Oxford Hills’ Colton Carson is tackled by Portland’s Cillo Magno (37) and Ben Stasium during Portland’s Class A North quarterfinal win in Oct. 2017. (Sun Journal file photo)

Oxford Hills’ 31-22 win over Bonny Eagle last week showed the Vikings they had what it takes to defeat one of the perennial powerhouse teams in Class A South. 

A win over another perennial power in their own conference, Portland, on Friday night (7 p.m., Gouin Athletic Complex) would not only reinforce that belief but lock up home field advantage in the playoffs for the Vikings.

A victory would not assure playoff superiority. The Vikings learned that last year, when they opened the season with a 20-14 win at Fitzpatrick Stadium, then dropped the rematch in the A North quarterfinals, 21-6, at Gouin. But a continuation of the winning trend that began one month ago after suffering their only defeat at the hands of Sanford wouldn’t hurt with the postseason on the horizon.

Portland is on a roll, too. The Bulldogs are also 5-1 and riding a three-game winning streak since Bonny Eagle dealt them their only loss, 24-7, on Sept. 14. 

Portland’s offense is the most productive in A North, averaging 35 points per game. The Bulldogs have put up most of those points on the ground thanks to senior running back Zach Elowitch, the leading rusher in A North. Senior running back Ben Trefethen has helped shoulder more of the load in recent weeks.

Junior quarterback Sam Knop contributes to the running game as well and is asked to throw roughly half as often as his counterpart on the Vikings, Colton Carson. That doesn’t mean the Bulldogs can’t attack through the air. When those opportunities arise, Knop usually looks to senior speedster Ben Stasium, who has also returned a pair of punts for a touchdown. 

Oxford Hills’ defense allows 11.5 ppg. The Vikings yielded 247 yards rushing to Bonny Eagle but forced two turnovers on Michael Bonang interceptions when the Scots were forced into catch-up mode in the second half. 

Linebackers Cole Dunham, Cade Truman, Janek Luksza and Parker LaFrance rank among the league’s leading tacklers and will be keys to keeping Portland’s running game in check.

That defense gave the offense a short field for a pair of critical scores against Bonny Eagle, but the Vikings were operating like a well-oiled machine in the third quarter, tallying 140 of their 257 yards.

Oxford Hills is at its best when Carson, a senior, is at peak efficiency. He ran for two touchdowns and threw for another in the second half against the Scots.

LaFrance and Emerson Brown complement Carson in the Vikings’ running game. Although Carson is the second-leading rusher in A North, the Vikings, who average 33 ppg, seem to be at their most confident when he is slinging it to a wide array of weapons. Wide receivers Alex Turner, Jonny Pruett and Luksza and tight end JJ Worster can all do damage downfield. 

Whether Carson has time to look downfield could depend on how the offensive line, led by senior tackle Austin Doughty, performs against one of the biggest defensive fronts in the state, featuring two of the most prolific pass rushers in A North. Nathan Kaponga, a 6-foot-5, 280-pound senior, leads the conference with eight sacks. Jonah Green, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior, has four sacks.

Fittingly, the two top teams in A North also boast the two top kickers in the region. Portland’s Cristo Vumpa is a perfect 30-for-30 on extra points but has missed his only field goal attempt. Luksza is 25-for-26 on PAT’s and has converted both of his field goal attempts, including a 35-yarder last week. 


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