PARIS — Colton Carson and the Oxford Hills Vikings had their best half of the season in Saturday’s homecoming game with Windham.
That is likely not a coincidence.
Carson, a junior, threw two second-half touchdown passes to lead the Vikings to a crucial 29-17 victory over the Eagles.
“In the second half, we just clicked all together,” Carson said. “We played the way we knew we could play all year.”
“That’s as well as we’ve played,” Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said. “We finally dominated the line of scrimmage. I know Windham is down with injuries a little bit, but they’re still a good team. Colton was a little bit off in the first half, but he had a great second half.”
Carson completed six of 10 pass attempts in the second half for 102 yards, and also ran for 29 yards. Overall, he was 9-for-22 for 160 yards passing and ran 46 yards on 10 carries.
Dawson Stevens caught the two touchdown passes. Emerson Brown rushed for the Vikings’ other two touchdowns.
Both teams are now 3-2 on the season, joining Lewiston in a trio of teams chasing unbeaten Edward Little. More important to the Vikings was the Heal points they picked up from beating the Eagles, who came into the day atop the Heal standings.
Oxford Hills’ defense was strong in the second half, too, allowing just 61 net yards and three points. The Vikings contained Windham senior QB Tanner Bernier (17 carries, 65 yards, two TDs) after he ran for a pair of touchdowns in the first half.
“We just played assignment football and everybody knew what they had to do,” said junior linebacker Parker LaFrance, who had an interception. “No one was trying to do too much. We had a great week of practice all week. We came back focused after that tough (7-6) loss (to Edward Little) last week.”
Trailing 17-10 late in the third quarter and facing 4th-and-8, Carson faked a handoff and rolled right toward the Windham sideline. He threw on the run to Stevens, who made a route adjustment and broke behind the secondary with the ball in the air and caught it in stride for a 41-yard touchdown.
“It was a rollout play and I really didn’t see much at first,” Carson said. “Then I saw Dawson put his hand up because he was going deeper and so I knew I just had to throw it out there. He’d go get it.”
“He made that happen with his feet,” Soehren said of Carson. “I wish I could say I designed it that way. That was the guy we were looking for, but that wasn’t the route.”
“We had a blown coverage,” Windham coach Matt Perkins said. “He rolled out, broke the pocket, and we didn’t contain him with the end. Our corner came running up and left his third wide open.”
Stevens missed the extra point kick, so Windham maintained the lead.
The Eagles went three-and-out on their next series. First down runs by Brown and Jordan Silver preceded a 23-yard run by Carson to the Windham 7.
On the next play, Carson found Stevens behind the front left pylon for the touchdown that put Oxford Hills in front to stay, 22-17.
On its next series, Windham tried to convert on 4th-and-15 from the Vikings’ 35, but Dylan Cobbett put immediate pressure on Bernier as he dropped back to pass, then helped Zuka Mabior bring him down for a 10-yard loss.
“Bernier is an excellent player,” Soehren said. “We definitely had to focus on him. We really went back to our basics with him. The kids had their base assignments and really did a great job on him.”
The Vikings took advantage of the good starting field position to put the game away. A 10-yard Carson run with a 15-yard facemask penalty tacked on at the end of the run put them in the red zone. Five plays later, Brown pounded it in from the 2 with 9:40 left.
Oxford Hills stopped Windham again on fourth down, then ran out the final 4:40.
“Right now, it’s character check time, how to fix it and how to go from here,” said Perkins. “I’m glad there are three weeks left to the regular season. We’ve just got to keep grinding and keep getting better.”
Stevens’ 25-yard punt return set the Vikings up at the Windham 30 for their first possession of the game. His 23-yard run from scrimmage got them to the 7, and Brown scored his first touchdown from the 2 to give them the early 7-0 lead.
Bernier tied it with a one-yard QB sneak on the first play of the second quarter. Oxford Hills regained the lead on a 27-yard field goal by Stevens. But Bernier got the Eagles back in front by reversing field after the Vikings bottled him up on a run to the left, sprinting around the right side for a 17-yard TD.
Windham increased its lead on its first drive of the second half. LaFrance was flagged 15 yards for a blow to the head of receiver Hunter Coffin. Oxford Hills coaches disagreed with the call so vehemently they were flagged an additional 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, which pushed the Eagles to the Viking 13.
Oxford Hills’ defense made its stand from there and the Eagles had to settle for a 32-yard Liam McCusker field goal to make it 17-10.
“We just dug in and were, like, ‘We’re not going to let them score here,'” LaFrance said. “From that point on, we just took over the game.”
“We just let nothing get into our heads,” Carson said. “We always say, ‘Next play.'”