Falmouth/Greely’s Brady Douglas gets a piece of Oxford Hills’ Colby VanDecker’s face mask at the end of a big gain by VanDecker during a game earlier this season at Gouin Athletic Complex. Brewster Burns photo

How much does home field advantage mean in a Maine high school football playoff game? Friday night’s Class A quarterfinal that has No. 5 Sanford (4-5) traveling to No. 4 Oxford Hills (5-4) may present a good case study.

The Vikings fell to the Spartans, 35-14, in Sanford in Week 2 this season. Last year, they also traveled south and lost to Sanford, 20-6, the Spartans’ first win in the new Alumni Stadium.

Oxford Hills leap-frogged Sanford last week after defeating Bangor, 34-7, while the Spartans simultaneously picked up their fourth loss in a row, 34-20, to Bonny Eagle. The fact that the Spartans lost to Bangor in the midst of that streak helped the Vikings vault into the higher seed and allowed them to host a playoff game for the fourth year in a row.

The difference in where the 7 p.m. kickoff takes place isn’t easily dismissed. It starts with the 90-minute bus ride and continues with the different playing surfaces, Oxford Hills’ Gouin Athletic Complex’s grass and the artificial turf of Sanford’s turf Alumni Field, with the added twist of Thursday and Friday’s expected wintry elements.

The Spartans’ road (2-2) and home records (2-3) are similar, but their home slate, with the Vikings, Scarborough, Bonny Eagle and Biddeford, was inarguably tougher. But Oxford Hills, which was 3-1 at home and 2-2 on the road, had an unquestionably easier home schedule in which it hosted Lewiston, Edward Little, Falmouth/Greely and Scarborough (the lone home loss).

Friday’s result will more likely hinge on Oxford Hills’ defense containing Sanford’s big-play weapons and the Vikings’ offense running the ball and finishing off drives. Or how each team’s backup QB performs.

Besides the venue, the biggest difference from recent Spartans-Vikings clashes will be who is taking the snaps for each team.

Both previous meetings between the teams in Sanford featured outstanding performances by QB Xavier Levine. Last year, he completed 12 of 16 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns. In September’s meeting, the senior was nearly perfect, going 11-for-12 for 190 yards and two touchdowns. He also gave the Spartans an early lead with an 80-yard touchdown run after Sanford’s defense pulled off a goal-line stand that ended with a Vikings missed field goal. But Levine has been injured since mid-season and won’t suit up Friday. Sophomore Jake Beninati has been playing in his place.

Other injuries and suspensions could deplete the Spartans in other ways. If they do play, the tandem of Ethan Shain (three catches, 119 yards, TD) and Leyton Bickford (four catches, 46 yards, TD) presented a tough matchup for the Vikings, and most teams, this season. Shain is a speedy 5-foot-9 pass-catching threat out of the backfield who connected with Levine on a 55-yard TD pass and also rushed for a 49-yard score. Bickford, who has verbally committed to play basketball at the University of Maine next fall, is a 6-foot-6 tight end who also had an interception on defense and is a pass rushing factor at defensive end.

Oxford Hills’ offense lost its starting QB, too, when junior Atticus Soehren went down with a season-ending shoulder injury. Sophomore backup Wyatt Knightly moved into the starting role over the final two games of the season and performed well, eclipsing the 100-yard mark passing in both games and gaining the confidence of his teammates, particularly in last week’s win at Bangor.

The Vikings otherwise escaped the regular season fairly healthy, so Knightly should have close to a full complement of passing weapons, led by wide receivers Addison Brown and Ty LeBlond and tight ends JJ Worster and Isaiah Oufiero.

What really makes the Vikings’ offense go, though, is running back Colby VanDecker. The bruising senior had a strong game in Sanford, carrying the ball 22 times for 136 yards and a touchdown. Last week, running behind a more aggressive Vikings offensive line, he racked up 168 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. If the line continues to give him running lanes, Oxford Hills could turn clock control into a major advantage.


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