At 6-0, both Thornton Academy and Oxford Hills are feeling confident in their respective teams heading into Friday night’s battle of Class A unbeatens in Paris. 

“It’s pretty high,” Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said of his team’s confidence level. “I think you look at it as, is it a consequence of winning six games or have we won six games because they have confidence and believe in themselves, and it’s probably the latter… They play with a lot of confidence and they’re big, athletic and fast. They’re looking forward to Friday.”

On the Thornton Academy side, head coach Kevin Kezal said his team is also ready to play in one of Maine’s biggest games of the year. 

“I think we are excited about tomorrow night,” Kezal said Thursday. “We are facing a really big test because Oxford Hills is a really good football team. Having to go on the road up there, it will be a challenge. I think our kids are really looking forward to it. You know you’re going to have to play 48 minutes, play really good football, limit the mistakes. It should be a fun time tomorrow night.”

Both teams said they are working on details within their own teams. Soehren has tried to throw wrinkles into his game plan before and sometimes it didn’t work out. 

“The difference I think this year is that, in the past, we always felt we had to come up with a scheme that really addressed things on the other side of the ball,” Soehren said. “When you get a team that we have, we are focusing on things that we can do. We are looking at what TA has but we are also focusing on what we do well. We want to make sure to continue to do those things well. I felt like in the past we tried to put in more than a wrinkle to give ourselves an advantage but sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t work. It was a little bit of a gamble and against those teams like Thornton Academy, Bonny Eagle, Scarborough, we felt like we had to gamble.”

The Trojans have won some big games by big margins, like their 84-13 win over Bangor or their 35-14 victory over Bonny Eagle the ensuing week. The team is ready for the battle of 6-0 teams on Friday but it’s working on what it can control. 

“You know your improvement isn’t going to be sequential, some weeks we get a lot better, some weeks you don’t see it as much,” Kezal said. “We work every week at getting better at what you do and make adjustments to who you are playing. I don’t think we are approaching anything differently, we just coach them up the best we can, the kids do well at learning the game plan and hopefully your kids execute what they learned during the week.”

Both quarterbacks, Eli Soehren for Oxford Hills and Thornton’s Jack Emerson, have the ability to throw it down the field or tuck it and run for a first down. The Vikings have relied on their big offensive line to create holes, while Kezal described his line as “really athletic and smart.”

“Offensively, Jack Emerson, our quarterback, has been great,” Kezal said. “He would’ve been a two-year starter but he’s done a great job leading our team and he’s a threat in the run and the pass games. He’s surrounded with some really good players, our offensive line isn’t that big but they’re really athletic and smart and do a great job communicating.”

On defense, Kezal is excited about two of his senior linebacker captains, Mason Paulin and Cody Ruff. 

Oxford Hills is riding high after taking down Bonny Eagle 19-6 earlier in the year and, most recently, a 77-0 victory over Massabesic. The Vikings have only allowed 19 points to opponents this season. 

“We’ve competed well with (Bonny Eagle) over the past few years but it’s always tough to beat them,” Soehren said. “I think the kids, I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but it’s another game they played and they had a lot of fun playing them because Bonny Eagle is good. They didn’t have a lot of fun playing in a blowout win. Everyone is glad we won but no one wanted to put 77 points up. In the past, I’ve had teams that have had talent but were unsure of their status in the league. There were a lot of ‘what-ifs.’ When we played TA a couple years ago in the regular season and the playoffs there was a lot of, ‘What if they do this, or they can do this to us.’ It’s not how this group plays, they just go play football and hopefully the better team wins.”


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