PORTLAND — Oxford Hills’ mission this year is to win its first and last games at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
The Vikings took care off the first part, beating reigning Class D South champion Portland for the first time in the brief history of the rivalry with a ball-control offense and physical defense Saturday night, 20-14.
“It’s a great feeling,” senior running back/defensive end Dawson Stevens said. “Like Coach (Mark Soehren) said, ‘We should start the season with a win at Fitzy and end with a win at Fitzy. That’s the goal. We want to be state champions.”
Running behind a big offensive line of senior Jamal Hill and Shawn Hermanson and juniors Alex Fox, Austin Doughty and Austin Sanborn, Stevens was a workhorse. He rushed for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries.
Emerson Brown added what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown from 2 yards out with 3:07 left. But the Vikings’ biggest touchdown may have been their first.
Oxford Hills opened the game with a 15-play, 80-yard (90 with penalties) drive that chewed eight minutes off the clock.
First-year starting quarterback Colton Carson kept the drive alive with two big third-down completions to Cam Slicer, a 13-yard connection on third-and-12 and a 26-yard connection on third-and-18 that Slicer managed to hold onto after getting popped.
Dawson capped the drive with an 18-yard TD run, on which he bounced outside off of one of his own blockers and raced toward the right end zone pylon.
“That was exactly what we wanted to do to start the game,” Soehren said of the drive.
“I think it was a great thing we came out strong,” Doughty said. “Usually we come out flat on a Saturday night, but I think for some reason everyone came together.”
Thanks in part to that drive, Portland only ran 11 offensive plays in the first half. But the Bulldogs needed just one to tie it, a 49-yard pass over the middle from Ronaldo Wakati to Vincent Pasquali with 3:03 left in the first half.
“We weren’t ready to run inside. We couldn’t run inside on these guys like we normally could,” Portland coach Jim Hartman said. “We were forced to throw the ball, which I thought we did a good job.”
Pasquali snuffed two promising Viking drives in the first half with interceptions, both at his own 10-yard line, to keep the teams knotted 7-7 at the half.
Wakati was injured on the final play of the first half and was replaced at quarterback to start the second half by sophomore Sam Knop. Portland was forced to punt on its opening possession, leaving the Vikings with good starting field position, their own 40.
Five plays later, Stevens took a pitch on a sweep to the right and ran untouched down the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown that put the Vikings in front for good, 14-7.
“I know last year they liked to string me out and give me the sideline, and that’s what they did,” Stevens said. “All offseason, I’ve been working on getting my foot in the ground and cutting back. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I credit the offensive line. All of my success is because of them.”
“We were fast off the ball,” Hermanson said. “There were times we were slow, but we fixed it. We all talked together. We didn’t yell at each other. It was hard not to sometimes.”
The Vikings committed 12 penalties.
Alex Turner’s interception on Portland’s next series set up their final score at the Bulldogs’ 43. J.J. Worster preceded Brown’s TD run with a 34-yard run.
The Bulldogs pulled within six on Zach Elowitch’s two-yard run with 6:34 left, but the Vikings again went into clock-killing mode with Stevens and got three first downs and 5:09 off the clock before having to punt.
Portland had to start at its own 33 with 1:18 to go and only got 5 yards on the next four plays. Carson knocked down Knop’s fourth-down pass intended for Griffin Foley to clinch a big Viking win.
This is a close-up of a football.