Editor’s note: This is the third in a five-part series about the five biggest sports stories in the Sun Journal’s coverage area in 2021, as selected by our sports reporters and editors.

Class A and Class D were both tight throughout the season. 

Sure, in Class A, Thornton Academy led the way, but Oxford Hills put itself in the top group of Class A football programs alongside stalwarts Scarborough and Bonny Eagle. 

Oxford Hills’ Cole Leonard (81) and Wyatt Knightly (15) elevate before the Class A state championship against Thornton Academy in November at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Brewster Burns photo

In the Vikings’ fourth game of the season, the Scots came to town for a Saturday morning showdown of 3-0 teams. Oxford Hills won, 19-6, and showed that it fit with the big teams of Class A. 

“I mean, it was definitely different on a Saturday, against one of the best teams, and they thought they were better than us,” Oxford Hills quarterback Eli Soehren said after the season. “A lot of people did. We knew we were good and we just came out there and played football. We knew we had to play well and they won the championship (in 2019) and we just wanted to come out and dominate and we did.”

Three weeks later, Oxford Hills faced its toughest task of the regular season — a home game against Thornton Academy

The Vikings turned the ball over five times in the first half and lost 31-23. It was a wake-up call for Eli Soehren and the Vikings, who started the game with an early lead. 

“It’s just decision making,” Soehren said. “You can’t force it. If the guy is open, the guy is open, and if he isn’t, then throw it away. You can’t take those chances sometimes, and I did and I can’t do that next year.”

“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 added. “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.”

Oxford Hills quarterback Eli Soehren runs for a long gain in the second quarter of an Oct. 29 regular-season finale against Bangor in Paris. Brewster Burns photo

Oxford Hills moved on from that loss, defeating Bangor in the regular-season finale before facing Bonny Eagle again in the playoffs, with a spot in the Class A state championship on the line. The second time around, turnovers were limited and the Vikings won 34-7. 

(Eli) does learn from his mistakes, for sure,” Mark Soehren said after the season. “The Bonny Eagle game, the first one we won 19-6, he threw two picks and one was in the end zone and one was a strange, ill-advised throw up in the air. I said, ‘you can’t do that. You can’t throw a pick in the end zone, just throw it away.’ It’s hard to teach kids that. We played them a second time and scored more points and didn’t turn the ball over and that was, of course, not a coincidence.”

In the state title game, a rematch with Thornton Academy, Soehren threw a pick-six on the first drive of the game and the Vikings fell behind early. Even after keeping the score almost even through the final three quarters, the Trojans were able to hand Oxford Hills another loss, 42-27. 

Still, Eli Soehren won the Maine Gatorade Player of the Year award and was the Class A player of the year, as well as the Sun Journal All-Region Football Player of the Year

In Class D, the title race was up in the air from the start, and Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale had an up-and-down regular season due to six games being canceled or rescheduled. 

Despite the constant schedule shuffle, the Ramblers won their first five games of the season behind running backs Dom Trott and Logan Baird and strong offensive and defensive lines. 

Trott scored four touchdowns in the Ramblers’ first game against Bucksport, then Baird scored three in the next game, a win over John Bapst

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale running back Dominic Trott fights for some extra yards during a Sept. 3 Class D football game against Bucksport in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“In the preseason, we found out we were pretty good, but then against Bucksport in Week 1 we found out that boy, our line is going to be physical. From tackle to tight end, we can be physical,” Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale coach Dave St. Hilaire said.

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale faced a big test, in Foxcroft Academy, on Oct. 22, a few days after the Ramblers had to play Freeport on a Monday because of a power outage the previous Friday that moved the game back.

Foxcroft won 24-14 in the first matchup. Baird and quarterback Andrew Foster both scored a touchdown and pulled the Ramblers within 17-14 after going down 17-0 in the first half, but the comeback fell short. 

The Ramblers took that loss and continued into the playoffs behind their strong lines. 

“What drives the line is just physically dominating the other team, the defense,” lineman Jake Umberhind said. “Just plowing a kid over, pancaking him, that’s really what drives you. When they get mad at you, when they get up in your grill, that’s when you know you’ve won.”

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Logan Baird runs the ball up the field during a Nov. 6 quarterfinal game against Bucksport in Winthrop. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The offensive line helped open up holes for Baird, Trott and Robby Feeney, who combined for 1,694 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns in the run-up to the Class D state championship game.

Winthrop took down Bucksport and Freeport to reach the Class D championship and earned a rematch with Foxcroft. 

Trott scored twice to give the Ramblers a lead late in the third quarter, but the Ponies were able to pull out a 19-16 victory and a Class D title

We didn’t know really what we had, but we knew we had a pretty good team going into the season,” St. Hilaire said. “As we told the kids, though, it’s going to hurt tonight, tomorrow, it’s going to hurt next week and it might even hurt forever, but the memories, you’ll cherish those forever. To get this far, the guys love each other. They really do. You don’t see this in a lot of other programs, but the Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale kids are all one team. There are teams in the area that don’t get it yet, but these kids get it. It’s one team, one program and we did a heck of a lot this year, and I am so proud of these guys.”

The Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale defense stands at the goal line against Foxcroft Academy during the Class D state championship football game Nov. 19 at Cameron Stadium in Bangor. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

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