PORTLAND — If it’s possible to enjoy a so-called “statement game” without springing a mild upset, Oxford Hills pulled it off Saturday night at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
The Vikings proved they were up to the physical challenge of facing a Portland program that inflicted a 68-point loss last year, and a team that took then-unbeaten Bangor to overtime a week ago.
Oxford Hills simply couldn’t string together enough big plays to avert a 14-7 Class A East football defeat. But while there are no Crabtree points for moral victories, the Vikings, who are well within reach of their first playoff berth in nine years, served notice that they will be a tough team to knock out if and when they arrive.
“The effort is showing. It was 68-0 last year,” Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said. “I still think we can do a little better offensively.”
Portland (3-2) held Oxford Hills (2-3) to six first downs, two on the final drive of the game as the Vikings drove to a potential tying or winning score.
That march reached the Bulldogs’ 33 before Brady LaFrance’s pass was tipped into the hands of sophomore Dylan Bolduc to end it.
“Coach led us up to the game telling us they were a big, physical team,” Portland junior running back and linebacker Joe Esposito said. “They did come off the ball, and they did hit hard. We were just a little bit better, and we were able to pull away with it.”
LaFrance (two sacks), Davis Turner (more than 15 tackles) and Malik Geiger were sensational for Oxford Hills, which held the rugged Esposito to 68 yards on 16 carries.
The game was played in pervasive fog and persistent drizzle. Portland scored the winning touchdown during a five-minute downpour late in the second quarter.
Oxford Hills made Esposito grind out a first down on third-and-4, just reaching the stick at the Vikings’ 31.
Senior quarterback Jordan Talbot rolled to his right and saw nothing but daylight on the next play. Two Vikings tried to deny Talbot inside the 5, but he dove and hooked the ball inside the pylon with 1:28 remaining in the half. John Williams booted the extra point.
“Our sophomore center (Dylan Wike) made the good block, and we had more great blocks downfield that led to a big play for us,” Talbot said.
The Vikings used the element of surprise — a quarterback switch from junior Matt Smith to senior opening-night starter LaFrance — to invigorate its offense and pull even early in the second quarter.
LaFrance hit three consecutive long passes, two of them tipped by Portland defenders, and guided Oxford Hills the length of the field.
A wide-open Geiger caught the first one in the left flat for 31 yards on the final play of the opening stanza. Turner latched onto the next, gobbling up 30 yards to the Portland 8.
Oxford Hills lost a dozen yards on a bad snap, but LaFrance collected his thoughts and aimed for Kyle Dexter on a post pattern. The ball was tipped by a Portland defender into the hands of Dexter, who spun into the end zone for an 18-yard TD. Ryland VanDecker’s kick knotted it at 7.
“Good teams have that happen. You’re doing things right, you get lucky sometimes, and we’re back in it,” Soehren said. “We gave up that one play with a minute left, and that was tough. I think defensively we know that we can do better than that.”
LaFrance completed 8 of 19 for 113 yards. Portland held Oxford Hills to a net 28 yards rushing.
Oxford Hills slammed the door on two Portland first-quarter drives in the red zone, but the Bulldogs’ cashed in Alex Oja’s interception of Smith and 24-yard return for a 5-yard Esposito TD and the early lead.
“They’re much bigger. We’re starting three or four sophomores,” Portland coach Jim Hartman said. “They’re going to be tough to reckon with if we get them in the playoffs.”