PARIS — A sweet start turned sour for Oxford Hills in a showdown between the top two football teams in Class A.

Thornton Academy forced five first-half turnovers and held off the Vikings for a 31-23 win Friday at Gouin Athletic Complex.

Oxford Hills started the game on fire. After forcing Thornton to punt on its first drive, quarterback Eli Soehren led the Vikings down the field before connecting with Grayson Foster for a 28-yard touchdown pass that gave Oxford Hills (6-1) a 7-0 lead.

The Golden Trojans (7-0) took over from there.

Both teams punted after three-and-out drives, then, with 1:34 left in the first quarter, Alex St. John jumped a pass thrown by Soehren and ran it back 60 yards for a touchdown that tied the game at 7-7.

Soehren threw two more interceptions and lost a fumble in the second quarter. Two of those turnovers, and one other by the Vikings, led to 17 points by the Trojans.

“We got some big turnovers that we were able to capitalize on in the first half,” Thornton coach Kevin Kezal said. “We were opportunistic with those two defensive scores, those were huge and really turned the momentum.”

On the first play of the second quarter, Soehren was picked off by Henry Lausier. The interception jump-started a nine-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown run up the middle by quarterback Jack Emerson on a read-option that put the Trojans ahead 14-7.

“We knew that we were getting their best shot,” Kezal said. “They’re a very good football team and it was going to be about trying to make some plays. Give them credit, they played well and put the pressure on us. It was fun.”

The Vikings fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Thornton gained possession 14 yards away from the end zone. Oxford Hills held Thornton to a 30-yard field goal by Oskari Tapola, which put the Trojans up 17-7 with 4:22 left in the first half.

Two plays into the Vikings’ next drive, Soehren fumbled and Thornton’s Cody Ruff picked up the loose ball and carried it 35 yards for a touchdown to extend the Golden Trojans’ lead to 24-7 before halftime.

“The issue in the first half was we couldn’t run the ball and we felt that Eli was trying to do too much,” Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said. “The fumble that he had down here, he was just trying to get an extra yard and when you play a good team, things like that happen. If he had gone down a yard earlier, we’d be OK. It’s just a learning experience.”

Oxford Hills, though, did not give in. The Vikings had the ball first in the second half, and a 22-yard run by Soehren set up a 20-yard touchdown run on a QB keeper.

“Eli was trying to do too much in the first half,” Mark Soehren said. “He was trying to put it all on his shoulders and make plays, and I don’t want to fault kids for trying to make plays, but he has to be a better decision-maker. At half, I said, one, we need to be able to run, and two, we can’t just sit back there and let Eli chuck it. We need to come out in the second half and take the things in front of us, and I thought we did a pretty good job of it.”

Then Oxford Hills forced Thornton to punt, and the snap to the punter was high and went out of the end zone for a safety, cutting the Trojans’ lead to 24-16.

The Vikings drove down the field again, but found themselves with a third-and-23 on their own side of the field. Soehren ran up the middle for 19 yards but was stopped four yards short of the first-down marker. Oxford Hills went for it on fourth down, but Soehren’s pass was broken up.

“I told the kids I went for it on fourth down and that was on me,” Mark Soehren said. “If we had punted, it would have given them a longer field and made it harder for them to score, but I felt like those guys had made some great plays on us and we needed something in that moment, and it was a learning experience for us.”

After the Golden Trojans stopped the Vikings on fourth down, Emerson ran in a 7-yard touchdown with 5:28 left in the game to make the lead 31-16.

“Just a lot of up-front football, trying to get it done,” Emerson said. “A lot of things didn’t go right on our part. A few holding penalties and we had to overcome that and just run the ball.”

Oxford Hills drove down the field and Soehren connected with Isaiah Oufiero for a 4-yard touchdown pass that cut Thornton’s lead to 31-23 with 2:28 left.

The Vikings attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but the Trojans recovered it and ran out the clock.

Thornton Academy was happy to get a tough test in Oxford Hills as it gears up for the playoffs.

“It was good, we liked the challenge,” Thornton Academy lineman Seth Beyea said. “It was nice to play a team that is solid up front, solid out back. It was a nice challenge and they are a good team.”

“I thought it was great,” Emerson added. “I thought it was great to have a team like that, a coaching staff like that, come out, it was a great game all around. It was good up front, their line was great, offense was awesome, everything was awesome for them and they’re a really good team.”

While the Vikings took their first loss of the year, Mark Soehren was impressed with his team’s defense.

“I thought defensively we had a great game,” Soehren said. “When you give them two defensive scores and they scored a field goal off another turnover, it doesn’t help. The defense did a nice job. Emerson was great and ran really hard. We did a good job against the pass, good job against the jet and really the defense did a really good job.

“It’s hard when you give up 31 points and two of the touchdowns weren’t on your defense, but the defense was really encouraging. In the second half, we were able to run the ball and pass the ball and the kids didn’t give up.”

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