PORTLAND — Thornton Academy’s Mason Paulin intercepted an Eli Soehren pass on Oxford Hill’s first drive and returned it for a touchdown, bringing back memories of the two teams’ regular-season matchup when the Vikings turned the ball over half-a-dozen times. 

The Golden Trojans scored again in the first quarter and while the score was virtually even in the final three quarters, the Vikings were unable to overcome the early pick-six as Thornton Academy took home the Class A state title with a 42-27 victory on Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium. 

“I think it was a little bit nerves,” Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said of his son and quarterback’s start. “Of course the thing that’s looming over him is that we had six turnovers and five were his in that first game. He usually doesn’t succumb to pressure but I think a little bit in the state game he did. Then, all of a sudden, he tries to make a play and I would have preferred he didn’t, but I think he could have made the throw but they got his arm. At that point he’s thinking, ‘What’s going on here,’ and then he twists his leg shortly thereafter.” 

Mark Soehren said he was not sure which play Eli Soehren was injured on, but on the Vikings’ ensuing drive after Paulin’s 52-yard touchdown that put the Trojans up 7-0, Eli Soehren ran to the sideline on a scramble and got hit hard out of bounds and came up slowly. 

Oxford Hills (8-2) punted on its second drive after failing to convert on a third-and-24. Two plays later, Thornton Academy’s Anthony Jones scampered for a 59-yard touchdown run, and another successful extra point from J.P. Baez made it 14-0 for the Trojans. 

The Vikings punted again on their third drive of the game, with the Trojans starting their second drive from their own 23-yard line. 

Jack Emerson, Thornton’s senior quarterback, accounted for 29 yards on the drive before Isaiah Jones broke a 39-yard touchdown run that put the top-seeded Trojans (11-0) up 21-0 with 10:37 left in the first half. 

“We used a couple different blocking schemes on the outside to try to free some things up and it worked in the first half,” Thornton Academy coach Kevin Kezal said. “They made some adjustments in the second half and credit to them. That opened up other parts of our run game more, some inside stuff, and I am impressed with how our kids came out offensively with the fast start.”

Soehren and the Oxford Hills offense seemed to find a rhythm on the ensuing drive as the junior QB led the team down the field on a 14-play drive lasting 6:20. Soehren accounted for 75 yards on the drive and capped it with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Wyatt Knightly over the top on a seam route down the middle. 

The two teams traded punts before Thornton Academy went on a 52-yard drive in 1:33, with Emerson running the ball in from two yards out to put the Trojans up 28-7 at halftime. 

On Thornton’s first drive of the second half, Anthony Jones fumbled and turned the ball over to the Vikings. However, later in Oxford Hills’ drive the Vikings faced a fourth-and-eight and came up short when a pass to Knightly only went six yards. 

Two plays later, Emerson fumbled the ball back to Oxford Hills, but again the Vikings turned the ball over on downs thanks in part to a sack by Paulin on third down. 

“We had chances in the end zones, one was off the hands and the other was a great deflection by them or else it would have been a touchdown,” Mark Soehren said. “At the end of the first half, if I didn’t try to go down and score, which I knew was a gamble, if we don’t go down and they don’t score it’s different. We had opportunities we didn’t take advantage of and they did.”

Down by three scores, the Vikings went into their bag of tricks. Soehren took the snap and tossed to running back Wyatt Knightly, who threw down the field to Teigan Pelletier for a 47-yard touchdown pass that pulled the Vikings within 28-14 thanks to a Soehren extra point. 

Pelletier finished with 10 catches and 171 yards.

The momentum was short-lived as two plays into the ensuing Thornton drive Anthony Jones pulled off a 63-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep to the right side. The score put the Trojans up 35-14 with 2:38 left in the third quarter. 

Anthony Jones finished with 144 rushing yards.

Soehren, after a first half in which he threw for 76 yards, turned it on in the second half, throwing for 156, including 56 on the next Vikings drive down the field on two completions to Pelletier. Isaiah Oufiero finished off the drive with a 1-yard run up the middle for a touchdown to pull the Vikings within 35-21. 

Oxford Hills was later stopped on fourth down on its own 25-yard line. 

“In that situation, when we’re down that many, we need to put some points on the board,” Mark Soehren said. “We needed to gamble, and I am not a great gambler, but I said, ‘Let’s gamble right here.’”

Hayden Whitney punched in a touchdown run from two yards out on the ensuing drive to increase the Trojans’ lead to 42-21 with just 6:15 left in the game.

“The kids aren’t going to give up,” Mark Soehren said. “We made some adjustments against their jet, which I thought we did a pretty good job on except that long run in the fourth. That was a back-breaker.”

The Thornton kickoff coverage team pinned the Vikings back to their own 4-yard line on the ensuing drive. Soehren led the team down the field 96 yards in just 3:09. Soehren amassed 69 yards on the drive and finished it with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Pelletier over a Thornton cornerback. 

Soehren finished with 230 yards on 20-for-37 passing.

The score put the Vikings within 42-27, then the Vikings successfully fell on an onside kick, but the next play Soehren threw an interception to Dontea Noel that sealed the Vikings’ fate. 

Those are decisions, like the onside kick, where we get the ball back but turn it right over,” Soehren said. “Those gambling ones, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. I have absolutely 100 percent belief in this team.”

The state title is Thornton Academy’s first since 2018, fifth since 2012 and its 10th overall.

“I am so proud of this team,” Kezal said. “Just the whole situation they’ve been through, missing a year, not seeing them a lot until they got back. Once you start, you don’t know how long it’ll last and my kids have done such a phenomenal job all year and I am so happy they got this opportunity.”

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