providing multiple players an opportunity to play for us and participate, and get better. You’re going to hear us say the words ‘get better’ a lot.”

In the loss to Scarborough, Portland was hurt by its special teams, allowing both a kickoff and punt return for a score, and getting a punt blocked. In that game Portland trailed 21-3 after three quarters.

Against Biddeford, Portland trailed 14-6 at the half. While the special teams’ play improved, passing game miscues were costly. Biddeford’s second-half touchdowns were set up by interceptions and a good Portland drive was halted when Green, playing offensive tackle, caught a pass, resulting in a penalty.

“Both games didn’t really get away from us until the fourth quarter,” Green said.

“We obviously hate losing. So we’re just out here every day trying to get at it, trying to win at home for our fans on Friday night,” Knop said.

The back half of Portland’s schedule is, on paper at least, less formidable with games against Cheverus (0-2), South Portland (1-1), Noble (0-2) and Massabesic (1-1).

AFTER TWO WEEKS the former Class A teams are 3-4 against teams that were in Class B in 2018. Windham, playing in Class B North, is 2-0 with a come-from-behind 21-20 win at Gardiner and a 35-0 rout of Hampden Academy. The Eagles were 0-8 last season.

Massabesic went 1-6 in Coach Eric Ouellette’s first season in 2018 and 3-21 the three previous years. This year they played Biddeford to the wire in a season-opening 27-23 loss and then beat Noble, 19-13.

Deering (1-1), Cheverus and Portland are each 0-1 in Old A vs. Old B meetings. South Portland, the sixth team to move from A to B, plays its first game against a former B team when it hosts Noble on Friday.

EIGHT-MAN WATCH: Traip Academy is 2-0 after a convincing 38-18 home win against Yarmouth last Saturday. The Rangers were 3-5 last year in the 11-man Class E league a year after having to forfeit six games, citing a lack of players and safety concerns. The last time Traip started a season 2-0 was 2012, when it went 8-2 and advanced to the Western Class C semifinal. That ended Traip’s three-year playoff run that included a 2011 loss in the Western C final to Yarmouth.

Gray-New Gloucester, another program that switched to eight-man football, picked up its first win since 2015 last Friday, defeating Ellsworth, 50-44. The Patriots, winless the past three seasons, snapped a 29-game losing streak. They will be home at 7 p.m. Friday against Telstar.


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