PORTLAND — With a two-game lead over Lewiston and Edward Little, and having beaten both of its closest geographic Class A East rivals, Oxford Hills it would take a rash of major upsets to tear up its first ticket to the football playoffs in nine years.
The Vikings could erase all doubt with a win tonight at Deering’s Memorial Field. Kickoff is 7 p.m. The winner will be 3-3 and likely on a collision course with Portland in the regional quarterfinals.
“This really is a playoff game for both of us. We have Windham and Bangor left, although Portland played Bangor tough and we played Portland tough, so who knows?” Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said.
What we do know is that both Oxford Hills and Deering are vastly improved over a year ago, when each went 1-7. Deering logged its lone victory at Oxford Hills.
“It’s right in front of us. The guys we’ve got to beat to get in the playoffs are all right in front of us,” Deering coach Matt Riddell said. “We’ve got Oxford Hills and Edward Little. We’re focused on Oxford Hills. Knock them down, take care of business and climb that ladder.”
Defensively, the teams are strikingly similar, making the most of gang tackling at the first level and ball-hawking in the secondary.
Davis Turner of Oxford Hills leads Class A East in tackles by a staggering margin of more than 20. The senior is coming one of the most stifling games of his career in a 14-7 loss at Portland.
“The coaches on their side were very complimentary of Davis and how hard he is to block,” Soehren said.
Brady LaFrance, Patrick Macro, Jacob Spinhirn and Caleb Jewell all have notched interceptions for the Vikings this season.
They’ll be tested all evening by Deering junior Max Chabot, who leads the league in yardage (905), touchdowns (seven), attempts (146) and completions (62). But the emergence of Kahlil Brown and Ben Williams in last week’s 29-22 win at Lewiston gave the Rams a well-rounded rushing attack that will keep the Vikings honest.
“We’ve been pretty balanced all year actually. We’ve been probably a 50-50 team run to pass,” Riddell said. “We’re out six starters right now. We had our No. 1 and No. 2 running backs go out within two days. We’ve had to make a lot of adjustments on offense in terms of our game plan, and it hurt us. We’ve had to morph into what we are now. We’ve finally figured out what we are for a team.”
Oxford Hills continues to search for its identity with the football, as well.
Matt Smith started four consecutive games at quarterback for the Vikings, but Brady LaFrance returned to the position late in the first quarter against Portland and provided a spark with three long completions and a touchdown.
“We know week to week that we’re pretty good defensively. We also know that we struggle offensively,” Soehren said. “We did throw better. We did protect better. But our base plays didn’t go.”
Turner (380 yards, six TDs) and Malik Geiger (253 yards, two TDs) are the one-two punch of the Vikings’ backfield.
“Sometimes we say nine guys in the box. I think Portland literally had nine guys in the box,” Soehren said. “Our kids are a little bit football-young that way, and adjustments are a little bit tricky for us. But we sure work hard, and we’re pretty big and strong.”