PARIS — Oxford Hills/Buckfield was one of the few football teams in the state to play a dry game this past weekend, earning a lopsided win away from the inclement weather in Bangor.

But a storm brews inside the Vikings’ squad every week, and with it comes thunder, lightning, then a hapless defender getting run past, or run over.

“Me and Ryland both have nicknames,” junior running back Dawson Stevens said. “He’s Thunder and I’m Lightning. That’s what our teammates call us.”

Ryland is senior running back Ryland VanDecker. Standing 5-feet, 9-inches and weighing 195 pounds, he could be considered the Vikings’ power running back. Stevens, standing just as tall but coming in closer to 165 pounds, flashes more speed than power.

“He’s faster than I am. But sometimes I hit harder,” VanDecker said.

The competition between the two, however, is nothing but friendly.

They’re an odd couple of sorts in the backfield for the Oxford Hills/Buckfield, but one that works. The pair sits second (Stevens) and third (VanDecker) in rushing yards in Class A North. Stevens has run for 787 yards on 85 carries, while VanDecker has run 117 times for 706 yards. VanDecker leads 9-7 in rushing touchdowns.

“I think the general consensus is that one’s an outside guy and one’s an inside guy, but the truth is they both can do inside and out,” Vikings coach Mark Soehren said. “They might be a little better at one, but they’re both fast and they’re both strong kids.”

Stevens’ season came somewhat out of nowhere. He was a backup safety and kicker for the Vikings last year.

“I think I would have said to you that we knew he had that potential,” Soehren said. “We knew it was there, we just didn’t know what would happen.”

Stevens is a state championship-level sprinter and an accomplished wrestler, a combination of skills that lends itself to a running back. But even Stevens himself has been surprised but what he has accomplished.

“I consider myself athletic. I’ve just been good at every sport I do, like wrestling, track, anything,” Stevens said. “But I never thought I’d be No. 2 in the conference first year at the position.”

VanDecker played the position last year, but even his ascension is a slight surprise. It was just two years ago, as a sophomore, that he was a starting offensive guard for the Vikings. Soehren said VanDecker has always been athletic, but he was roadblocked by more experienced and more accomplished players in the backfield, so they put him onto a thin offensive line.

It wasn’t until last year that a spot finally opened up for VanDecker at running back.

“It was kind of a difficult transition for me too because I was just used to just smashing into people without knowing what else to do,” VanDecker said. “But now as a back you’re trying to not smash into people as much as possible. That’s where it becomes challenging.”

Soehren said he’s seen a progression in VanDecker, from a guard that would run past a block because he was looking to hit someone, to a running back that would miss a hole because he was trying to hit someone, to now someone who has channeled his aggressive nature into a chart-topping running back who finds the hole and hits it.

But VanDecker’s style works well for the Vikings, who like to play what he calls “smashmouth football.”

What has helped the pair be successful as runners is the smashing blocking of senior fullback Levi Brett, who slots in front of either one of them in the team’s base Power-I formation.

“Without Levi we wouldn’t be able to do half the things we’ve done,” VanDecker said. “He’s a key to any of our success.”

“When we run our outside plays I can get to the edge more,” Stevens added.

“I said (to Ryland and Dawson) ‘maybe you should give your (helmet) stickers to Levi because he blocks so well for you guys,'” Soehren said. “Clearly it’s very apparent that when Levi’s in, the holes are wider than when he’s not.”

Brett, and the Power-I formation, are right out of the playbook of Soehren’s hometown team growing up.

“I grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, where North Dakota State University is out of. So that was my hometown team, we watched them,” Soehren said. “I think that offense — kind of conservative, hard-nosed, smash mouth, bring your lunch pail to work type offense — really fits in, especially with this group of kids.”

The run-first offense (the Vikings have only thrown the ball 73 times in eight games) is one that could work well as Oxford Hills/Buckfield transitions into the postseason. The Vikings will be hosting their first playoff game in 15 years, and the home crowd loves smashmouth football.

“We just need to play our game,” VanDecker said.

“We come out swinging and we don’t let off,” Stevens added.

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