SACO — First it was a punt that went zero yards. Then it was an offsides penalty on the defense when it had a chance to get off the field on fourth down.

Then the turnovers started.

Trying to defeat unbeaten defending state champion Thornton Academy was a difficult enough task for fourth-seeded Oxford Hills to begin with. But after giving up a touchdown on the Class A semifinal’s opening drive, the Vikings made things harder on themselves with poor execution, penalties, and then, the turnovers.

When combined with the top-seeded Golden Trojans dominating running game, the task became impossible.

Thornton Academy scored touchdowns on its first seven possessions and rolled past Oxford Hills, 48-9, at Hill Stadium to punch its return ticket to the Class A state championship game. The Golden Trojans (11-0), who have won 22 games in a row, will face No. 2 Bonny Eagle for the state title next Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Senior quarterback Kobe Gaudette rushed 12 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns, and senior running back Isaac Ofielu scored three times and gained 85 yards on 17 carries to lead the Golden Trojans. Costa Gikas and Julien Bailey Cottle added one rushing touchdown apiece.

Thornton out-gained the Vikings 262-18 in the first half, with 218 of the Golden Trojans’ yards coming on the ground.

“That was our game plan, coming out and set the tone physically for the playoffs and pound it down their throats,” Gaudette said. “We wanted to be physical with them and see how we could form our run game today.”

“We figured they would run at us,” Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said. “We figured they would run the first time, too. We just did a better job with it. And we did prepare a lot for their pass, but I don’t think their run game was because we weren’t expecting it. They just execute at a really high level.”

Oxford Hills (6-5) scored on a 58-yard touchdown pass from Wyatt Knightly to Ty LeBlond in the fourth quarter, and on a safety when an errant punt snap that went out of the back of the end zone.

When the Trojans beat the Vikings 35-6 on Oct. 19, Gaudette threw for 254 yards and five touchdowns. This time, running into a fairly stiff and steady breeze at the start, they dominated on the ground, running exclusively on their first two possessions (15 plays) to take a 14-0 lead.

“We just worked on (the running game) in practice and we practiced hard the whole week,” Ofielu said. “It was really what we’ve been doing the whole year. We’ve been putting in the work every single week. It doesn’t matter what team (the opponent) is, we’ve been going our hardest so that we can make opportunities for ourselves later in the season. And it’s definitely paid off.”

Ofielu’s first carry of the day resulted in his first touchdown, a three-yard run to cap a nine-play, 62-yard drive on the opening series.

The Trojans forced Oxford Hills to punt after junior linebacker Daniel Tarbox stopped Oxford Hills’ leading rusher Colby VanDecker a yard short of the first down on third-and-2 three plays into the Vikings’ opening drive. The punt went off the side of Elias Soehren’s foot and was eventually downed at the line of scrimmage, setting up Thornton at the Vikings’ 32 for its second possession.

Oufielu and Gaudette alternated carries to the 14, where the Trojans faced a fourth-and-3. Gaudette enticed the Vikings to jump offsides with his cadence, giving the Trojans a fresh set of downs from the 9. From there, Gaudette ran up the middle to the end zone for a 14-0 lead.

“We’ve got players everywhere,” Oufielu said. “We’ve got Peyton Jones. We’ve obviously got Kobe. We’ve got Costa Gikas. We’ve got Hayden (Pomerleau). We’ve got Danny (Tarbox). We’ve got so many people that can go out and effectively make plays that it’s hard for the defense to keep up with that.”

“The last time we played them, they kind of loaded the box against us and we were able to throw the ball a bit more,” Thornton Academy coach Kevin Kezal said. “This time, they played a little more coverage and we were able to get our running game going.”

Two plays into the Vikings’ next series, Gaudette got the ball back with an interception and return to the Vikings’ 39.

He opened the third Thorton possession with his first pass, which fell incomplete. But runs by Gaudette and Gikas set up Ofielu’s second touchdown, a 24-yard run on the first play of the second quarter, to widen the margin to 21-0.

Artu Tapola sacked Knightly on third down to force the Vikings to punt from their own end zone. Starting at the Vikings’ 43, the Trojans needed only two runs by Gaudette — of 19 and 24 yards — to make it 28-0.

A fumble recovery by Cody Ruff set up the Trojans’ next score, a five-yard TD run by Gikas. Gaudette’s first of two completions on the day, 44 yards to Peyton Jones, preceded their final touchdown of the first half, a one-yard run by Cottle with 21.9 seconds left to make it 42-0.

“They’re good as it is and (the mistakes) put you in a hole,” Soehren said. “With our game plan, it was run-oriented, and it was tough to come back from that. Thornton dominated in every facet.”

Ofielu scored from a yard out on Thorton’s first possession of the second half to make it 48-0.

The Trojans held Oxford Hills without a first down until 1:40 remaining in the third quarter by bottling up VanDecker, who finished with 24 yards on eight carries after rushing for 207 yards and three touchdowns in the Vikings’ 42-0 quarterfinal win over Sanford last week.

Three plays after moving the chains with a three-yard run, Knightly connected with LeBlond for Oxford Hills’ only touchdown.

“Obviously (VanDecker) he was kind of the guy we wanted to make it a point to stop the first time, and this time, too,” Kezal said. “He had a great game last weekend and he’s a very good back and they’re pretty big up front and physical. So I was very pleased with how we controlled the run.”

“I think that’s one of our strong suits, how we’ve done a really great job of treating every team like they’re the best team in the league and this game is what matters right now,” Gaudette said.

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