Oxford Hills found itself in a hole, and played a part in being down there, then spent the rest of the game trying to climb to even ground with Thornton Academy.

The Vikings never made it out, but they used the entire game trying, battling until the clock ran out and the Trojans were officially Class A state champions with a 42-27 win.

Sun Journal Sports Editor Lee Horton.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more than that,” Oxford Hills senior Isaiah Oufiero said, “they battled better than any team I’ve ever played for.”

The Vikings (8-2) entered Saturday’s state final knowing they needed to limit their mistakes. A good start in their regular-season loss to the Golden Trojans (11-0) was unraveled by five second-quarter turnovers.

But the hope for a clean game ended quickly.

On their first drive, quarterback Eli Soehren threw as he was being tackled and Thornton’s Mason Paulin intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown.

Then the Trojans’ first offensive possession was over quickly thanks to a 59-yard TD run by Anthony Jones, and just like that, Oxford Hills was facing a 14-0 deficit.

Thornton’s lead grew to 21-0 on a 36-yard run by Isaiah Jones early in the second quarter.

Even after its one-quarter disaster in a 31-23 loss to Thornton on Oct. 15, Oxford Hills couldn’t have imagined a worse start to Saturday’s state final.

Oxford Hills head Coach Mark Soehren embraces senior Isaiah Oufiero after the Vikings fell to Thornton Academy in the Class A state title game Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Brewster Burns photo

The Vikings were receiving a harsh introduction to state championship games. They were playing in only their second, and their first since 1999 — a few years before any players on this year’s team were born. Meanwhile, Thornton won its 10th state championship and fifth since 2012, and was appearing in its third consecutive title game.

Oxford Hills, though, refused to concede the game, and thereby proved that it belongs in the same class as Thornton, which is perennially one of the state’s best programs — if not the best.

“We were not going to lose by not trying,” Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said.

Trailing by three touchdowns, the Vikings battled their way down the field, fighting for extra yards and overcoming a couple of sacks before Wyatt Knightly caught a 17-yard TD pass from Eli Soehren on fourth down and finally changed the zero next to Oxford Hills’ name on the scoreboard at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

The Trojans bounced back with another score in the final minute of the second quarter, and took a 28-7 lead into the second half.

The Vikings kept coming, but every time they got within two scores and clearly shifted momentum, the Trojans snatched it back with a big play.

Oxford Hills forced and recovered fumbles deep in Thornton territory on the Trojans’ first two drives of the third quarter. Neither opportunity ended in points, which was frustrating but not spirit-breaking.

“We had opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of, and they did,” Mark Soehren said.

The defense stopped the Trojans again, and a few plays later, Eli Soehren pitched to Knightly, who threw downfield to an open Teigan Pelletier to get the Vikings back within two scores.

“I thought we responded well. We competed in the second half,” Mark Soehren said.

Oxford Hills was in good spot. The deficit was down to 28-14, the defense was containing the Trojans, and the offense was making plays.

A minute later, Anthony Jones took a jet sweep toward the sideline and patiently waited for a hole to open, and when one did, he bolted through it and all the way to the end zone for a 63-yard run.

“That was a backbreaker,” Mark Soehren said.

The Vikings, though, were not broken, responding with a drive that ended in a short Isaiah Oufiero TD run to get back within a couple of scores, 35-21.

Thornton went back up by three scores with a Hayden Whitney TD run, and after the kickoff, Oxford Hills was pinned at its own 4-yard line with six minutes remaining.

Soehren used the Vikings’ multitude of weapons to escape the predicament, completing passes to Oufiero, Lincoln Merrill, Grayson Foster and a few big gains to Pelletier, including a 14-yard touchdown that made it 42-27 with 3:06 remaining.

Then Oufiero recovered Soehren’s onside kick, setting up Oxford Hills near midfield for its best chance of the game to get within one score.

But the Trojans once again broke the Vikings’ hearts on the next play when Dontea Noel intercepted Soehren.

And that was it.

The Vikings never got over the two-score hump – either Thornton or their own mistakes didn’t allow it – but they also didn’t let the Trojans cruise to the state championship. I don’t think anyone who watched that game closely came away believing that Oxford Hills isn’t in the same class as Thornton Academy.

In a way, the Vikings have been climbing out of a hole since Mark Soehren was elevated to head coach in 2012 after the Oxford Hills football program developed a nasty habit of one-win seasons.

Winning didn’t come easily, or quickly, but Soehren and assistant coaches like Nate Danforth and Joe Oufiero kept coaching. The Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School administration kept believing in the staff. The Oxford County community kept supporting the players.

The players kept showing up and they kept getting better. Soon, great players weren’t irreplaceable. Ryland VanDecker graduated, but Oxford Hills got better. Dawson Stevens graduated, but Oxford Hills got better. Even the 2019 senior class, which led the Vikings to the 2018 regional final, wasn’t irreplaceable, nor was the class that was expecting great things, and might have been even better than this year’s team, before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out last fall’s season.

After last week’s semifinal win over Bonny Eagle, Mark Soehren said that this year’s Vikings truly enjoyed competing. They didn’t play a perfect game, and likely regret some things that happened in the title game, but on Saturday they kept competing.

Oxford Hills climbed its way to the top, and Saturday it showed that it will fight to stay there. I’m not saying it was a moral victory, only that this loss might be the next step in the program’s growth.

Sun Journal sports editor Lee Horton can be contacted at [email protected]

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.