Any outstanding performance, speech, or show, has one thing in common: it leaves those in attendance wanting more. Such was the case this past Saturday at Dr. Paul S. Hill Jr. Stadium in Saco. The opening scene was cast amidst a balmy October afternoon and ended with an autumn chill in the air. The stadium lights glistened off the artificial turf field as the sun set behind the large grandstand.
Amidst this backdrop the Cheverus Stags and Thornton Academy Trojans played what many in attendance believed, self included, to be one of the best, if not the best high school football game they’ve ever seen. The contest was really several games within the game. There was the opening, overwhelming dominance of Thornton. Cheverus, after receiving the opening kick-off went backwards on their first series. The Thornton d-line was in the Stags’ backfield on each play, forcing a punt.
On offense, Thornton countered with a strong-armed 6’4″ junior quarterback in Austin McCrum. Oh, and he’s got a few weapons to throw to in his arsenal, as well, in big 6’5″ receiver Kevin Barrett and Corey Hart. They got the passing game going early, setting up Michael Laverriere’s short TD run on a direct snap from center out of their “Wildcat” formation. Thornton went up 14-0 on their next series following a TD drive after an interception. While it appeared Thornton was on it’s way to a rout, things were just beginning to get interesting. Joe Fitzpatrick’s 56-yard touchdown run got Cheverus on the board, making it 14-6 still only midway through the first quarter.
The fireworks were just getting started. Each team traded big plays to forge a 27-27 tie early in the 2nd quarter. The tenor of the game then changed. Yards became tougher to come by. The mettle of each team was being tested. Who’s tougher than who? Thornton would score again before halftime to take a 34-27 lead into the locker room.
The 2nd half saw Thornton receive the kick-off and drive deep into Cheverus territory only to have a key interception by the Stags’ Kenny Drelich. The defining drive of the game was to come. A classic, grind it out 14 play drive, covering 62 yards, was just was the doctor ordered for Cheverus. The Stags facing a 4th and 8 from the Thornton 14 executed a beautiful play-action pass from Isaac Dunn to big tight end Zordan Holman. Holman stretched out just enough to move the chains and keep the drive going. Justin Johnston scored the tying touchdown. The Trojans, undaunted, drove to the Cheverus 33 on the next series. Facing 4th and one, they elected to try a play-action pass to Barrett, which was batted away incomplete with just over two minutes to play, forcing overtime.
Each team scored a touchdown in the first overtime before Cheverus got the ball first to start the second overtime period. A Joe Fitzpatrick sweep into the end zone on their first play from the ten gave Cheverus the only lead they would have on the afternoon, now evening at 48-41. Facing third and goal from the seven on their possession, Thornton threw two incompletions into the end zone, finally ending the contest. Cheverus 48, Thornton 41 Final. Many, including myself, left saying to ourselves and each other what a tremendous high school football game we had just witnessed.
Lost in the post game afterglow was a significant coaching milestone. According to Michael Hoffer of The Forecaster, the victory was the 300th in the career of Cheverus football coach, John Wolfgram. I’m sure he wouldn’t have it any other way. He has always been one to deflect the attention away from himself and realizes the game is for the kids.
Wolfgram in his storied coaching career won a shared state championship at Madison before heading to Gardiner. There he turned around a moribund program and won three state championships. At South Portland he led the Red Riots to four state championships and were consistent title contenders in the 1990’s. Following a stint as an assistant coach at Bowdoin College, Wolfgram reentered the high school ranks at Cheverus in 2006. Tasked once again with turning around a struggling program (Cheverus was 0-8 in 2004 and 1-7 in 2005), the Stags have tasted success under Coach Wolfgram.
I remember my first encounter with John Wolfgram vividly. He along with his former Gardiner assistant coach, Rob Munzing, were sitting directly behind my at Fitzpatrick Stadium watching the Tigers play in the Class B State Championship game. Wolfgram had gotten up to get something to eat when Coach Munzing and I started conversing. Wolfgram’s Cheverus team was in the midst of their rebuilding process when Munzing predicted that in four years, John Wolfgram would lead the Stags to a gold ball. That’s just what he does. Sure enough, in 2010 the Cheverus Stags, led by John Wolfgram were hoisting the gold ball at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Rob Munzing, who succeeded Wolfgram as head coach at Gardiner in 1986, does video streaming of games with his company, Munzing Media. Several times a year we bump into each other at various sporting events around the state. Invariably during the contest, Coach Wolfgram’s name comes up. So, I asked him one day, what is it about John Wolfgram that separates him from others coaching high school football? One word, he said, focus. According to Munzing, his focus and attention to detail with preparation is second to none.
The championships, wins, and losses, don’t even begin to tell the story of John Wolfgram. He is the absolute epitome of everything you would want in a high school coach. He, first and foremost, is a great teacher. An English teacher by profession, those who know him well say he is as good, if not a better classroom teacher than he is a football coach. He exudes class in everything he does and is such a positive role model for kids and adults alike. Any aspiring coach would do well to emulate John Wolfgram.
In this era where wide-open spread offenses are becoming the norm, how about adjusting the overtime rule and moving towards the college rule? Moving the ball back to the 25-yard line from the ten would allow for more offensive diversity.